Archive for December, 2010

Chan Is Missing Blog Post

Chan is Missing is a 1982 film directed, written, and produced by Wayne Wang. Wang has since directed both independent and mainstream films, including Dim Sum : A Little Bit of Heart (1985), The Joy Luck Club (1993), Smoke (1995), and Maid in Manhattan (2002). It was one of the first major American films to portray Chinese-Americans realistically, using many non-actors and often blurring the lines between documentary and narrative film. The cast of the film is entirely Asian-American. Like several of the early independent Asian American films we watched in class, Chan is Missing was filmed in black and white using 16 mm film and a low budget of $20,000. In 1995, it was selected as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film by the Library of Congress.
Chan is Missing portrays a Chinatown not seen in any of our previous films. In contrast to Flower Drum Song’s shiny Chinatown populated by the upper middle class and earlier films’ foreboding, crime-filled Chinatowns, the Chinatown in Chan is Missing is a real place populated by realistic characters. Jo’s quest for Chan turns into a search for the elusive Asian-American identity, as he hears the perspectives of the various denizens of San Francisco’s Chinatown on what it means to be both a Chinese and an American. Neither quest gets completely resolved by the end of the film. The film deals with topics covered in previous films, such as assimilation and identity, and several topics we haven’t discussed yet, such as the divide between immigrants from different regions from China and politics.
However, the topics in Chan is Missing that we’ve seen already in other films get a new spin. The issue of assimilation is a major topic in both Flower Drum Song and Chan is Missing, yet they approach assimilation from two different perspectives. Flower Drum Song portrays the “Chinese American” as a mix of the two cultures, Chinese and American, whereas Chan is Missing shows that “Chinese Americans” are not really a mix, but more of an entirely different entity created from the two cultures. Chan is Missing gives a voice to Chinese Americans through a film directed and written by a Chinese American, one step further than putting words in a Chinese American mouth, as we saw in Flower Drum Song.

Sophie Wang and Amy Ruskin

December 16, 2010 at 12:10 am Leave a comment

Blog Post 3: Paramount and the Renewed Yellow Peril: Changing World Politics

The final section will analyze the reemergence of a “yellow peril,” discussing such issues as why the representation of the yellow peril is reappearing, and why Paramount transitioned from promoting Asian American actors and actresses (casting Asian Americans in Flower Drum Song, casting Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express, writing Daughter of Shanghai when Wong campaigned vigorously for better roles for Asian women) to the doctrine of yellow face and stereotyping that has produced such films as The Last Airbender, My Geisha, The Love Guru, and Team America: World Police.

Reemergence of the Yellow Peril
Paramount films of recent show a regression from a “model minority” or non-stereotypical depiction to a “yellow peril” style portrayal of Asian Americans.

A brief history of Asian Americans in feature films, and the tides that they accompany, will provide some background on the current status of Asian Americans in Paramount films.
The first era of Yellow Peril was accompanied by movies like Daughter of the Dragon (and the rest of the Fu Manchu series), The Good Earth, and Broken Blossoms. Broken Blossoms, one of the early silent films, starred Richard Barthelmess in yellowface as a young Asian man who becomes devoted to a young abused girl. There are no actors or actresses of Asian decent in the film, aside from a few extras in the opening scene showing “China.” Daughter of the Dragon, a Paramount film, starred Anna May Wong as the devious, exotic daughter of the villain Fu Manchu. While this did mark an instance of an Asian being cast in a feature film, it was still with Wong in the role of a villain. Sessue Hayakawa’s role in Daughter of the Dragon was notable in that his character was both Asian and a main protagonist, suggesting that during the initial yellow peril, Paramount had a slightly less racially prejudiced view towards casting Asians and Asian Americans than other studios did. Case in point: MGM’s The Good Earth, which followed Daughter of the Dragon by 6 years, was set in China, yet the six main Chinese characters were all played by Caucasian actors and actresses. Anna May Wong was offered the role of the (again) villainous Lotus, but she refused it, not wanting to be typecast as the villainous exotic Asian female once again.
The reasoning behind the yellow peril can be attributed predominantly to two causes: Chinese workers taking American jobs after the transcontinental railroad was completed, and the exoticism and difference of Chinese culture and practices to white Americans, making Chinese Americans subsequently mysterious and dangerous to white Americans. Says writer Robert Lawson,

“The Chinese, of course, were by far the most foreign and outlandish. They
ran laundries, no work for a man anyway, they had no families or
children, they were neither Democrats nor Republicans. They wrote
backwards and upside down, with a brush, they worked incessantly night
and day, Saturdays and Sundays, all of which stamped them as the most
alien heathen…. We knew that they lived entirely on a horrible
dish called chopsooey which was composed of rats, mice, cats, and
puppydogs (Quoted from Shim 388).”

America transitioned into a period of depicting Asian Americans as model minorities, first of the Chinese, then the Japanese, then of all Americans of Asian descent. World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor shifted resentment towards Asian Americans on a whole to resentment of Japanese Americans, exalting Chinese Americans for their resilience to continued Japanese attacks. However, the tables quickly turned on the Chinese, as Communists took over China, and Japan in turn was the good guy for adopting American democracy. When all Asians were labeled model minorities, it was only to be “made into puppets by racial politics (Shim 392),” to repudiate African Americans for failing to replicate the financial and educational success of Asian Americans. Born of this model minority era were movies like Shanghai Express and Daughter of Shanghai, and perhaps most importantly, Flower Drum Song, with its aforementioned all-Asian cast.
Yellow Peril
Paramount’s recent films with Asian cast members include The Last Airbender, My Geisha, The Love Guru, and Team America: World Police. Each of these four movies casts Asians in stereotypical, often antagonistic light, and none of these (or the over 100 other feature films Paramount has produced between 2000 and 2010) feature an Asian American as the leading man or woman. The Last Airbender features an Asian antagonist and Asian extras, My Geisha involves a white woman who tries to pass as an Asian woman (meta yellowface?), The Love Guru has a Caucasian actor play an Indian guru, and Team America: World Police showcases Kim Jong Il as a villain with a heavy Asian accent. In fact, only two of the major Asian roles were actually played by Asians – Storm Shadow (GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra) and Hikaru Sulu (Star Trek), which both perpetuate the stereotype that Asian men can only have major roles in martial arts or combat parts, and which were both created before the 1990s (Sulu in 1966, Storm Shadow in 1984). In addition, none of the characters are women, and only John Cho, who plays Hikaru Sulu, is American (Byung Hun-Lee, who plays Storm Shadow, is Korean) (1).

But why has Paramount regressed to (or even further than) the levels of the previous yellow peril? To answer that, we must look at current global events between the US and Asia, and changing economic and political tides. First and foremost is the emergence of China and India as major economic powers. Like in the case of Vincent Chin, there is American backlash at rising success of Asians, which is then transposed to resentment of Asian Americans (2). As the word “outsource” became more and more prevalent, American fear of both an eclipse of the American economy by Asia as well as, on a more personal level, jobs being taken by lower-paid workers across the Pacific blossomed. This developing anger was further compounded by the events of September 11th 2001, and the ensuing “War on Terror,” which led to widespread xenophobia that carried over from views of the Middle East to views of the Far East.

It is telling that Paramount’s biggest current Asian star is an animated panda named Po. And while independent Asian American media may have made leaps and bounds over the past decades, mainstream media seems to have regressed. And while media and the economy may be irrevocably tied to each other, Paramount has regressed to pre-original yellow peril levels, by not casting Asian Americans in a film based on a television series that inspired a generation of young Asian Americans, many of whom looked forward to seeing their idols on the big screen, to seeing someone who looked like them. The Last Airbender failed them.

Sophie Wang

(1) Paramount stats: http://www.racebending.com/v3/background/paramount-pictures-and-asian-americans-a-tarnished-legacy/
(2) Osajima, Keith. “Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the Popular Press Image in the 1960s and 1980s.” A Companion to Asian American Studies. By Kent A. Ono. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. 215-23. Print.

December 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm 1 comment

Blog Post 2: The Last Airbender and Early Hollywood: Yellow Peril to Model Minority

If anything, this harkens back to the days of Warner Oland and Luise Rainer, serving as a step back even from Flower Drum Song and the casting of Nancy Kwan as opposed to a Caucasian actress. However, rather than putting actors in yellowface, The Last Airbender blatantly appropriates the Asian culture of the original series for Caucasians. It is essentially even worse than casting Caucasians as Asians and making them up to look like Asians, because it is a society being robbed of its culture, as opposed to a society being portrayed as a stereotype of itself. But even after thousands of people sent in letters protesting the casting of an all-white cast for the lead characters, the studios refused to do anything. The Filipino American voice actor for Zuko, the antagonist of the film, states that he was interested in reprising the part, but that Shyamalan had “a different vision for the casting, namely, one that was comprised primarily of white actors and actresses (1).”
Much like in The Good Earth, where Anna May Wong was considered only for the role of a villain, and the only Asian presence on the set was in the form of extras, the only Asians cast in The Last Airbender take on the roles of antagonists and extras, leaving the main protagonist parts to Caucasian actors and actresses. Similarly, Sessue Hayakawa was, even at the peak of his acting career, pigeonholed into playing “exotic lovers” or “exotic villains,” reflecting the casting of Zuko (the villain) as the only main character of Asian decent.

As noted before, the “yellow peril” discrimination seen in The Last Airbender is even worse than in the early films we screened in the class. In, for instance, The Good Earth, white actors are put in yellowface to play Asian roles. The Last Airbender goes even farther by not only substituting Caucasian or other non-Asian actors and actresses in Asian roles, but also by appropriating Asian culture for a presumably Caucasian audience.

Changing Tides: Flower Drum Song
The era of the “model minority” dawned after the age of the yellow peril came to a close. Marked by a change in media from derogatory representations of Asian Americans to portrayals of Asian American communities as “model minority” communities that achieved success of all kinds in America with little help from the government or others (2), the model minority era is exemplified by the 1961 film adaptation of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song. Flower Drum Song is the story of a young bride arriving in San Francisco with her father to be married to the son of a wealthy woman. However, the son is already involved with another woman, and pawns the young bride off to a friend for his son. Hijinks ensue, all taking place in a utopia Chinatown. It is of note that all the inhabitants of Chinatown are dressed in traditional Western garb, speak perfect English, and revel in classically American material consumption; and the only white person seen in the film is a thief who steals some money – as if the roles of white and Asian are reversed, basically turning Chinatown into a white utopia with an Asian aesthetic.
The film did, however, feature an almost entirely Asian or Asian American cast, with main characters finally being played by Asians in addition to the extras.
[http://www.nancy-kwan.com/nancyF8.jpg]
Main couples of Flower Drum Song (3)
In fact, the only non-Asian lead was played by Juanita Hall, an African American Broadway performer. The film proved a major step for Asian Americans towards equal representation in film content, as well as fair casting of Asians in Asian roles. However, in recent years, the role of Asian Americans in mainstream/blockbuster films has seemed to have regressed, as seen in The Last Airbender. We will discuss the reasons for this in the final section.

Footnotes:
(1) Dante Basco (Zuko) quote: http://www.hollywoodnews.com/2010/07/01/last-airbender-tv-series-voice-actor-speaks-out-about-film-controversy/
(2) Shim, D. “From Yellow Peril through Model Minority to Renewed Yellow Peril.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 22.4 (1998): 385-409. Print.
(3) Picture credit: http://www.nancy-kwan.com/nancyF8.jpg

December 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm 2 comments

Blog Post 1: The New Dawn of Yellowface: Racebending

(1)

You would think that each of the items showcased in the video is, without a doubt, strongly tied to the Asian cultures they came from. They would not, under any normal circumstances, be seen as representations of a white, Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon society. But much of the audience of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (as well as for Shyamalan himself), sees them as such. The main characters of Shyamalan’s live action film adaptation of the popular and critically acclaimed animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender are played by white actors and actresses. This would generally not be an issue, if not for the blatant disregard of the Asian culture and representations of Asian culture that the film makes in regards to the original series. Each of the aforementioned items is seen throughout the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series. And while those elements show up in the film, it is only as symbols of white cultures that they do. Including the elements under the guise of a completely non-Asian culture is essentially cultural appropriation of the Asian cultures the elements came from, and arguably much worse than completely ridding the film of those elements. The Last Airbender is only the latest in a slew of films produced by Paramount that degrade Asian Americans, whether implicitly through lack of representation, or explicitly, through stereotypical and false representation. This series of blog posts will analyze how The Last Airbender is essentially the nail in the coffin in a reversion to the “yellow peril” representation of Asian Americans in the early days of film, and a regression from the former model minority mainstream media view of Asian Americans.

The casting of non-Asians in roles that are Asian in the original series was not 1) an act of chance, 2) a casting based on acting ability, or 3) a bid to increase revenue with a household name actor or actress:

1): An act of chance:
The casting call for the movie specifically called for people who are “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” to audition. Caucasian actors were clearly preferred over people of color, as when filmmakers truly want people of all ethnicities to audition, the casting calls generally read just “any ethnicity.”

2): Skill level in acting:
None of the three main protagonists are award-winning performers. Noah Ringer, a 14-year-old with no previous acting experience, plays Aang, the movie’s primary protagonist. Nicola Peltz, who plays Aang’s companion Katara, has had small parts in three widely critically panned movies. And the major claim to fame of Sokka actor Jackson Rathbone is his portrayal of an angst-ridden vampire in the Twilight movie series. In fact, the only main character with any acting accolades is the sole Asian of the four, Dev Patel, who plays villan Zuko. Patel was a part of the critically acclaimed British TV series, Skins, and won numerous awards for his role as Slumdog Millionaire protagonist Jamal Malik.

3): To increase publicity/revenue with a big name star:
While there are many things wrong with the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the Persian protagonist of the videogame-based movie Prince of Persia, that casting has one defense that the Avatar castings do not: household name status of the actor. Jake Gyllenhaal has been acting since the age of 10, has appeared in over 20 feature films, and has been garnered with an ever increasing number of awards that have the words “sexy,” “attractive,” “hot,” and/or “beautiful.” Casting him in the main role guarantees the movie a certain portion of the audience that will go see the movie just because Gyllenhaal is in it, as well as increased publicity from having a household name star. The Last Airbender, on the other hand, gained nothing in the casting of its white actresses and actors.

This only reinforces the “glass ceiling” that Asian American actors and actresses battle against every day in Hollywood, a glass ceiling that prevents young Asian Americans from having role models of their own in mainstream media.

Additionally, there are currently not many roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood, and the casting of The Last Airbender takes away just another chance for young Asian American (aspiring) actors and actresses to be part of something that already inspired a generation of Asian American youth. For example, John Cho, who plays the part of Hikaru Sulu in the 2009 Star Trek “Reboot” movie, often states in interviews how inspiring it was to see George Takei (who played Sulu in the original series and movies) on screen, as a fellow Asian American. In an interview with Teen Hollywood, Cho says, “Although I wasn’t a Trekkie, my primary connection to the show was just being excited about George Takei being on television. I remember just yelling across the house, ‘There’s an Asian guy on TV! There’s an Asian guy on TV, come quick, come quick, he may disappear, he may disappear, hurry up. Come now.’ (2)”

However, the premise behind the “whitifying” of the movie’s cultures is not the only racially flawed aspect of the film. The people involved with the film were just as much a part of the issue. The production staff of The Last Airbender demonstrated its “stunning lack of cultural incompetency (3)” when one casting director released the following statements in regards to open casting calls for extras: “We want you to dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire. If you’re Korean, wear a kimono,” (kimonos are Japanese, not Korean) and ‘“it doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage if you didn’t come in a big African thing,” [and another] casting director is also quoted as describing the background extras being cast as “authentic Asians.”’(4) This cultural insensitivity extends even into the cast, where Jason Rathbone, who plays one of the main protagonists, announced that he thinks “It’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan. It’s one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit, (5)” in response to concerns that he, as a Caucasian, was slated to play a character of Inuit/Asian Pacific descent. While his two costar protagonists are still young, Jason Rathbone is 25. It is not beyond reason to expect him to not make culturally insensitive, implicitly derogatory statements.

From top to bottom: Aang, played by Noah Ringer; Zuko, played by Dev Patel; Katara, played by Nicola Peltz; Sokka, played by Jackson Rathbone. (6)

M. Night Shyamalan has repeatedly noted the presence of many Asians (extras) in the film to combat accusations of racism. I read this great analogy by “PV” at http://www.racialicious.com/2010/07/02/an-open-letter-to-racebending-com-detractors/:

“For M. Knight to call this movie racially diverse and driven is a spit in the eye. To give an analogy of what he really did to make this film racially diverse:
M. Knight sees a child fiercely struggling to swim to shore to avoid drowning. The Paramount Beach owners see this, and ask if anyone is willing to save the child. M. Knight stands up and tells how once upon a past Halloween, he and his daughter played out her favorite drowning scene and he came to her rescue. He feels he can do the real thing. So M. Knight runs into the water…but he stops after getting in waist deep. He grabs the closest children, who are not in any danger of drowning, and pulls them to shore. M. Knight turns to the onlooker, who asks why he didn’t save the child further out, still struggling to make it to shore alone. With that, M. Knight puffs out his chest and says, ‘I did save the children! Didn’t you see? I saved many children from drowning!’

The on lookers then say, ‘But there is still one more, struggling further out!’

M. Knight looks back to the struggling child and looks back at the people. He shakes his head indignantly, then responds with, ‘Why are you all so mad? I saved the children!’”

As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam write in Unthinking Eurocentrism, “Even ‘affirmative action’ casting can swerve racist purposes, as when the role of the White judge in the novel Bonfire of the Vanities was given to Morgan Freeman in the film, but only as a defense mechanism to ward off accusations of racism (Shohat and Stam 190).” Shyamalan’s movie reeks of this backtracking and “appeasing” in the casting of Asian extras.

Shyamalan has also often used an excuse along the lines of that of “course he isn’t racist, he’s Asian American himself!” that Shohat and Stam address. “The usual sequence in media accusations of racism is that the racist statement is made, offense is expressed, punishment is called for: all of which provokes a series of counter-statements – that the person in question is not racist, that some of the person’s best friends belong to the race in questions (or in this case, the person belongs to the race in questions), and so forth. The process has the apparently positive result of placing certain statements beyond the pale of civil speech; blatant racism is stigmatized and punished. But the more subtle, deeper forms of discursively and institutionally structured racism remain unrecognized…racism is reduced to an individiual, attitudinal problem, distracting attention from racism as a systematic self reproducing discursive apparatus that itself shapes racist attitudes.” (Shohat and Stam 201)

And oh yeah. It should probably be mentioned that there is one East Asian female in the entire film. Her role? She massages a Fire Nation character’s feet.

Footnotes:
(1) Video link/credit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBda7b9tRdk
(2) John Cho interview at http://www.teenhollywood.com/2009/05/04/john-cho-star-treks-young-sulu
(3) Casting director quote from http://www.racebending.com/v3/featured/frank-marshall-we-did-not-discriminate-against-anyone/
(4) Casting director quotes: http://www.racebending.com/v3/background/caucasian-or-any-other-ethnicity/
(5) Rathbone quote: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1602757/20090114/story.jhtml
(6) Photo credit to http://www.bscreview.com/2010/07/notes-from-new-sodom-the-lost-airbender/

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. “Stereotype, Realism, and the Struggle over Representation.” Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London ; New York: Routledge, 1994. 178-215. Print.

December 12, 2010 at 7:41 pm 1 comment

Tie A Yellow Ribbon – AAMP Screening


Last week, I attended the AAMP screening of Tie A Yellow Ribbon. It would interest me to know how many people attend screenings held by OBSA or the QRC, because the audience seemed to be almost all AAMP mentors, most of who helped put on the program. As far as I know, I was the only AAMP mentee there, and there was a girl from OBSA who wanted to broaden her horizons (which I thought was awesome). The girl from OBSA (sorry, I’m terrible at names or else I would give one; I don’t want it to seem like I’m purposely labeling her as “OBSA girl” or something) talked about how all the events she had attended in the past had been through OBSA or similar organizations, and she wanted a glimpse into similar events put on by different organizations, including AAMP. She noted that she didn’t really know that much about the Asian American experience, and in the discussion after the screening, each of the other people in the room (all Asian Americans) shared some reactions to movie and how the movie reflected their experience as an Asian American, if at all, as well as what kinds of movies they would like to see made about Asian Americans.

As for the movie itself, I was somewhat blindsided by the double storyline that took place. The synopsis posted by AAMP (the short synopsis provided by the official website) led me to believe that the two storylines of the film were actually pertaining to one person, not two. The synopsis reads:

“Estranged from her family due to a childhood indiscretion with her white brother, a young Korean adoptee woman seeks to regain a sense of home by exploring ties with the Asian Americans she meets in her new apartment building, until suddenly, her brother shows up at the door, stirring up long lost feelings that she has tried to bury.

Making her feature debut, writer-director Joy Dietrich, also a Korean adoptee, introduces audiences to the world of Asian American young women and delicately addresses the abnormally high rates of depression and suicide among Asian American girls, creating a work great compassion and poetic beauty.”

I assumed that the depression and suicide among Asian American girls was related to the storyline about the Korean adoptee (not a huge leap to make, right?). However, as I watched the film, I realized there was a completely separate storyline going on there. The “depression and suicide among Asian American girls” was, in fact, part of a second storyline involving Beatrice, the roommate of Jenny (the adoptee). The Beatrice storyline somewhat dimmed my view of the movie, as I felt like it was kind of beating a dead horse – mainly, the “overworked Asian who wants to be a writer/artist/musician but whose parents expect him/her to be a doctor/lawyer/businessperson” dead horse, but also the “exoticized, eroticized Asian female” dead horse. Granted, the movie somewhat addresses the latter by making Bea’s boyfriend (who has an Asian fetish of sorts) give an extraordinarily creepy speech about Asian American women that might have had some truth in it that was negated by the fact that he was pretty much sexually harassing Jenny; the movie was purposely exploring the sexualized Asian woman. But the biggest part of Bea’s story was the “disapproving parent” storyline, which I felt was just overdone and not really exploring a new facet of Asian American life and/or culture.

Sophie Wang

December 10, 2010 at 11:47 pm Leave a comment

Metro PCS – Hipster Racism or Just Plain Racism?

I don’t know if any of you have seen the recent Metro PCS commercials starring “Ranjit and Chad,” a heavily accented South Asian tech expert duo, but I was absolutely shocked when I first saw one of them. The commercials open with generic South Asian music, and run the gamut from showcasing some caricature-ly bad 80’s-style dancing from Chad, to comparing wireless providers to donkeys, to scantily clad bellydancers, to such gems of dialogue as “You are now like my uncle’s cow Godi: tied to a post and milked at regular intervals.”

This only compounds on the issue of stereotyping Indians as call center tech workers. Says Jim Edwards of the CBS Interactive Business Network, “There are seven ads in total, and the jokes within them revolve around cows, donkeys, cobras, mongooses, snake charmers and other things that Westerners think you can see a lot of in India. One of the new ads can’t even get its racism right: At one point, Ranjit exclaims “Holy shishkabob!” Kebabs are, of course, a Middle Eastern, not Indian, food.”
Here is one of the videos:

Edwards, a detractor of the ad, also says in an earlier article, “The problem here is that MetroPCS is getting ahead of its audience. You could argue that the ad is funny because it’s actually an ironic satire about Indian sterotypes, and is thus critiquing the racism within itself. But for viewers without sociology degrees, it looks a lot more like “look at the funny Indians!””

However, neither circumstance is removed from racism. The only difference is that one is the typical stereotyping racism, while the other is a more newly minted form of racism, aptly coined “hipster racism” by Carmen Van Kerckhove at the popular blog, Racialicious.

Hipster racism is defined as the following: “Hipster racism involves making derogatory comments with a racial basis in an attempt to seem witty and above it all. Specifically, the idea is to sound ironic, as in “I’m allowed to say this because of course I’m not racist, so it’s funny.” It’s an aspect of a larger part of the hipster culture, which wants to seem jaded and urbane and oh-so-witty. Using language which is viewed as inflammatory or not appropriate is supposed to push the boundaries and make someone look edgy, but it only really comes across that way to people who buy into that system. To everyone else, it’s just racist.”

Sorry Metro PCS. You can’t win this one.

(Unfortunately, the ads seem to be working. Sales were up 22% in the period when the ads began airing (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1283699/000119312510114607/d10q.htm#toc20540_4). That seems to dampen hope of the ads being discontinued anytime soon)

PS: The only ads I’ve seen of late have been during Lakers games, as I don’t watch TV (with commercials) otherwise. This ad, as well as the potentially offensive Ken Jeong Adidas ads (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJLmiU9y8_g) airs a LOT. Does this have to do something with the assumed audience? Do advertisement marketing execs believe that sports fans will respond better to racism, in whatever form it takes? Can someone who watched non-sports TV give some insight/input?

Ken Jeong ad:

Sophie Wang

December 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

Blog post of my choice

We need to talk about video games at Pitzer.

Absolutely, its imperative.

No longer should it be sufficient to only saunter in and out books and movies. Now there is a medium that forces us to participate! Video games don’t operate without explicit consent. More to the point, the way in which they operate/ and to that degree whether or not it is a successful venture into a digital world is largely reliant on HOW the audience participates. Indeed, can we even call them an audience anymore?

http://www.ted.co/talk/jesse_schell_when_games_invade_real_life.html

Schell discusses in his famous ted talk the power of video games. He hints that their advancement of the punishment reward system is applicable to our most mundane accomplishments. He asks us to imagine what could happen if insurance companies adopted this same model. Imagine waking up after a solid night of sleep 8 POINTS! and than you brush your teeth 5 POINTS! and then some whole grains 25 POINTS!

And in this nature you could earn points for being healthy. And these points in a very visible way would accumulate and manifest a discount on your next insurance bill.

These are stakes present in the video game world. Sensors and measures of everything.

This abstraction of a modern video game point model has been contested. Some reason that it is only applicable to fun activities. What these critics fail to understand is that these point systems are already being applied outside the video game realm, however poorly (think airplane miles and credit card points). These point systems encourage consumption with a reward. What they neglect in the competition and social nature of point garnering. To be concise, these point accumulations values need a public setting to encourage persons to gather them.

Take farmville. It has more users than all of twitter. It costs 0 dollars to play and is poised to become the most profitable entity in all of existence. How? Well farmville lets players see how their friends are doing. In fact, viewing the status of other farms constitutes a large portion of the gameplay. The genius lies in the pay per upgrade model. Farmville lets users purchase “farmville cash” with real money. Now if you want to be better then your friends you don’t have to have the black VISA card. All you need is 20 dollars, a few extra cattle.

Now for the seemingly hard part.
How is this specific to Asian Americans in Media??

1) Video games often cross international hands. Video games have a much more diverse consumption rate and should be accountable to their depictions.

2) China has seen video games become so popular it’s had to establish bandwidth and time limits. Their workforce was losing productivity at an alarmingly rate. Interestingly enough this ban has been touted as LESS effective then bans on missing work/having children. The Chinese gamer culture takes its video games seriously!

4) Japan and South Korea treat the most talented of their videogame players to award shows, 6/7 figure contracts. These persons are icons and wield as much power as other celebrities.

5) This media is wholly engrossing, and racialized depictions the user is forced to interact and interpret. In some cases these depictions could betray you, kill you, or fall in love with you….

Just imagine the conditioning possible.
I mean I’ll never trust blue people and that’s only because of RISK.

—-Ryan Hyman

December 9, 2010 at 9:16 pm Leave a comment

“Gay or Asian?” spread in Details Magazine

By Rebecca Potts-Dupre

In April of 2004, Details Magazine had an article entitled “Gay or Asian?” This article compared the physical features and dress of an Asian male to gay and Asian stereotypes still prevalent in today’s time. The article caused quite an uproar among the Asian American community and while the magazine claims they meant it as satire, one cannot help but be a little disturbed by the blatant stereotypes and, in many ways, derogatory comments being made about an Asian American male.

Details is a magazine geared towards men’s fashion. The magazine has a broad readership and often covers provocative and risky topics. Unfortunately this article was a part of a series and it was not the first of “Gay or…” articles. They had already produced other articles entitled “Gay or Jesus?” and “Gay or Latino?.”

The Asian American community did not take lightly to what they believed to be a “racist” article. While petitions were being sent around the west coast by the UCLA Asia Institute, protests were being held in front of the building of Details Magazine and even on Harvard campus. In class we have discussed the portrayal of Asian Americans in the media and I remembered seeing this post a while back, so I wanted to take a second look at it through what I have learned from class.

The first thing one notices is the title, “Gay or Asian?” Immediately I felt as though the article had taken an unnecessarily provocative tone to the article. To make such a definite parallel between the gay community and the Asian American community seemed offensive. While I understand the importance of catchy titles and I think this title certainly caught my eye, it is simply too offensive when alongside the rest of the article. The article then proceeds to analyze the fashion and physical features of the Asian American male model they have photographed, using stereotypical commentary centered on the Asian American and gay community. But they did not just use the stereotypes of Asian American men; they also used stereotypes that are specific to Asian culture, food, religion, etc.

While the article itself interested me at the start, when I began to notice the numerous responses to “Gay or Asian” I found a positive thing that came from it. The Asian American community rallied around this issue and was able to create a united front. While the article to me is highly offensive and improper, seeing the activism that came from it was very exciting. Historically the Asian American community has struggled with their identity and to have the opportunity to so forcefully speak out against this gross misrepresentation could have sparked a new wave of interest in how Asian Americans are portrayed in the media, who is deciding on their identity, and made them realize the importance of taking back control of their identity.

December 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm 1 comment

Reflections on the Film Festival

Post by Rebecca Potts-Dupre

I loved working on the Film Festival. Working as a group was a lot easier than I expected. I partnered with Galen and Amy for the final film shown, The People I’ve Slept With. We all worked well together and were very excited about the film. Galen and I worked on our introductions for the film and the director and as a group we worked on questions that would be good to ask during the Q&A session. We met as a group outside of class and also communicated through email. I think as a class we struggled with advertising the film festival. Being spilt up into groups based on a particular film, we often needed to advertise to the same organizations and clubs. I think it would have been better to be split up into groups for two different parts of the planning time. While organizing the film festival and choosing the films to show we could have had groups devoted to the different aspects of planning- location, reception, advertising, etc. Then, as the film festival date came closer we could be split up into groups for each of the individual films.

The programming and organizing was handled pretty easily. A lot of the responsibilities we would have had were taken care of by Professor Ma (contacting the film makers, budget planning, location) and Galen planned the reception. While we did come up with the short clips to use to describe the films, the poster was also taken care of for us (though I loved having the opportunity to select which poster we liked the most). When it came to advertising I think we all could have worked a little harder on getting the word out, but in general I think we all did a fantastic job. I got in contact with my friends at Occidental and UC Riverside to get the word out and posted posters around the dorms and dining halls. I know we also contacted clubs and organizations around campus. Inevitably, one of the problems the Film Festival will always face, no matter what weekend it is planned for, is competition with the other programs and events planned for the same weekend and/or time slot. It was unfortunate we did not know of some of these events in advance, but I am not sure how we would have been able to know in ahead of time.

It was quite interesting to sit through each of the showings and think about how they related to class, challenged theories in class and/or introduced something completely new. I was especially impressed by some of the discussions we had after the showings and at other times was very disappointed by the discussions. I think in general I felt these films confirmed things we had learned in class and/or expanded upon things we learned in class. The film Lt. Watada was a very interesting film to see again and while I think the documentary did not particularly highlight his Asian heritage, it was interesting to take that into account when discussing the film. The People I’ve Slept With was an interesting film to think about in relation to what we had learned in class because I felt Juliet did portray the somewhat stereotypical role of the seductive Asian women, but through a modern, feminist lense. It was not as though she was portraying the “dragon lady,” she was a sexually free young woman that did not follow the submissive female role Asian Americans are often portrayed as, or in the steps of her sister. The discussion we had with the Director, Quentin Lee after the film spoke to this message and I was very interested to hear more from him, as his role as an Asian American filmmaker and on his views on the message the film gives to the audience. Overall, I think the film Festival broadened my views on Asian Americans in the Media and subsequently complicated the topic even more.

December 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm Leave a comment

Asian Americans on YouTube (Blog Series Part 3 – Final)

In my previous blog post, I wanted to highlight the agency of the “YouTube generation” of the API community. Using the power they have as consumers of online media, this population of internet-adept Asian Americans has created a change in the way that they are represented in media. Left out of traditional mainstream media, an increasing number of Asian Americans artists have taken advantage of new, online media to exhibit their talents. And in return, an eager audience of Asian Americans has enthusiastically shown their support.

Today I’d like to concentrate more on the content created by Asian American talents that is generating so much buzz. What are these artists creating? What is it about? Is it any good?

The prevalence of Asian American musicians probably trumps the number of Asian American filmmakers on YouTube, but due to this class’ focus on films, I will focus on those artists who post short films/skits (and also generate a large viewership). These include the works of Wong Fu Productions and Ryan Higa (aka Nigahiga).

The founders of Wong Fu Productions came into online fame during their college years, through short films such as this one, titled “Yellow Fever.”

The film is a 15 minute film that revolves around an Asian American male college student’s question: “Why are all the white guys taking our girls?” The view count (at the time that I accessed the site) is 218,653. If you count the 300,000+ views on the video of bloopers made during Yellow Fever’s creation (uploaded onto Phil Wang’s personal YouTube channel, “pwangs”), this film has gained the attention of over half a million viewers.

The film was shot using simple digital camcorders (according to their website[1]: a Sony Handycam and Canon ZR 10). They enlisted the help of their college friends for actors. The script is amusing and easy to follow – it is what one would expect to see from a group of college students untrained in writing, directing, and acting.

How did this short, casual film arouse so much interest? According to the CNN report[2] that was embedded in the previous post, these stories appeal to the Asian American youth that compose their audience – “young Asian Americans who can’t find depictions of themselves in mainstream media.” Janice Jann, one of Wong Fu’s fans, explains in her CNN interview: “Wong Fu’s stories are things that happen to you and me, kind of; it’s not like kung fu all the time.”

Wong Fu has progressed greatly from their college campus, Sony Handycam days. Their works’ production values are visibly upgraded. They still have short, fun skits, but their repertoire has grown to include more artistic works.

This video was a part of a series they called “Technology Ruins Romance.” The quality, as you can see, has improved greatly from their “Yellow Fever” and “Just a Nice Guy”[3] days.

This short, called “The Spare”, was featured in Visual Communication’s 2008 film festival and the 2008 San Francisco’s International Asian American film festival. Their artistic exploration is really interesting to see, and a refreshing change from their comedic skits.

This is their latest release on YouTube. Another one of their comical, short films – a collaboration with YouTube comedian Nigahiga who will be mentioned below. I wanted to point out this short as an example of the amount of support/popularity these filmmakers have attained. I first accessed this video on the 25th of November – 2 days after it had been released onto YouTube. At that time, the viewership numbered well above 2 MILLION already. [Side note: If you speed up to 23:10, you will be able to see their use of the “racking focus” technique to emphasize the intensity/threat in the scene. I was extremely amused to find this. The shift from the background to the barbed wire is a sequence I remember noting during Robert Nakamura’s Mazanar (1972).]

The reporter in the CNN new report describes Wong Fu’s works as “use of new media to tell their community’s stories.” But do these short films/skits created by Asian American YouTube stars really reflect the stories in their community? From the works that I’ve seen so far, I would say that the stories that they tell are really limited to their own experiences as young Asian American males. In personal conversations with friends (who identify as Asian Americans), we have noticed that there is a clear trend of heteronormativity in their storylines.

YouTube has also seen a large increase in Asian American amateur comedians – two of the most viewed being Kevjumba (Kevin Wu) and Nigahiga (Ryan Higa). Kevjumba has taken advantage of his online popularity and starred on CBS’s Amazing Race. Nigahiga has the most subscribers (close to 3 million) on YouTube. The following clips show some of their initial videos that gained attention from YouTube audiences.

This commentary by Kevjumba talking about his high school life gained more than a million views. His other early videos that won him many fans/views are also amusing observations he makes on learning how to drive, preparing for the SATs, playing video games, and girls. Watching them now, I found them mildly entertaining. But I could understand a fellow high school student supporting and relating to his antics.

A lot of the videos on Kevjumba’s channel revolve around his Asian American identity. This can be increasingly found as his YouTube career advances and he becomes older. In the following videos, I was surprised to see him addressing stereotypes and unfair media representations of Asians.

Sure, he uses the “Chinese accent” as a source of humor a bit too much, and his following attempt to discourage the negative use of the word “gay” ended up sounding like a homophobic self-defense, asserting his heterosexuality…

… but at least he tries(?). Yet my problems with watching his content is nothing compared to our next YouTube celebrity: Nigahiga.

This video (one of a series of “how to be…” videos[4]) with glaringly problematic content represents the initial work of Nigahiga. I could blame these offensive, homophobic, racist, stereotypical “jokes” on the fact that these are his beginning videos and he was still in high school when he uploaded them. But I cannot bring myself to excuse such offensive content – especially knowing that it garnered over 25 MILLION views. It’s literally painful to watch as Nigahiga and his friend try an abhorrent “imitation” of what they believe to be homosexual, while using a pejorative, extremely homophobic slur at (3:05) – all intended to evoke laughter from the audience.

What infuriates/saddens me more is the response of the audience – pages and pages of comments applauding his jokes, and not a single comment pointing out the obvious problems with his material. It was even deemed “a YouTube classic” by numerous users. And these comments aren’t made back in 2007 when he created his video. The same feedback was being posted just hours before I accessed the video.
Who are these viewers? Are they the same Asian American youth interviewed by CNN, supporting Nigahiga for “telling their community’s stories”? It makes me wonder what audience finds his videos appealing. Is their lack of critical consciousness a reflection of the entire “YouTube generation” that I, only one blog post ago, declared to be “agents of change”? This makes me quite worried and sad.

My tone and goal shifted entirely during this process of writing and researching for the blog. What I originally saw as a “revolution,” a “phenomenon,” I now see as something that needs more evaluation. Before I thought that the mere existence of a strong Asian American presence on YouTube was a political act in itself. But can this change be considered progressive if those at the forefront rarely upload content that challenges mainstream’s ignorance of issues of identity – such as gender and sexuality? The only two API women[5] who maintained channels on YouTube with considerable viewership – and who are not musicians or “beauty gurus” – paled in comparison to the amount of support that the men were gathering.

YouTube is a great resource for Asian American artists and has great potential. But instead of jumping to declaring it a revolutionary, new form of media that is the antithesis of traditional mainstream media – as I did – we must analyze it more critically and see what images/representations are really being produced and propagated.


[1] http://wongfuproductions.com/about-us/faq/

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtpZTuFJ2DY

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrnK-qPARYI

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khFhF64P3VQ

[5] http://www.youtube.com/user/happyslip?blend=1&ob=4 and http://www.youtube.com/user/communitychannel?blend=2&ob=4

Posted by Jasmine Kim

December 5, 2010 at 7:54 am 2 comments

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