Asian Americans in Mass Media: A Curatorial Statement

Prior to this course, I had limited knowledge on the extensive legal discrimination that Asian Americans faced in the past and how that history frames the way we are viewed today. Immigrating to America and growing up in predominantly white communities, I did not have many opportunities to critically discuss Asian American narratives. While I had many internal thoughts and questions about the intersection of my race and sexuality in the broader context, I was cautioned to stay silent. This course was my first comprehensive, academic exposure to Asian American sexualities, and where I became more comfortable with speaking about it. Through listening to the insightful comments from my peers to taking creative leaps in my blog posts, I have been challenged to engage with my cultural identities in a more tangible way.

For my first blog entry, I chose to analyze the highly circulated Fox News “Watters’ World” segment on The O’Reilly Factor show. Watters exhibits prejudice and racist behavior while sampling political opinion in NYC’s Chinatown. My preoccupation with this segment was his belief that Asian Americans have nothing worthwhile to say regarding the political landscape. My central question was to better understand how the model minority myth operates in mainstream media and the political sphere. Watters caters to the white gaze of his audience and reinforces the model minority by depicting Asian Americans as politically apathetic. He does so by mostly asking questions, unrelated to politics, that stereotype the Chinese Americans into tropes portrayed by popular media. When he does ask political questions, he does not ask the participants with dignity; but instead, mockingly waits to hear a response that further feed into his prejudices. Watters discusses with O’Reilly that he had the freedom to say what he liked to his participants due to his preconceived notion that they would not argue, ultimately promoting the model minority myth. In this way, white hegemony perpetuates the model minority myth and effectively erases any hybridity, heterogeneity, or infinity that the Asian American community has.

In my second blog entry, I analyzed the indictment of police officer Peter Liang in the context of the scandal of ex-privilege. My preoccupation with this case was the fact that he had been the first NYPD officer convicted for an on-duty shooting in the past decade. My central question was to recognize the underpinnings of Liang serving as a scapegoat for law enforcement. The justice system chose to indict Liang to appease the black community that had been building up resistance against police brutality. In choosing an Asian American as the scapegoat, white police officers can remain unaccountable for their excessive force on black bodies via the scandal of ex-privilege. Moreover, Liang’s indictment created a rift between the Asian American and Black communities. By pitting minority groups against one another, hegemonic institutions that marginalize these groups can continue to function and maintain power.

For my third blog entry, I decided to conduct an ethnographical analysis on the Korean plastic surgery industry. I interviewed three of my roommates who are also first-generation Korean Americans. My preoccupation with this ethnography was that I personally had a large amount of exposure to the industry, so I wanted to better understand other experiences and viewpoints. My central question was whether or not the plastic surgery industry was progressive or oppressive from a feminist perspective. Prior to the interviews, I had mixed opinions about the industry, but after hearing what they had to say and analyzing it in the context of Lee’s “Beauty Between Empires,” I gained a more delineated perspective. Initially, the industry seemed to be progressive in that it provides individuals access to abundant resources if one does decide to undergo surgery. However, upon further inspection, the notion of choice became illusive. In Korean cultural, women are not only expected to go under the knife, but they are expected to conform to one physical appearance. Western beauty norms and the local male gaze impose this singular mold of beauty onto Korean women’s bodies. Thus, individual autonomy is not truly one’s choice, but instead is oppression fueled these two ubiquitous influences in the plastic surgery industry.

In my fourth blog entry, I chose the Twinsters documentary as my primary text for analysis. My preoccupation with this film was that it was based on two separate, but connected, transnational adoptions in different countries. My central question was to understand how the twin sisters had come to terms with their transnational adoption individually and their birth search process together. Sam’s predominantly white community embraced her as she was immediately assimilated into her American family. Anaïs questioned the acceptance from her French community due to traumatic experiences with racism growing up. Their contrasting experience with transnational adoption allows them to reexamine their individual pasts and future opportunities together. Later in the film, Sam convinces Anaïs to undergo the birth search process with her. Although it ultimately ends with their birth mother denying ever having children, they are able to withstand the disappointment that follows birth search failures like they were able to avert the invisibility that comes with transnational adoptions upon reuniting.

Through analyzing a popular news segment, a police officer indictment case, ethnographical interviews and a biographical documentary, I focused on dissecting the portrayal of Asian Americans in various media with a theoretical lens gained from this course. With each blog post, I admittedly grew disheartened as I thought more and more about how much farther we have yet to go, especially in light of the election. However, that did not overshadow the encouragement I received from our classroom—a room full of Asian Americans that I shared an unspoken, powerful understanding with. Moving forward, I hope to actively implement Chou’s counter-frames into my daily life and embolden others to do the same.

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