I signed up for Asian American Popular culture because I assumed it would be a class where you just talk about fun movies or video clips and have ~shallow~ conversations about how you felt, for example, screw Karlie Kloss who dressed up as a geisha.
Or hmm, I’m not so sure how I feel about Ki Hong Lee acting as a Vietnamese foreigner in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It is valid to feel angered, saddened, happy, or a mix of feelings in portrayals of Asian Americans in the media. This act of sharing emotions with others is good on the first dimension. However, this class gave me the critical tools to identify why I feel those emotions, the second dimension. And the third dimension, the most important theme that brings all the dimensions together is how everything fits into the system of hegemonic oppression that has ultimately spread like the plague in the world. In this class, I not only learned important terms and concepts that I can use to name the pains that Asian Americans go through, but I have also learned how to actively fight the battle against the system of hegemony using and expanding on the course concept of liberalism and radicalism through the analysis of three films, Better Luck Tomorrow, Linsanity, and Baby Cobra.
In Better Luck Tomorrow, a deep analysis of the film came to the conclusion that Asian Americans will continue to play the role of the model minority unless oppressed actors of society express complete radicalism. The wretched “cycle” that is quoted in many parts of the movie is the cycle of hegemonic oppression.
It is a cycle because the actors cannot break free completely even though they try to commit deviant behaviors (drugs, sex, alcohol, cheating, etc). The system is loose enough to allow for quixotic behaviors by the oppressed actors in society because the disillusionment of complete agency allows for rationalization and normalization of the system. The reason that Ben and his friends are not able to escape this label as the model minority is because they still play within the boundaries of liberalism. It all comes down to the fact that they are still achieving high grades and seek to go to the most prestigious colleges. Liberalism wants to just keep hegemony in place, whereas radicalism wants to fundamentally undo such social order. In order to be radical, one must actively seek to not fit in with the model minority stereotype: perfect grades, prestigious college, and a great job. It is, however, understandable that most do not break the system because it is all encompassing of social and economic opportunities.
In Linsanity, Jeremy Lin was able to break the system of hegemony by exercising his agency and completely rejecting the system’s ideologies. He pursued a different system of ideology; a relationship with God. It is important to mention that he did not use religion, as that would be playing into the system of oppression. Religion is man made, a tool to give temporary relief to the oppressed peoples by the oppressors (through a list of following commandments, creeds, and authorities). Lin lives with a completely different ideology that centers around his reliance on God as he gives up material jealousies and future to serve a God. This is how he, unlike the actors of BLT, exits the system because he does not need reliance on the material or social values of the world. The film recalls that Lin turned down millions of dollars in advertisements because money is not his primary goal. He plays basketball solely “for God because that is [his] purpose which gives [him] peace and ultimately joy” (Linsanity).
In Baby Cobra, Ali Wong is able to radically escape the system through her own ideology of “Colonize the colonizer.”
What this means is that she takes the stereotypes that are meant to disadvantage the oppressed peoples and twists them into things she can benefit from. For example, her pregnancy which many think of as career killers, was able to make herself distinct from all other stand-up comedians. Have you seen any other pregnant woman in her third trimester performing live on stage? Nope, me either. Another extremely dehumanizing stereotype is that Asian women are exotic sexual creatures, valuable, a commodity. Also, on a gender level, women are seen as whores if they sleep around a lot. However, Wong shamelessly claims that her sex life was extremely active like an amusement park. She also takes the harmful stereotype and twists it into something she can use, for example, trying to seduce her husband getting him to think her body is sacred temple.
In conclusion, these three movies all showed that it is important to reject the fundamental harmful stereotypes and ideologies that are conditioned into society. These harmful stereotypes, such as the model minority, is harmful because it turns living, breathing, distinct actors of societies into one lump of bodies labeled as Asians. It fundamentally invalidates us as people. Tweaking the system here and there to provide a synthetic relief for oppressed peoples is staying in the cycle. This is why liberalism fails. There is a need to radically reject the system and to do so means to adapt a different ideology as shown with Jeremy Lin and Ali Wong.
In all honesty, this class wasn’t just a stepping stone for graduation by giving me another distro to take (as I had expected it to be). This class was a milestone for my identity as an Asian American student who now aspires to be involved in Social Justice Advocacy. I can now understand the puzzle pieces in the current system of oppression that we currently live in, an clearly explain and educate others the need to act with agency in this system.