Tao Nightclub & Asian Bistro in Las Vegas makes no secret of its tendency to fetishize the cultures on which it bases is cuisine and Buddha-lined interior. (See photo, on the next page).
It's a nightlife theme park where the Disney princesses dress as R-rated geishas. That's bad enough for some Asian Americans. But a billboard near LAX is straight-up racist in the eyes of some.
Affinity China CEO Christine Lu, who uses LAX a lot to travel overseas as part of the business investment firm, this week spotted Tao's "Always a Happy Ending" billboard for the second time and tweeted it out to the world, including to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in disgust:
Happy ending, of course, refers to the sexual denouement at some illicit massage parlors. The billboard's image of a woman's back, covered in Chinese tattoos, drives the sexual point home.
"It's disgusting," Lu says. "As an Asian American female who has had to grow up aware of stereotypes of Asian women in this context, it's very insulting."
She notes that a similar billboard with an African American or with a Latino theme might not be tolerated.
Lu says she's disappointed that, after tweeting her concerns at them, she had received no response from the venue or its home, the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, which is owned by outspoken Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
A representative for the Venetian told us the hotel's parent does not own the club. We reached out to Tao's publicist but had yet to hear back.
Lu says, regardless, the Venetian's name is on the billboard, and the hotel should be careful about whom that could offend.
"I deal with Chinese tourists," she told us. "I help them come to different destinations in the U.S. The Venetian is one of the casinos that relies in Chinese tourism. That billboard happens to be near one of the busiest airports for Chinese visitors. Asian clientele are a big part of your business, yet you're okay with a marketing campaign that degrades them?"
Lu first spotted the billboard more than a week ago but thinks it might have been up much longer.
Gina Masequesmay, chair of the Asian American Studies department at Cal State Northridge, is not as offended by the billboard as she is by the use of Asian culture to draw tourists to Tao.
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"It's appropriation and commodification of Asian culture," she told us. "It's really sacrilegious to put Buddha statues in a dance lounge."
Even if the billboard comes down, the professor said, it won't change the deeper issue of using a culture as a playground and marketing tool.
"Take down the billboard down, but they still have their business selling sex," she said. "If they remove it, it will be less a sore in my eye. But I think the issue is larger than just a billboard."