I enjoy growing with each Asian American studies course. As I learn more, I have found it easier to see connections to other classes, events and subtle happenings in my daily life. Phones, television, airplanes, the internet and similar technological advancements have revolutionized communication and at the same time contributed to the modern understanding of pop culture. Through the analysis of Asian Americans representations in US pop culture, we see a rapid globalization brought about by the ability to instantly connect with those across the world. This acceleration has allowed a transnational exchange to surpass the traditional migration of people. The trade of Asian American ideas, customs, and products has created the opportunity to create and invalidate agency. By touching on a few key examples in media, I examine the ability of the technological revolution in shaping the discourse of Asian Americans in pop culture.
Archival analysis of our primary texts this quarter have painted a recurring pattern of US ostracization of Asian American people yet a white fascination with the exotic. This treatment creates a political economy that impresses dominant social values upon on Asian American culture and its representations. As such, the history behind the stereotyped caricatures of Asian American actors in media has been relatively consistent. From the documentary Slaying the Dragon and the movie Flower Drum Song, there has been marginal improvement in the variety of roles (e.g. dragon lady, submissive wife) given to Asian American women despite the quickly growing population of Asian Americans in the US. Recent films such as Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange are testament to continued whitewashing of Asian American characters. While, the Kim brings ups the impossibility of colorblindness through the mundane performance of racialization in the Asian American cast of Better Luck tomorrow. The few Asian American celebrities and limited roles for actors presents an even larger challenge to increase presence and appreciation for Asian American identities. However, this may place undue pressure on those few Asian American celebrities who are visible to many. Manny Pacquiao is not an American citizen yet his success in the US boxing circuit has inevitably raised him to be a Filipino American icon (Arnaldo, Manny). While this adoration brings hope to Filipinx communities, Manny’s homophobia also biases the true diversity of Filipino Americans. Likewise, Jeremy Lin, pro basketball player, has struggled to gain recognition in a Black and white dominated sport and has received criticism for his fame though it was short-lived. Some argue that he is only popular because Asian American are not “expected” to be good at sports. Many of these celebrities had little agency in their ability to change the discourse on Asian Americans as the media was utilized to reinforce dominant narratives and deviations from the expectations are held to demanding standards.
To combat commercialized stereotypes of Asian Americans in pop culture, Asian Americans used the internet to create their own niche and rewrite the diversity and cultural heritage of Asian American identities. Netflix and other online streaming websites have serves as a alternate competitor to television. Master of None and Baby Cobra showcase comedians who take agency in their performance by writing the script and directing most of the production to criticize current stereotypes. Aziz Ansari is able to convey humor in the a hybridized Asian american experience of his characters. While Ali Wong pokes fun at the Model minority myth and Tiger mom archetypes through her skits as well as through her physical appearance -a pregnant body. YouTube serves as a video streaming platform elevating average Asian American to celebrities among their own audiences. Because uploading videos is free, Asian american have agency in the material they create without the need of external economic interest (Lecture). This is illustrated most obviously in the transition of Kev Jumba to mainstream media in The Amazing Race. Kevin had little control over his portrayals in the show as his relationship between his father was taken advantage of by the series production. On the other hand, the encroaching monetary interests in media have sparked their own controversies as monitoring and regulating of content becomes enforced.
As such we must always consider the political economy behind to Asian Americans representations we see, especially those that appear to be directly from the individual. For instance, Western beauty standards have been accepted as the norm across the world and especially in Asian countries. Globalization has allowed the passage of these standards to cross countries and have returned to the US in the form of Asian products and practices that improve beauty to Western ideals. This has resulted in Asian American beauty vloggers, like Michelle Phan, gaining attention for their adherence to Eurocentric beauty ideals and spread their knowledge to others. While these vloggers hold some agency to influence beauty standards, they are also under influence of the commercialized products they use. In this way, circle contact, skin whitening lotions and other Asian products are finding their way into American markets in response to transnational exchange between the East and West (Vo, Beauty Circuits). We see a similar opportunity of agency in food blogging. Rather than the experience of Asian American foods, bloggers must garner subscribers through their compliance to authenticity. The construction of the “authentic” through what Lopez assesses through “simplicity, personal connection, geographic, history, ethnic connection” preserves cultural heritage as well as allowing it to blend with different cultures through food preparation (Lecture). Bloggers’ desire to increase followers may By hybridizing the Asian American experience through personalized recipes of naan pizza, bibimbap burgers and Thai pork salad larb, they destabilize the racial branding that threatens to orientalize food (Lopez, Blogging). Asian American can take agency and create their own niche using media and the internet, but must be wary that cultural capital not prioritized in order to receive more monetary or social capital.
Globalization has brought about a new age for pop culture as individuals across the world are able to share culture from music to videos, stories to customs in a split second creating a transnational exchange that has both created agency and persisted conservative hegemonic ideology. We must recognize that the neoliberalism supporting globalization can serve dominant interest, but the are ways to utilize technology to overcome Western heteronormative standards encouraged by this desire to let everyone choose. At times, I am amazed by the extent to which pop culture is a product of Asian American involvement despite its stronger influence in shaping the lives of Asian Americans. I am hopeful that the current trend results in changing the discourse through media and creating a greater appreciation for cultural/ethnic identities beyond that of the Asian American.
Side note: I am certain my cousin in India knows more American pop songs than I do which is arguably disappointing.