Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Whiter Shade of Yellow

Single White Female Syndrome.

It is always such a surreal experience when I find myself noticing the degree to which Asian cultures are adored in the West. If I turn on my television and watch an action movie I'm likely to see a white hero kicking the crap out of someone by utilizing Asian martial arts techniques. Some American action films have been influenced by the styles of Asian martial arts movie makers. Many restaurants in our hippest cities will be serving nouveau cuisine with a distinctly Asian influence. Plus there are minor yet pervasive Asian cultural traits and practices that have become integrated into western culture; karaoke, use of chopsticks, Asian fashions, Japanese innovations in comfortable and user friendly car interiors, and interior home designs are but a few.

Quite possibly the most important Asian influences in modern western cultures are Eastern religious practices and their accompanying terminologies which have become increasingly integrated into American spiritual practice. It has become commonplace to hear people talk about karma where they used to talk about punishment of sin, and reincarnation where they used to talk about being saved. Eastern style meditation and spiritual growth through self-realization are concepts that are profoundly integrated into the popular mentality. In fact, such is the appeal of Eastern spirituality that the Dalai Lama is one of the few Asian men (perhaps the only Asian man) in America that white people will watch and listen to without striving to replace him with a whitewashed version - although I hear that there may be plans afoot to make a movie about him with Zac Efron in the lead role.

Of course, the irony is that despite this adoration of "Asiatica" the actual Asians themselves remain somewhat in the cultural margins. This appropriation of Asian culture goes hand-in-hand with the restrictions placed upon postive images of Asian men, many of whom notice this bizarre state of affairs and liken it to not getting an invitation to their own party.

It's cool to be Asian - except when you actually are Asian.

4 comments:

  1. In fact, such is the appeal of Eastern spirituality that the Dalai Lama is one of the few Asian men (perhaps the only Asian man) in America that white people will watch and listen to without striving to replace him with a whitewashed version - although I hear that there may be plans afoot to make a movie about him with Zac Efron in the lead role.

    What about Robert Kiyosaki? People watch him with their eyes on the bling.

    Yes, okay, I can only think of two guys.

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  2. Nice post.
    I'll add another aspect of this phenomenon from my country (Australia), and what is happening in the foodie/restaurant scene. Everyone seems to be agog over white chefs who cook Asian food. Reviewers are infatuated with non-Asian chefs who use "Asian-inspired flavours" (ie. diluted and bastardised interpretations of Asian food) in their cooking. Actual Asian people (including Asian chefs making actual Asian food) are not really part of this equation at all. The whiteness of the chefs themselves is not a selling point, it's more about what some seem to see as "improving" Asian food for a trendy audience. "Improving" in this case really just means taking out most of the garlic and other robust flavours and putting the food in the middle of a massive white plate, thus transforming it into something "modern". But it has precious little to do with the way that Asian people like to appreciate Asian food.

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  3. Hi ES

    Thanks for stopping by! That's an interesting point. I think that in the west there is a general attitude that Asian cultures need to be improved in some way - what you describe might be one of the manifestations of this.

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