An Exploration of Class, the Racial Mundane, and Asian American Pop Culture

Over the course of a quarter of covering a huge range of topics in Asian American popular culture, from activist folk music to comic books to YouTube culture, I have realized my own continued focus on class We constantly discussed the importance of intersectionality and repeatedly brought up experiences of various identities, and in this area I found myself in my individual work repeatedly returning to the intersection of class. Class came up mainly through the lens of political economy, yet the connection between personal experiences of class and structural experiences of class was something that I felt needed to be explored further. After thinking through many of the topics and areas covered over ten weeks, it has become clear that class is deeply tied to ideas surrounding the racially mundane. Class and its relationship with Asian American popular culture is often treated as a side subject, something that is is not often the focus. Class also is important to the political economy, and in that sense is a regular part of conversation, but again there seems to be a gap between the personal experience of class and the systemic experience of class. Moving forward, class as a part of identity cannot be pushed aside or treated only as a systemic offshoot of issues surrounding racial identity. Instead I must work, and have attempted to begin working, on connecting the racial mundane to class. When taking an intersectional perspective and attempting to move to a radical means of critiquing hegemony, this inclusion of class as an identity is crucial.

 

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Left: Wang Ta in FDS; Right (right to left): Han, Virgil, and Ben in BLT 

Despite not being a focus of identity Class oftentimes has come up in the context of the model minority myth. This came up many times throughout the course, but the first time we delved into the topic was in the context of Kim’s work and the film Better Luck Tomorrow (BLT). In this lecture we also covered the racialization of mundane performances and the homogenization that takes place through the model minority myth. BLT highlights this mundanity and homogenization by challenging such stereotypes and presenting a more complicated narrative of Asian American identity. Class is prevalent in the model minority myth, as it suggests upward mobility in society. This is clearly hinted at by the film considering that Ben and his friends do not seem to struggle financially, which is part of the basis for the model minority myth: a model minority can and will succeed professionally and financially. Yet Ben and his friends still seek to make money for no particular purpose. This contrasts interestingly with Wang Ta, in Flower Drum Song (FDS), who had no interest in pursuing a career. Both the characters of BLT and FDS lack serious financial concerns, yet in BLT the characters react by still making money as a means of distraction and escapism while Wang Ta reacts by feeling no motivation to pursue money for financial of personal pleasure. Both speak to capitalistic pressures of class that also has a layer of racialization, yet with very different personal responses by the individual characters. Class dynamics are thus important as part of hegemonic demands from capitalism as seen through the model minority, but they are also important at the level of the personal and interpersonal. The personal and interpersonal are not enough to speak about systemic oppression, as this requires a discussion of institutions and other systems of power, however a discussion of class as its own identity on the personal and interpersonal level is still important. By thinking more critically about class experiences at the more intimate level, it is possible to better understand the racial mundane and what that looks like in Asian American representation in popular culture.

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Above: A poster for the documentary “Linsanity” 

The racial mundane and the mundanity of class repeatedly were a point of interest also during the discussion of food. The performance of eating and who is financially able to access a given restaurant, speaks to the more subtle ways in which class is a part of personal experiences that speak to more systemic experiences. Furthermore, class came up in less obvious ways in discussions about sports. Linsanity covered issues of sponsorship and marketing, which require a more institutional perspective, however success in sports is also oftentimes tied into issues of upward mobility for individuals who may not have access to other resources to succeed financially or professionally. Coming from my own personal background where sports was seen as a means of going to college, this narrative seemed to be missing from Linsanity and was not necessarily discussed. This of course can be connected to racialization, but here it appears that class identity places the central role in Lin’s personal experiences. Perhaps similar to Master of None, and the generational gap in class between Dev and Brian and their parents, there is a conceptualization of the American dream and upward mobility that does not seem to be concerned about class for Asian Americans. This of course is not the case for everyone, but still provokes questions as to not only the overt presence of class discussion, but also the lack of class as an important identity on the personal level in some forms of popular culture.

Class is not the only important identity to understand the personal level of Asian American popular culture, and through a class that heavily emphasized intersectionality; this was evident throughout the course. Yet class never felt on the same level of identity based discussion as gender or national status. This led me to explore class further, not only in terms of political economy that has a more systemic implication. The everyday lived experiences, or what may be called the racial mundane, must also be included in conversation with class and the racial and class-based reflection of hegemony. I had never closely recognized this need for class-based focus on multiple levels until this class, however leaving this class, along with the many other things I’ve learned, I realize the importance of continuing this exploration.

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