Thursday, September 29, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different......

...A Perfect Woman!

Just taking a short interlude to appreciate some of the finer things in life! A great riff, ominous music, and an awesome drummer. Enjoy!

I especially like her cymbal hitting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Don't Trust Whitey!"

Playing The Pretend Game.

It's funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same. I came across this interesting article in the Telegraph that reports some recent research which casts some doubt on the long-held belief that famous explorer, Marco Polo, actually went to China. This claim is not really new - a 1995 book made similar claims - but  after several centuries, Polo's discovery of the wonders of the mystical East have become somewhat exagerrated to the point that his (doubtful) exploits are seemingly given more historical significance than any actual Chinese history. Yet, much of what Polo wrote was seemingly inaccurate or second-hand information that he didn't witness himself - which I suppose makes him a bullshitter.

Not so strangely, this comes as no surprise to me. As I have written about elsewhere on this blog, anyone can make claims about Asia and its people and it is unlikely that the claims will be challenged or in any way questioned for accuracy, honesty, or truth. Generalizing and shaping the image of Asia has become the Gold Rush of the 21st century for many present-day prospective Polos who see opportunity in reinforcing the fear of, and prejudices towards Asians. Seemingly just about anyone can have a go - indifference, ignorance, or just plain old xenophobic fear makes it a sure sell. These revelations about Marco Polo simply show that this process of getting rich or famous through making stuff up (or exagerrating half-truths) about Asia has a longer history than previously thought. In fact, so successful is the endeavour, that there are even some Asians who have imitated this path to success. As one might guess, it is the Asian man who bears the brunt of this misrepresentation.

I think that it is important for Asian men in America to remember that in the modern world, the driving force behind this misrepresentation seems to be resentment and envy at any apparent succcess of Asian people. From inner city shopkeepers to higher profile sportsmen, from academic over-achievers in the Ivy League to the economic powerhouses of East Asia, the onslaught of apparently prosperous people with Asiatic faces has left the western world's certainty of its own superiority in tatters. We can know this by how mainstream America reacts to successful Asian men. So successfully have western peoples been brainwashed to believe in their inherent superiority over the Asian that many seem unable to compute the notion of a successful Asian man. Many Asian men might find that despite playing by all the rules and achieving their success fairly, their success itself is often held against them as evidence of their malevolent and inferior character - even if you are successful you must have done something sneaky or even immoral to achieve it.

For instance, let's take sports. A popular and well-loved stereotype maintains that Asian sportsmen are simply too weak to compete against their far superior western counterparts. This is why when Asian sportsmen do succeed the response can often be characterized as shrill, irrational, and panicky. The clearest example of this occurred during the 2002 soccer World Cup held in South Korea. That year the South Korean team had the best run of any Asian team before or since. Reaching the last four, they overcame such soccer powers as Spain, Portugal, and Italy, incurring the wrath of these soccer superpowers who screamed conspiracy and falsely (and in some ways ironically) accused the Koreans of cheating. The Italians even went so far as to vent their petty rage on the Korean player who scored the winning goal against them by threatening to drop him from the Italian team for whom he had been playing. More recently in boxing, Manny Pacquiao's achievements have been besmirched by insinuations of cheating through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Some of the most anxious outbursts of irrational xenophobia occur in connection to the economic rise of various Asian countries. Those who witnessed the rise of Japan's economic power during the 1970's and 1980's might remember the panicked hysteria it elicited amongst some western observers. According to some experts Japan's success was due to the robotic nature of the Japanese people. The Japanese were dismissed as unthinking, and unquestioning, machine-like  automatons devoid of personality and individual character whose potential was therefore easily exploitable and suitable for repetitive labour. In this way, the west was able to re-assure itself that although the Japanese were prosperous, it was somehow less worthy, or legitimate than western prosperity and hence the west was still best.

The recent rise of China as a power has elicited an even more histrionic reaction. It seems that the tone of much of the China commentary is that the Chinese are sneaky, lying, thieving, cheating, monsters whose bestial racial characteristics compels them to seek to overwhelm western civilization. Underlying all of this is an apparent raging incredulity that these upstart Chinese dare to demand a prosperity for their people equal to that of Americans. Of course, the relative success of China's economy is usually put down to some kind of cheating or sneakiness on the part of the Chinese horde.

But this type of hostile resentment towards prosperous Asians isn't limited to foreign economic competitors. Here in the U.S a degree of prosperity of some sections of the Asian minority brings with it mainstream justifications for prejudice and hostility against them. Running counter to the notion of the American dream, Asian-American prosperity has been the cue that has legitimized anti-Asian vilification and mockery. Out of all immigrant and minority groups, our prosperity alone is met with hostility and even attempts to curtail it.

The common thread in all of these examples of histrionic misrepresentation is the idea that prosperity of Asian people has been achieved through some degree of dishonesty or under-handedness, and if this is not the case, such prosperity should be feared anyway because Asians are bad people. The upshot of all this is that there is no reason to trust or believe anything that is written about Asian people by self-described western experts. Given that we can be fairly certain that hysteria, fear, and an ingrained sense of hostility, clouds mainstream attitudes towards us, it seems that the only response to Asia experts is skepticism.

What all of this suggests to me is that the 19th Century western colonial ideas of the Asian man who needs to be put in his place and whose only value is as a servant, remains the filter through which western minds conceive of Asian people. Whether you are Asian born and raised in the Mississippi or the Mekong Delta makes little difference - if you are a successful Asian (and male) your prosperity is an affront not only to the stereotypes that western minds create about you to make themselves feel safe, but also shatters some very core beliefs that insist on the superiority of the Caucasian.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Was Bruce Lee Was A Stereotype?

Not Knowing A Good Thing...

As always, James over at The Alpha Asian blog has found another informative documentary video pertaining to Asian men. The video is titled "The Slanted Screen", and explores through interviews with Asian-American actors the past and present prejudices faced by Asian men in the movie industry and society in general.

Of all the guys that participated, Frank Chin really stands out for his directness and insight. I think that when it comes to directness, Asian-Americans might need some development in this area, and Chin, although ascerbic, is at least on the right track! From the video, Chin's observation that Bruce Lee was a stereotype initiated an interesting series of comments, and I wish Chin would have been given more time to expand on this idea. My only caveat is that Chin tends to all too often favour the cluster bomb when a targeted smart bomb might have gotten his message across more succintly.

For example, while I disagree one-hundred that Bruce Lee is a stereotype, I believe, and we all know, that he was both made to play roles that were far below what his capabilities should have demanded if he had been white, and these roles were one-dimensional and often somewhat deprecatory. Lee himself could not possibly have been a stereotype because he differed greatly from what had been seen anywhere anytime before, or even since.

The power of Lee's example is that he rejected the limitations imposed upon him by American racism, and became the superstar that they said it was impossible for him to be. Subsequently, Lee has become such a profound influence on the racist culture that rejected him, that he can be said to have become not a stereotype, but an archetype that shapes the self-images of young men not just in the U.S, but all over the planet. In the past thirty years, just about every American action hero can be said to have drawn some degree of inspiration from Lee. Everything from fighting style and attitude to men's physiques it can be argued have derived much from Lee's example.

The downside to this has been a kind of backlash effect in which the image of a strong and fearless Asian warrior is negated by stereotypical versions that mock and disparage. But this is not a failing on Lee's part, but an example of how irrational maintream fear of Asian men drives the racism against them. Comedian, Bobby Lee (also speaking in the second video) seems to blame Bruce Lee for creating an unattainable stereotype that all Asian men are brilliant martial artists. This is ridiculous. Blame mainstream ignorance and racism for this - Bruce Lee never said that he was typical of anyone or anything, and he wasn't typical of any man, regardless of their race. Bruce Lee is an example of how much potential Asian men possess to impact their environment, and not someone whom we should criticize for "setting the bar too high".

And here as clear as day we are able to see the effect that growing up with racism has on the psyche of Asian men. Growing up with racism causes some (maybe many) Asian men to second guess everything about their masculinity. Even something as inspiring as Bruce Lee's life becomes twisted and something about which to feel shame and embarassment. The irony is that mainstream culture appropriates Lee's warrior qualities and emulates them whilst some Asians apparently rue his success. This also speaks volumes about mainstream America's inability (or unwillingness) to conceive of Asians as individuals and interact with them without pre-conceptions.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rebel Without A Clue?

...Chris Jeon.

I happened upon this online article that covers the exploits of Asian-American student, Chris Jeon, a mathematics major from UCLA who has decided to spend his summer vacation helping the Libyan revolution. As you might notice, the article has undertaken to scold the 21-year-old student for his apparently blasé attitude toward such a serious situation. The article proceeds with an indignant tone....

'However, what's worse about Jeon is his reason for going to Libya to fight in this dangerous war. Why did Jeon remove himself from the U.S., go on a ridiculous journey to Libya and put himself in harm's way with a bunch of strangers who he's never met and can't even really communicate with?....."It is the end of my summer vacation, so I thought it would be cool to join the rebels," Jeon said to The National.  .......Let's make something perfectly clear Mr. Jeon, war is not cool. Fighting as a rebel against the forces of a dictator for something you believe in isn't cool. It's a way of life for many of these people. They aren't doing this because it's cool. They are doing it because they feel it's the only way to be free from tyranny.'
I couldn't disagree more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that war is "cool" but I think that the article misses the point - being in the midst of history in the making is actually a very cool thing and at least Jeon has chosen the (so far) right side to fight for. I don't really see what the basis is for the article's tone - Jeon seems willing to walk his talk and put himself in the line of fire - although I don't rule out the possibility that Jeon is simply an attention whore! What is most interesting about Jeon is that he is enacting something that many men crave but may never experience - adventure in exotic places and participation in the shaping of history as it is being written.

For Asian men, this is especially acute - it might be the case that some of us feel disconnected (or excluded) from the great deeds of history in the making and the truth is that even if Asian-American men were to emerge as pivotal players in history, American culture would most likely white-wash them out of societal consciousness. My cynical side believes that if Jeon were a white student this deed would be framed to highlight how adventurous and daring white guys can be and he would be held in awe by an adoring public appreciative of the positive reinforcement. When Asian guys act in ways that are at odds with the ingrained perceptions of them society will do back-flips to correct the anomaly because it's scary.

I hope Jeon finds what he is looking for.