To Wake Up the Silent Minority — Criticism and Self-criticism

 

American Studies-118

Creative Project Artist Statement

Shing Hei Danness Chong (8839136)

Dec.5-2015

I have to admit that I used to be a pessimist when talking about racial equality. During the first several weeks when I started to study on the Asian American pop culture, I did not believe that the minority people could ultimately win the ideological battle with the majority. It was not surprising to learn that white people, or in other words, the embracers of colonial ideology are powerful enough to manipulate the media business regionally, and even globally. Fortunately, the study of affirmative actions, the case of Vincent Chin for instance, and the study of the Asian American new media practices, Lela Lee’s Angry Little Girls for example, help me to break the fatalism of racial equality. As Ono and Pham (2009) have pointed out,

“Media are incredibly powerful, and while individual direct effects are hard to prove, it is indisputable that – overall – they have had widespread, longitudinal, geographically, expansive effects. It is our contention that, through activism, research, and challenging mainstreaming representations of Asians and Asian Americans, change are possible: not inevitable, not assured, but possible” (p. 181).

After the whole courter’s study, now, I understand that racial discrimination is not a pseudo-proposition, people, both white and non-white, however, intentionally or unintentionally avoid laying a figure on the controversial topic. In my opinion, the main reason for some Asian Americans to remain silent when talking about racial discrimination is because they failed to consider the topic from both the macro and the micro levels. In fact, minority people could easily maintain a tolerant attitude to deal with the individual racism; however, I think the silent minority should never disregard the leavening influence of the institutional racism. In most of the cases, I believe the micro level of racial discrimination is the byproduct of macro level of discrimination.

In the final creative project, I want express Asian Americans’ psychological journey on searching for self-identities. The target audience of the project is the silent minority. I want to alert those Asian Americans who may be brainwashed by white supremacy media environment to remain critical while consuming mass media products.

The final product of the project is a four minutes music video, named The Death of…or Who Killed Mr. Lee? (2015). I entitled the music video with a tag question, in my opinion, a suspenseful title could not only draw audience’ attention at the first place, but also it would invite different audiences to see through the appearance to perceive the essence of the story. In fact, the tag question implies the existence of another killer. Thus, the music video becomes an unsolved puzzle for audiences. I want people to think thoroughly and then come up with his or her answer to the metaphysical, or symbolic question, “Who Killed Mr. Lee?” In order to solve the puzzle, audiences can find clues from the conversation in the video, as well as the lyric of the song.

On one hand, the conversation between Mr. White and Mr. Lee reveals the stereotyped media environment against Asian Americans.

“I don’t care whether he is a Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or whatever, we just need a nerdy Asian guy in the movie”, given Mr. White is the chief manager of a media company in the story, his demanding lines symbolically represent the dominant people’s one-sided understanding of Asian American. During the quarter, we have studied and discussed different stereotyped representations of Asian American in the mainstream media. For example, we can see Asian women are portrayed as “Lotus blossom” and “Dragon lady” in different movies including Anna May Wong as The Mongol Slave in The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Nancy Kwan as Suzie Wong in The World of Suzie Wong (1960), and Lucy Liu as Alex Munday in Charles’s Angels (2000). At the same time, Asian men are portrayed as either or a dangerous and elusive Kong Fu master, like Bruce Lee as Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973), or an asexual and quiet calculus machine, like Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles (1984), or an feminine queer, like Winston Chao as Wai Tung in The Wedding Banquet (1993). We can also see the stereotyped character setting in the current media product, for example, the typical Asian couple, Louis Huang, and Jessica Huang in Fresh off the Boat (2015). To ignore culture differences between different Asian regions, Mr. White’s lines serve as a good example of media yellow face logics. As Ono and Pham (2009) have also mentioned,

“Current practice of yellowface, which are part of the structure of the institution and industry of media production, blur Asian American identity and deploy cultural essentialism to view ‘Asian’ and ‘Asian American’ people as ‘All Seem Identical, Alike, No different.’” (p. 55).

“We can the Asian guy cute, just in the nerdy way.” Mr. White’s eclectic suggestion for the setting of the Asian guy represents the indirect racial discrimination that place Asian Americans as the model minority. Mr. White in here is a practitioner of orientalism. He makes no effort to hide his parochial understanding about Asian Americans. I want to remind the audience, through the character setting of Mr. White, that white people would almost and always consider Asian Americans as outsiders. Most importantly, the audience should never forget the idea of the model minority is a sweet trap that covers with a false appearance of peace and prosperity. Also in the words of Ono and Pham (2009),

“…the model minority stereotype is not a compliment, but a divisive discourse, one that in fact constructs Asian Americans as ‘exceptional’ minorities, but minorities nevertheless, hence not of the mainstream” (p. 85).

Moreover, the label of modern minority could bring negative effects that hurt the interracial relationships in the long term. According to Chao, Chiu, Chan, and Mendoza, “…the propagation of the model minority image in news media is motivated by the American ruling class to legitimize American “bedrock values,” to justify social inequality, and to disunite Asian Americans and African Americans by pitting them against one another” (p. 90).

On anther hand, the lyric of the song represents Lee’s inner struggle as an Asian American scriptwriter. I create the lyric of the song as if it is the last words of the desperate character. I believe audiences should be able to understand the protagonist’s psychological changes through decoding the message.

First, the lyric reveals a determined main character. “This is the end”, “I want to finish this” and “and I don’t pray for your forgiveness” are closed-end statements, as the plot unfolds, audiences could soon realize that what Lee wants to end, or to finish, is his life. I put the close statement “This is the end” at the beginning of the lyric is because I want to postpone viewers’ moral judgments regarding the controversial suicide story. Even though some audiences may not appreciate Lee’s choice, the use of these closed-end statements could remind those audiences that they are just spectators of the story. In fact, I want all viewers to take a neutral perspective to process the story.

Second, the lyric reveals a frustrated leading character. “I tried, I failed, I am exhausted”, and “I beg I can see…” are deplores with sighs. In my opinion, the use of the first person and active voice in large doses could make audiences emotionally stay close to the character. By using the “I” languages, I want to increase the sense of identification between audiences and the protagonist, therefore, viewers could pay more attention to figure out the factors that triggered the protagonist’s psychological changes.

Third, the lyric reveals an indignant protagonist. “Could not find the way out in the spiral of silence”, and “Tell me! The color of the paradise isn’t only white” imply the real cause of the tragedy. According to Griffin, Ledbetter, and Glenn Sparks (2009), “People live in perpetual fear of isolating themselves and carefully monitor public opinion to see which views are acceptable. When their opinions appear out of favor, they keep silent. Television’s constant repetition of a single point of view biases perception of public opinion and accelerates the spiral of silence”. The idea of the spiral of silence highlights the sorrowful sense of isolation. In fact, I used the image of “black pupils in the boundless white” to metaphorically reveal the fatal conflict. In short, I decided to use the lyric, in the format of a monologue, to reveal the complex emotion of the main character. Lee is not only a fictitious character in the story, but also he is a generic figure who represents all the Asian Americans in the real world.

Mr. Lee is the victim of Orientalized media environment. Every time when Mr. White asks Lee to “fix it”, Lee loses his autonomy as a media producer, and he loses the opportunity to confirm his self-identity as an Asian American. Lee is killed, symbolically, by the exclusive whiteness. As Ono and Pham (2009) have also pointed out,

“The use of ASIAN strategies encourage audience to view Asians and Asian Americans as inhuman, trivializes their lives and experiences, and facilitates the reproduction of intuitional and structural processes of disempowerment and disenfranchisement, which include the continuation of Orientalization and the foreignization of Asians and Asian Americans” (p.55).

Mr. Lee is a marginalized individual in the world. In order to visually deliver the sense of isolation, I chose to shoot the video in the monochrome camera lens. The somber color of frames echoes the gloomy tone of the story. Most importantly, the use of the vintage style of frame color is accord with the flashback narrative line. The music video can be considered as a memoir of the decedent. I intentionally conceal the face of the main character because I want to make the audience substitute themselves into the protagonist’s point of view without overly analysis his facial expression. I do not want to overblow the sadness, instead, I want to make the audience feel depress when they look into the story, as a nightmare of Mr. Lee. In one scene, Mr. Lee lies in the bathtub. The composition of the frame refers to the painting that created by Jacques-Louis David and named La Mort de Marat (1793). To mimic the famous painting, I want to express my reverence to all the Asian Americans who thrives for racial and ethnic equality. The Death of…or Who Killed Mr. Lee? (2015) is not a story about the morbid character, it is a story about the morbid society and a normal Asian American who died a martyr’ death. As Twain has mentioned, “We never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead — and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead and then they would be honest so much earlier” (p.1).

 

References

Chong, S. H. D. (Director). (2015). The death of…or who killed Mr. Lee [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/h3NKqUNlwdo

 

Chao, M. M., Chiu, C., Chan, W., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Kwok, C. (2013). The model minority as a shared reality and its implication for interracial perceptions. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 4(2), 84-92. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0028769

 

Griffin, E., Ledbetter, A., & Sparks, G. (2009). A first look at communication theory (7th ed.). Retrieved from http://www.afirstlook.com/edition_7/theory_resources/by_theory/

Spiral_of_Silence#sthash.JAdjEGZU.dpuf

 

Ono, K. A., & Pham, V. N. (2009). Asian Americans and the media. Cambridge, UK:
Polity.

 

Twain, M. (2015). Mark Twain & Death. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from About
Eduction website: http://quotations.about.com/od/marktwainquotes/a/twaindeath.htm

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