Blog series: Asian Americans on Youtube (Part 2-Agents of change)

December 1, 2010 at 11:28 am 1 comment

I would like to begin this post by expanding on my usage of the term mainstream media. In my previous post introducing the blog series, I used the term as to counter both YouTube and early Asian American documentaries. What I should have done is specify that I am limiting the term to traditional mainstream media. By traditional, I am referring to the newspapers (and other mass print publications such as magazines), broadcast media (television and radio), and movie/music studio industries. This distinction is necessary, since the term mainstream media embodies those media distributed to the mass public (“mass media”) – including internet-based media such as blogs and user-generated videos on YouTube. This explanation may be helpful as we watch the embedded interviews (below) of some YouTube celebrities. In these interviews, the speakers seem to be using the general term mainstream to refer to broadcast/traditional media.

Also, my coverage/understanding of YouTube as a new medium is shallow. It merely extends to acknowledging that it is a user-dependent space – for both content production and viewership – that is a critical player (along with sites like Facebook and Myspace) in the Web 2.0[1]. For a more in-depth analysis of the technological, political/economic, and social factors that go into the development of YouTube and other forms of new media, I must refer you to publications by academics such as Patrick Vonderau[2], Jean Burgess[3], and Pitzer’s very own Alexandra Juhasz.

What I will be exploring in this series is using the Asian American presence (as celebrity and audience) on YouTube as a reflection of the “cultural transformation”[4] that is occurring in the Asian American community at large. I must note here that the portion of the API community I am addressing is mostly composed of younger, internet-savvy Asian Americans who frequent YouTube and utilize social networking sites (such as Facebook and Myspace). Since its inception (around 2003 to 2005), online media was most actively supported by a younger generation of students. This demographic has grown up witnessing the progress of computers (desktops to laptops) and the Internet (dial-up to broadband). They are comfortable using online instant messaging and social networking sites in their daily lives to connecting with friends. This enables for an easy and effective sharing and participation in online media.

Through videos, interviews, and articles – as well as personal observations – I want to relate the growing presence/influence of API’s on YouTube with the growth of the community’s agency. Asian American artists and entertainers are stepping up to present their talents, no longer hindered by the lack of a stage. The Asian American community has also found a voice as consumers of this online media. Through their active support, i.e. viewership numbers, they have seen their demands for more representation in the media (albeit not traditional mainstream) fulfilled.

A prime example of Asian American artists and fans coming together to create their own stage is the annual International Secret Agents (ISA) concert.

Wong Fu Productions and Far East Movement began this event in 2008 to showcase young Asian American talent – a majority of whom began their careers on YouTube. Fans now had the chance of seeing their virtual celebrities in real life and not just behind their computer screens. With limited sponsorships and support, the creators took a leap of faith in their fans, their YouTube community. The result was a sold-out concert that’s been growing ever since, “proving that there is a voice, face, and desire for Asian Americans in the mainstream world.”[5]

A similar event/organization that focuses on bringing Asian American representation to the media is Kollaboration. With a mission and mantra of “Empowerment through Entertainment,” this API non-profit organization is a movement run by young Asian Americans “to celebrate the vast talents of their community and hopefully bring them into the mainstream.”[6] The annual talent show is now hosted by multiple cities and draws crowds of over five thousand eager fans.

Wesley Chan of Wong Fu Productions describes their motivations behind creating such a stage: “… we thought that if the audience was presented with a show or concert, it would be really enjoyable, and would help with the community because there was really nothing that showcased Asian American talent … We’re just really trying to give the community something to be inspired by.”[7]

At a panel discussion during VC’s 2009 LA Asian American Film Festival, “THE NEW BUZZ: THE RISE OF THE NEW ASIAN AMERICAN STAR,” YouTube/online stars explain the power of the audience/community in driving their existence.

The stir that these YouTube artists and fans have created has even gotten the attention of traditional mainstream media. Check out this report on CNN about Wong Fu Productions.

But alas, it seems that the Asian American community has still a while to go before expecting to see representation in traditional media that is comparable to the success they’ve seen online. The following snippet from “THE NEW BUZZ” panel (around 02:30) has Phil Wang from Wong Fu describing the discrimination and obstacles in working with the traditional movie industry.

Despite recognizing that these Asian American filmmakers are influential with their audience and have a noteworthy following, the executives refused to let go of old biases that Asian American lead actors and actresses just “won’t sell.”

Yet such setbacks aren’t holding down these ambitious artists. Instead, they choose to push forward with their own agendas, with the support of their Asian American YouTube community. The number of API artists, entertainers, and musicians continue to grow on sites like YouTube – encouraged by the success that online pioneers such as Wong Fu Productions, David Choi[8], and Ryan Higa[9] have had.

These “YouTube celebrities” and their supportive online community can certainly be seen as agents of change within the API community. Professor Oliver Wang at California State University, Long Beach, explains: “The YouTube phenom suggests that, if we’re cut out from more conventional avenues, we’ll still use the tools available to us to get ourselves out there, seen and heard.”[10]


[1] Web 2.0 refers to web-based sites, applications, and tools that facilitate user interactions. FMI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0 and http://www.techpluto.com/web-20-services/

[2] Vonderau, Patrick. The YouTube Reader. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

[3] Burgess J and Green J. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2009.

[4] Tajima 1991, p. 10

[5] http://wongfuproductions.com/ISA/events/los-angeles-08/

[6] http://www.kollaboration.org/about/kollaboration

[7] http://iamkoream.com/cover-story-youtube-stars/

[8] http://www.youtube.com/user/davidchoimusic?blend=1&ob=4

[9] http://www.youtube.com/user/nigahiga?blend=1&ob=4

[10] http://iamkoream.com/cover-story-youtube-stars/

Posted by Jasmine Kim

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 30, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I have decided to post my comments to your individual posts. Since you thought process and ideas about Asian Americans in YouTube has changed as you develop the project, I feel that a more developmental format for my commentary will work better with the nature of your project. In that sense, we are both responding to and utilizing web 2.0 to study and comment on media.

    Commenting on your first post, I raised the issue of YouTube’s ownership by one of the largest global media conglomerates—Newscorp, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. What strikes me about your discussion in this post are the ideas around “presence,” “popularity,” and “participation/involvement” that these Asian American media producers talk about all aspire to eventual financial gain and the model of commercial media production as a measure of their success. In other words, they follow the logic of the global flow of media and capital, and the viewer is positioned as a consumer, whose support in the form of viewing a video or writing a comment, functions as a form of cultural currency that these media producers bank on to then create commercial opportunities for themselves. If, as you said in the post, “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,” I ask – what are they changing?

    Furthermore what does this say about your idea of cultural transformation? In comparison to the Asian American documentaries from the 1970s that we study in class, the contrast these new media productions provide is quite vivid because the first generation of Asian American independent media is aligned with counterculture and rebellion of the 1960s and ‘70s. Those makers and subjects do not want to assimilate into dominant, capitalist culture, but instead, create their own. The current YouTube makers also want to create their own media culture, but one that is almost identical to the dominant model (or to use your terminology, mainstream media) with the only difference being that theirs is populated by Asian faces.

    In a way, this recalls our class discussion around the film FLOWER DRUM SONG, and ideas of “separate but equal” and assimilation, don’t you think?

    Posted by Ming-Yuen S. Ma

    Reply

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