For my final project I wanted to tell the stories of Asian and Asian American Women who have had the uncomfortable experience of having a man with Yellow Fever approach them and bring awareness to the issue of Yellow Fever to the general population. It’s because of the second reason that I made this a parody of a “How To” video without explicitly saying that it’s a parody. Rather than outright stating what the problem is to a potentially unreceptive audience, I decided to show the kind of ridiculous behavior that men with Yellow Fever display to Asian women in order to show how absurd and offensive it is.
This week I read an article on cultural appropriation recently and I was a little annoyed at how the author only addressed white people. It’s pretty annoying when someone talks about something that affects me and only addresses certain people. More to the point, I don’t like it when white people are the only ones who can do something about a problem because it makes me feel like I can’t contribute. The author repeatedly reminded readers to mind their white privilege and to be careful to avoid cultural appropriation. While cultural appropriation might be an important issue created by the dominant group in society, it’s not as though minorities can’t partake in cultural appropriation. For example, I could start wearing dreadlocks (if I decided to let my hair grow out) and other cultural markers of Rastafarianism like the green, gold, and red color combination in order to be more fashionable. In doing so, I would be just as complicit in cultural appropriation and it bothered me that the article acted as though only white people are part of the problem and only white people are part of the solution. I most certainly can be part of the problem, so please tell me how I can be part of the solution.
Moving on to cases cultural appropriation, we watched several music videos today that take cultural appropriation to levels that I couldn’t even imagine. The one I thought was most notable was “Princess of China” by Coldplay featuring Rihanna. Unlike some of the others, Princess of China didn’t bother taking one specific culture, instead it was a mash-up of anything remotely East Asian into one confusing music video. Taking someone else’s culture and monetizing it is one thing but creating a generic Asian themed music video and calling it “Princess of China” feels especially insulting. It’s like the idea of the Asia being this mysterious, mystical land is as strong as it always was. It also reminds me that some people are so bad at distinguishing between cultures that they call any East Asian culture Chinese and face no real consequences. It’s not like the elements of the music video were particularly obscure aspects of the cultures they were taken from either, the pieces used were very notable yet they were all stitched together in this bizarro “Asian” setting just to send a message saying that relationships (like Asian countries) are fragile.
Side Note: One of the swords Rihanna used in the music video looked exactly like my friend’s Tai Chi sword (or jian).
A short by Wong Fu Productions I wanted to share.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that someone who’s culturally insensitive isn’t necessarily out to get me. They might just be ignorant of whether or not what they’re saying might be hurtful.
After putting it off for so long, I decided to watch the first six episodes of Master of None during this beautifully cloudy Thursday afternoon. Wow. Those first two episodes were serious guilt trips. It’s always fun being reminded that your concerns are largely insignificant compared to the struggles of the people who sacrificed so much to get you where you are.
I guess it’s pretty fitting that I watched this on Thanksgiving. There’s nothing quite like reflecting on my own mortality by staring at a box of ashes and trying to forget years’ worth of regrets while waiting on your family to be in the same building at the same time on a day that is essentially celebrating life, community, and happiness. But at the very least I can take comfort in knowing that the people who came before me who worked so hard to get me here probably had it worse than I did. Going back to Master of None, episode two hit me pretty hard when I thought about how hard my parents worked for me to be here. I remember my grandparents even told me some stories of what they went through to get my parents to where they are. I suppose it’s a good thing that our day-to-day concerns become less life threatening as the generations pass but the episode “Parents” reminds us to remember what it cost for all of us to be here today. It’s something that we should all take the time to appreciate and be thankful for.
I read about the early roots of the porn industry’s current fetishizing of Asian and Asian American women and I was surprised at the amount of yellowface that happened. In the 1920s stag porn depicted Asian women as desirable but wouldn’t let them represent themselves in pornography. While I’m not sure that pornography is the kind of media where one would expect proper representation, the amount of yellowface happening in that arena was shocking. I didn’t think I could even be that offended by yellowface but I think it was the combination of depicting something as desirable while also not showing it that set me off. It reminds me of most food commercials where the product in the commercial is a prettied up inedible object that’s supposed to look like the real thing. That might be a bit of stretch but here’s a better analogy: imagine a commercial for an animal shelter where you can adopt dogs except all the dogs in the advertisement are really horses that are painted to look like dogs. That’s basically what 20s stag porn did.
As bad as it may be that Asian women are highly sexualized in today’s media, at the very least they’re depicted as such with Asian women. With anti-Asian sentiment I find it easier to understand why yellowface would be such an appealing option (because Asians are so terrible that they don’t deserve to even represent themselves as being terrible or something like that) but with porn it just doesn’t make sense. Pornography purposely makes some aspect of someone sexualized but 20s stag porn won’t even cast Asian women. I wonder if this ever bothered anybody who consumed this pornography during the time period. I’d think it would be like ordering tea and having someone give you a glass of warm water and telling you to pretend that its tea. Going back to the yellowface, something else that really bothers me is how much effort they put into making these “Asian” affectations.
I won’t lie, in some of the pictures I’ve seen of yellowface I can almost buy that the character is played by an Asian. However, the idea that someone probably spent a lot of time and effort putting make-up and prosthetics on a white woman instead of finding an Asian woman to play the part blows my mind. The porn industry today is all about money and I’m going to guess that even in its infancy the same can still be said of it. That being said, make-up artists, prosthetics, and all of those goofy clothes they put on a white woman to make her look Asian have to be expensive. Would hiring an Asian woman really cost more than all of that? From my present-day perspective it just doesn’t make any sense and it’s very frustrating reading about things like this from the past.
When I started going to middle school, my brother showed me this small online forum his friend made. It was a very small community for my brother’s friend group plus me and we discussed our lives and things that we liked. Most commonly, we would post links to videos or YouTubers that we were particularly fond of. Surprise, surprise, one of the very first people we made a thread about was Ryan Higa.
Even though we never said it out loud, in retrospect I think that many of the people we talked about in our little forum were Asian American YouTubers or from Japanese culture because that was the only place we, as Asian Americans, could find representation. At the young age of 11-13, I doubt we were actively thinking about how terrible it was that we couldn’t relate to anybody on mainstream media but at the same time I distinctly remember having no real interest in American live-action television at the time. Of the people we discussed, I remember that I personally loved Ryan Higa the most; I remember checking his YouTube page nearly every day to see if he had made a new video. I think the reason why I liked him so much was because he was subconsciously my only real role model: he was cool, he was funny, he was personable, and most of all he just seemed fun. Mind you, I didn’t consider my parents role models because that was around the age when I started getting rebellious and didn’t want to listen to anybody older than twenty five, so my views might have been a bit skewed. However, after I realized that Ryan Higa wasn’t going to post videos all the time, I started turning to my Asian American peers and elders (and by “elders” I mean seventh and eighth graders.)
I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up with Asian Americans in my life and didn’t need to worry about people seeing me as a representative of Asian people because there were enough around that people could just see that there were many different kinds of Asians. I don’t doubt that there are people my age who were the only Asian in their school or neighborhood who had to look to internet celebrities for representation but after seeing A Survey about Asian Americans in Mainstream I’m glad to know that future generations of Asian Americans can count on having not only someone representing them, but also having someone to look up to as a role model. That’s something that alternative forms of media like YouTube have given them. And that’s something that I’m very happy about.
I thought it’d be nice to show what the people yellow face attempts to emulate actually look like. From Breakfast at Tiffany’s to “How I Met Your Mother” to Vogue magazine we can see the great lengths the media goes to just to capture that “asian” look.
The woman at the bottom right might be a bit unfamiliar since she’s not a household name yet but her name is Rinko Kikuchi. You might remember her from Pacific Rim.