Understanding What We Consume

I will be the first to admit that I did not take this course because I enjoy writing or have an interest in Asian American studies despite my Asian heritage. At the time, I had decided to take it because I wanted to fill up a distribution requirement, and this course fit my schedule. I had not expected it to challenge the way I viewed race, to analyze the impact of popular culture, or to gain a better understanding of how our society functions. I had never questioned why I felt embarrassed for the smell of another Asian kid’s lunch in middle school, why I was classified as “another Asian in pre-med who’s good at science.” To me, this was normal; it was life. But this course has forced me to reconsider why I just accept these notions and to consider what are the driving forces behind this acceptance.  Throughout the past ten weeks, our class has analyzed various popular culture texts, explored how the political economy affects these pieces, and in turn, inspected the impact they have on the consumers.

We had spent a portion of class looking at the implications of Asian foods, specifically the hegemonic definition of “authentic” and cultural appropriation. Within Asian culture, food is a core identifier, a uniting factor, and center of pride. However, as Asian immigrants brought these foods over to the United States, the food has evolved into a stigma of foreignness. From my personal experience to a clip in TV show “Fresh Off the Boat,” both highlight the common experience of shame towards Asian food and culture due to the white majority opinion. In contrast, Asian restaurants such as Todoroki take American foods and Orientalize them by adding ingredients like soy sauce or ginger and presenting it in Asian dishware. This way restaurants become popular by appealing to the white majority with familiar flavors while giving the food an exotic feel. As restaurants package Asian cultures into consumable products, suddenly the dominant white hegemonic group finds cultural capital in identifying something as Asian and goes even further to search for “authentic” Asian foods. Seen in Lopez’s “Asian American Food Blogging,” bloggers casually tack on the word “authentic” to each recipe so that the word has lost meaning. It is used as a way of attracting a larger audience.  Through the cycle of branding and appropriating foods, we see how dominant hegemonic groups use their power as gatekeepers to determine what parts of the subordinate group should be accepted into society.

restaurants

We have investigated the application of stereotypes such as the Yellow Peril and the model minority in various mass media as way for the white majority to suppress Asians/Americans. As I analyzed in my post about Cristina Yang, her academic prowess and ability to succeed as a doctor reinforces the image that Asians should be smart and pursue healthcare professions. In the documentary “Linsanity,” the directors specifically focus on Lin’s hard-work ethic, piano-playing abilities, relationship with his family, and time at Harvard. These images are used to create a straitjacket mold for Asian/Americans to fit or face discrimination. Media also utilizes the Yellow Peril stereotype once Asians start breaking out of that stereotype or become too successful. Yang is often portrayed as an unemotional machine that just wants surgeries, and once Lin becomes too popular, many reporters use derogatory Asian characteristic to undermine Lin’s success. These stereotypes trap Asians in a double standard by praising some for doing well for an Asian, but then attributing their success because they are Asian. Rather than seeing outright racist comments, we are more of these subtle stereotypes that the media uses as a way of controlling the Asian/American image and preventing individual voices from being heard.

Finally, we examined how a new media platform such as YouTube increases Asian/American agency but over time has become limited. YouTube started as a site where anyone could upload videos for the world to view. This ease of accessibility allowed a large portion of Asians to enter a field of entertainment without having to work around the stereotypes mainstream media still clings to. There was relatively little hegemonic control over what content YouTubers posted. Asian YouTubers like KevJumba, NigaHiga, iiSuperwomanii, WongFuProductions and many more started their channel by posting videos on relatively random topics. Each YouTuber gained popularity by targeting the Asian/American community who have been overlooked by mainstream media, and since then, have gained a large following that expands beyond Asian viewers. YouTube has allowed individual Asian American voices to be heard, facilitated the breakdown of stereotypes, and increased Asian presence in society. Since then however, YouTube has become extremely commercialized with YouTubers’ partnerships with corporations, and has quickly formed very specific categories of successful YouTube personalities such as the “beauty guru” or “comedian” or “musician.” YouTube has become increasingly harder to enter and become successful in, preventing other Asians from entering, and even when they do, they become lumped into a category. While YouTube has been successful in making more relatable Asian American figures, the commercialization of it has limited the platform’s potential.

asian youtubers

Overall, this course focused on asking the question of where we form our preconceptions about the Asians, and why is it detrimental. We see that simple things like where we eat and what we watch have an incredible impact on the archetypes we form in our mind for how Asian/Americans and Asian culture should be. We have come to understand that this process plays a key role in the cycle of socialization where we come to understand the society we live in. Unfortunately, we perpetuate many of the negative aspects of socialization out of fear of sticking out. But because we can now recognize these preconceptions, challenge them and pinpoint their motivating force, we can work towards breaking down our assumptions and appreciating things for the way they are.

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