Asian Americans in Social Media: Michelle Phan – Ellen Schoenfeld

December 5, 2019 at 6:17 am Leave a comment

Michelle Phan is an American Youtuber of Vietnamese descent whose videos focus on makeup and lifestyle. She is originally from Tampa, Florida but is currently based in Los Angeles. She currently possesses 8.9 million subscribers and 1.1 billion lifetime views. Her Youtube channel, which she started in 2007, has garnered an incredible amount of success for her. After having videos go viral, she became a Youtube advertising partner and ended up with partnerships with companies like Lancome and L’Oreal. She even started a monthly beauty subscription service called IPSY which has been wildly successful. In 2017, she took a yearlong hiatus, citing legal problems and issues with her self-image as her reasons for stopping posting. She has recently come back into the social media world, reinvigorating her channel for her millions of fans.

Phan’s importance and legacy as an Asian female Youtuber cannot be understated. But what does her Youtube experience, and her current general social media presence, say about Asian Americans in the media in general? Minh-Ha T. Pham writes, in her book Asians on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging, about Phan specifically and the relationship she has to talent and personality. Pham writes:

“Represented as personalities, productive Asian hipsters from the You-Tube beauty guru Michelle Phan to the pot-smoking, accidental multi-millionaire graffiti artist David Choe are imagined to embody a different relation to capitalism: one based not on gendered racial stereotypes but on individual talent. Asian creatives supposedly signal an entirely new vector of Asian labor history that is rooted in free expression rather than exploitation.” (Pham 9)

She argues somewhat against this idea of free expression, arguing that even Youtubers like Phan, who appear to be in control of the media that they are producing, are still working under the constraints of informational capitalism and can be considered to be workers within a racialized, gendered fashion work. She believes media presences like Phan to be digital and immaterial laborers that generate information for the masses.

Lori Kido Lopez takes a slightly more positive approach towards Youtubers like Phan in “Asian America Gone Viral” within the book The Routledge Companion to Asian American Media. Lopez argues that success stories like Phan’s speak to their social significance. Lopez also celebrates the strength of Asian American Youtube presence: “The existence of so many hypervisible Asian Americans online must be acknowledged as a profound change within the mediated landscape, particularly for youth audiences who primarily rely on Youtube… for entertainment content.” (Lopez 159)

Phan’s existence as a Vietnamese-American Youtuber is extremely important in terms of the representation that it provides. Even if she exists less on Youtube these days, her presence lingers, as does her contribution to the Asian American social media community. Having such a successful Asian American woman in control of her own narrative does a lot for the structure of our current media society.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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