The Borders of Cultural Hegemony

My opinion of this course was quite a rollercoaster over the first few lessons.  Initially, I was enthralled by Doug’s humor in discussing the theoretical framework of ethnic studies and popular culture.  But as soon as we started relating these theoretical practices to the realities of Asian-America, I realized how utterly clueless I was.  Part of this stemmed from my general pop culture illiteracy (I rarely watched TV as a kid, didn’t care too much about material culture, and was largely apathetic about sports media).  But more importantly, I realized that despite my earlier assumptions, I was rather unaware about the structural issues that many Asian-Americans have confronted and continue to face.  I had no knowledge of radical Asian-American activism within the Civil Rights Movement, was a bit indoctrinated in the model minority myth, and was skeptical of claims of global white hegemony. Thus, in this statement, I will explore how my experiences and blogs reflected my changing understanding of the complex relationship between neoliberalism, spatiality, and the hegemonic subordination of Asian-Americans.

I wanted to believe that my initial thoughts didn’t stem from pure ignorance and prejudice, and I justified them as the result of the various societies that had helped define me.  I reasoned that my skepticism of global white, US hegemony was a consequence of my years in contemporary China.  Likewise, I assumed that my exposure to the model minority myth occurred via my upbringing in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit.   My friends were predominantly Asian-Americans with successful, professional parents; and my family was deeply influenced by the “tiger mom” ethos via the resume-padding arenas of Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, and tennis.

So when blog posts started, I was concerned that although I understood the theoretical framework of hegemony, I didn’t truly comprehend the negative implications for Asian-Americans.  Consequently, my first blog post was a rather trite rehashing of orthodox ideas of hegemony with little critical thought, since I hadn’t quite overcome the cognitive dissonance between my life experiences and the course material.

But then something clicked.

I realized that my experience with Asian-America through a privileged upper middle class suburb was not reflective of Asian American experiences outside that socioeconomically privileged bubble.  Likewise, my experience with hegemony in Hong Kong was inherently different than my experience with ethno-racial hegemony within the US. In other words, I finally understood the importance of recognizing spatiality while analyzing hegemony.  Previously, I had trouble comprehending Asian-American hegemonic subjugation when it was applied homogeneously throughout the nation and world, but after recognizing the intersectionality of location and ethno-racial hegemony, I could integrate the course readings with my personal experiences.

Even better, this insight allowed me to recognize that my cognitive dissonance wasn’t over the validity of core course theory.  Rather, it stemmed from over-generalizations of that material to situations in which it wasn’t necessarily relevant, e.g. many of our class discussions about popular culture produced in China, South Korea, and Japan.

Thus, my second blog post aimed to analyze the spatial differences of hegemony through an analysis of rap and material culture in Hong Kong.  I did so by presenting my concerns with Maira’s article, particularly with the overemphasis on generalizing issues of US racial power dynamics to societies in Asia.  However, in realizing where my disagreements lied with her article, I had a greater realization of where I agreed with her.  Her analysis of the impact of late-capitalist material culture on South Asian-American populations in Massachusetts shed light on the importance of neoliberalism in perpetuating problematic racial dynamics in the US.

So even though I had focused on understanding the spatial limits of American ethno-racial hegemony, I was then curious to explore the global prevalence of neoliberal hegemony, and then analyze how this global system specifically impacted Asian-Americans.  Consequently, in my final blog, I compared the patterns of consumption in a K-Pop music video with that of a sorority recruitment video from the University of Miami.  In doing so, I discussed the monolithic “tropics” aesthetic, and discussed how this reflects the delocalizing effect of globalized, neoliberal consumption.  Finally, applying these conclusions to U.S. society, I explored the implications of neoliberal hegemony on Asian-Americans: through the portrayal of unifying consumption, local inequities are obscured and neglected.

Throughout the class, I came to a greater realization of how popular culture reinforces hegemonic subjugation of Asian-Americans, but only after realizing the spatial limitations of this theory.  However, while recognizing the spatial limitations of US ethno-racial hegemony; I came into greater awareness of the truly global extent of neoliberal hegemony.  Finally, by applying this framework of neoliberal critique to US society, I analyzed how this global system perpetuates the subordination of Asian-Americans.  Overall, global neoliberal and American ethno-racial hegemony interact to perpetuate inequities for Asian-Americans.

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