So what should our action be? (curatorial statement)

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Heading into this quarter, I was excited for our class because I had taken three classes cross-listed under Asian American Studies and they were great. All three of them were also under African American studies, though, so I felt as if other classes in the department might offer a different perspective. This class did exactly that, as I was able to learn how to better think about and discuss gender and sexuality while building on the racial lens formed by my experiences in everyday life and previous classes.

A huge factor in my ability to learn in a meaningful way was the set of blog posts that we were required to write for class. Coincidentally, all four of them were connected to the media in some way. Post one was an analysis of Dumbfoundead’s song and music video “SAFE;” post two was a response to Lucy Liu’s approach to improving media representation of marginalized people; post three was an analysis of a rap battle between Dumbfoundead and Tantrum (another Asian American rapper); and post four was a response to an interview of Media and Cultural Studies Professor Lori Kido Lopez. Overall, I would say the blogs were centered on the discussion of ideal methods to exercise agency for better media representation of Asian Americans.

As I review them now, I think it is telling that the two posts involving men discuss actual implementations of agency, while the two involving women are more theoretical, discussing what could or should be done for the cause. It is important to note that in these implementations, both men fail to adopt a perspective that is even remotely intersectional. Readers can see this very clearly in both posts, as “SAFE” prioritizes the representation of Asian American men and the rap battle is painful to watch, with numerous heterosexist/sexist slurs and rampant hypermasculinity. In contrast, Lopez warns against the actions of misogynist fans in activism, and Liu (despite her somewhat complacent stance) makes attempts to bring both Asian American men and women into more mainstream media. The slight trend here implies that Asian American men are less likely to adopt intersectionality than Asian American women are. This difference is interesting, but I wouldn’t say it is surprising. It doesn’t make me happy to say, but I rarely expect Men of Color who receive mainstream media attention to offer intersectional insight.

Addressing the more theoretical center of my blogs, writing them has helped me to come to somewhat of a conclusion regarding media representation: marginalized people need to utilize approaches that both reform our existing systems and create space outside of them. We need to employ both approaches because each one helps us to perform different activist actions. On one hand, the reformative approach is necessary because it has the potential to teach privileged people that they live in a society designed specifically to help them in many ways (of course, it would also teach them that there are people who live in our society but are not granted the same privilege). On the other, radical approaches must be applied to our efforts in order to avoid the overarching effects of the hegemony and its values. Without at least conceptualizing life outside of the current oppressive systems we live in, even our most “progressive” ideas would still be riddled with inequality and marginalization.

Discussion in our class throughout the quarter has also helped me to imagine my preferred implementations of action using both approaches. Ideal reformative action is not very hard to envision, as it would all take place within whatever system/industry the agents are looking to change. This would mean politicians changing our government to better represent marginalized people, media creators presenting complex characters of every background (avoiding stereotypes), economic leaders ceasing to exploit counter-hegemonic identities, etc. Ideal radical action is much harder to describe, as its possibilities are endless. I believe this action would include any efforts to create a space in which traditional Western values are ignored or even directly countered. I would imagine that the strongest radical action, until our society is more malleable, can only be performed on smaller scales. This is because many people, even if they recognize their oppression, are intimidated by unfamiliar spaces/values, even if they would prove to be better. As I have discussed these two types of approaches to action, I want to point out that I think radical action is more important/deserves more focus than reformative action because we must be exposed to radical ideas longer before our society as a whole feels comfortable leaving these systems. Both are important, however, as having only reformative action will never help us reach equality because inequality is at the root of most of our social systems, and having only radical action, even if successful, would leave out all of the individuals who are simply unaware of our current inequalities.

This opportunity for informed thought on our society comes from our class, so I am grateful for the space that it has been for me and the rest of the class. I feel that it helped me to see the deeper societal influences in many parts of everyday life, and it definitely helped me to analyze media and its creators with a critical lens. Of course, I have a great amount of learning left to do, and my theories will likely continue to evolve, but I am more than satisfied with the amount of learning that I did this quarter.

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