Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Neverending Story

Gran Torino And The Tiger Mom.

The Eurasian Sensation blog just posted this latest satire on the Tiger Mom Hydra....

For those who don't know, so-called "Tiger Mom" achieved a degree of infamy early last year due to a Wall Street Journal article that printed an excerpt from her book in which she apparently seemed to explain the merits of emotionally abusing her children. My thoughts on Tiger Mom can be read here, and here.

As you can see from the video above, mainstream America registered its horror and condemnation of Amy Chua, basically labelling her as a child abuser. Whether or not this is true, I'll leave to readers to decide for themselves. What interests me, on the other hand, is this idea of child abuse - or more specifically the abuse of Asian children.

I'm always a little skeptical when manistream America registers any kind of horror at the thought of Asian people being harmed in any way. I'm especially skeptical about the sincerity of mainstream concerns about Asian children. For instance, a few years ago, Clint Eastwood came out with the movie "Gran Torino", in which he played an old, embittered war veteran and racist, who befriends a young Hmong boy and becomes his mentor.

Now the thing about Gran Torino, is that it basically depicts an Asian child being verbally and emotionally abused by a racist, white adult, who unleashes a constant and unrelenting torrent of derogatory epithets at the boy throughout the entire movie. Now, given the apparent concern about the abuse of Asian children, surely mainstream America would have registered some protest at this depiction of child-abuse in a mainstream American movie? The answer is "no". America seemed to actually think that this depiction of child abuse was worthy of several awards, and nominations for awards - in fact, no-one seemed to notice the actual abuse. To put this into perspective, imagine the movie, Karate Kid, in which the Asian mentor, in addition to teaching the white acolyte how to fight, had also called him "white trash", "hillbilly", or "nazi" in every scene. I think that there would have been some protests. Clearly, the idea of abusing Asian children is not so horrific to mainstream America as it would at first seem.

So, the question is, if abusing Asian children isn't so bad, why is mainstream America so horrified by Amy Chua? I think the reason has nothing to do with what she may or may not have done to her own children. Her mistake was to criticize the way that white people raise their kids. If she had simply written that she was hard on her kids but now somewhat regrets it (which, in her wishy-washy way, is what she seemed to be saying), then there wouldn't be an outcry about her methods. But, she actually went one step too far in suggesting that white people aren't perfect in how they raise their children - and that's what has America so pissed.

Now, I do give Gran Torino some kudos for honesty in portraying (and exposing) the realitites of mainstream attitudes towards Asians - although that may not have been the intent. As I've suggested elsewhere, Asian kids growing up in America will be exposed to varying degrees of racism from their mainstream peers - a prejudice that  is both encouraged and normalized by American culture, as well as overlooked and fostered by parents and society. The silence of mainstream America on this subject is deafening.


  1. I have mixed feelings about Gran Torino. On one hand, it's about the "white man's burden", in which Eastwood's character saves the Hmong community from inter-conflict. On the other, it does portray some of the social dysfunctions of Asian Americans, which I think critics misinterpreted as bad acting on their part (perhaps there was not much acting, but it was genuine). One scene I particularly liked was how he took the piss out of the white guy with the Hmong girl, something that almost no Hmong man would have stood up against.

  2. Hi Dali,

    I tried to give the movie a chance because so many Asian-American commenters seemed to embrace the "message" of the movie and thought that it was somehow a good represenation.

    Yet, hard as I tried, I couldn't get past the fact that the message of the movie seemed to be that you can resolve the problem of Hmong delinquency through racial abuse of an Asian youth. That overstretched my capacity to suspend belief enough to enjoy the movie or find some deeper meaning in it.

    That is an interesting point about portrayal of Asian social dysfunctions - I'm actually in the process of writing a post that alludes to that subject. I hope to have it finished soon.