Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Punch Can Speak A Thousand Words.

The Manny Pacquiao Effect.

There's an interesting article published in Salon Magazine that examines how the success of Filipino boxer, Many Pacquiao, has given Asian-Americans a long-overdue popular hero and provided a sense of commonality amongst the various Asian groups within the US.

For Asians and Filipinos who were born and live in the West, Pacquiao offers a space where a diasporic people can feel closer to somewhere hardly ever seen. For a few hours they are united with all the other Asians in the world hunkered down in Pacquiao caps, socks and hoodies, trying not to gnaw off the rim of their beer glasses. Pacquiao closes a distance of thousands of miles so that they are at home........ I had never seen such a comforting, familiar and unabashed presentation of Asianness on American TV.
These few sentences actually speak volumes. The idea of a common and unified Asian-America is a notion that is given much lip service, but which in reality lacks any meaningful definition or conceptual identity. The underlying reason for this is probably due to the fact that the term "Asia" only gives us information about a general geographical area, but beyond this is fundamentally meaningless as a term which might define cultures or civilizations. Asians generally don't think of themselves as "Asians" any more than a Frenchman thinks of himself as a South-American. Although attempts have been made by various thinkers to define a Pan-Asian ontology, the concept remains largely unrealized.

It's more true to say that Asia can be thought of as a somewhat fractured collection of independently conceived societies with little pan-national cohesion and, in many cases, a degree of hostility amongst its ethnicities. If we examine Asian-America, we might notice that our thinking and self-conception follows this model to varying degrees. Many Asian-American individuals in various communities see themselves as having little in common with other Asian immigrant communities and this even expresses itself in what could only be described as prejudicial thinking towards other Asian groups.

If we couple this with the "softly, softly" approach to acceptance or integration, that has been favoured by most of Asia's immigrants into the US, what we have left is a concept of a Pan-Asian Asian-America that is unjustifiably asserted, but generally under-explored let alone striven for. It is, therefore, very telling that the one phenomenon that can cause Asia's various groups (both in the US and Asia) to have a sense of unity comes in the form of a hyper-aggressive and finely muscled athlete whose job it is to smash people's faces in. Interestingly, the only other Asian personality to have this effect on the Asian mind was also an unashmedly aggressive and finely muscled Asian man named Bruce Lee.

Who would have guessed that out of the entire body of the Asian-American experience, not a single thinker or intellectual has had the capacity to unite almost the entire community in pride such that ethnic and gender divisions all but disappear, yet two Asian men with exceptional fighting prowess have been able to do exactly that? Clearly, what Asian-America - and perhaps Asia itself - is hungry for is this sense of physicality. All too often the Asian-American dialogue seems to be characterized by an almost mystical cerebralization that hyper-subjectivizes the issues to the point that they actually become almost meaningless. (This is most usually achieved by re-writing history, but more on this in a later post!)

No feminist, Angry-Asian-Boogie-Man, or public intellectual has even come close to delivering to the hungry masses of the Asian minority the kind of satisfying sense of pride offered by the fact of strong, proud, Asian men. Ironically, despite the best efforts of some of Asian-America's culture clowns - whose ontology seems to be based upon the denial of Asian masculinity - it is strong and empowered Asian men that give us the most pride, perhaps even to those who wouldn't date us! How could Asian-American culture have missed the boat so utterly?

Clearly, what is most craved by Asian-Americans (male and female alike, and most probably second generation onward) is an empowered masculinity that is unapologetic about its own strength and power. Yet, almost by paradox, it is some sections of Asian-American culture itself that seems to feed the machinations of American culture that seek to demean this very masculine empowerment that is being craved. Given that the only observable phenomenon that has actually succeeded in providing a sense of unity and pride is powerful Asian men, it seems obvious to say that an empowered and confident Asian-American community can come into being only through the realization of Asian male empowerment.

As I've already suggested, the biggest obstacle to this is the aspect of Asian-American culture that upholds demeaning images and the invisibility of Asian men. Most usually done in the name of commercial success, and mainstream recognition, this aspect of our culture is the antithesis to our attempts to accepted as fully American, and perhaps even fully human.


  1. ben i love your eloquent writing style and it's incredibly endearing in a filipino poetic kind of way, but if anything your opinion represents the emptiness of the asian american identity , and maybe the futility of it. bloggers can blog but in a time when americans themselves are suspect about their own presidential leader, who is zionist tool, is it any wonder we dont have our own leader?paccy nor bruce arent asian americans. bruce barely, but yeah both asian. but is that saying that asian americans need to look to ASIA for rolemodels? dont say much for asian american identity,or was that your point to begin with? to conclude: asian americans need an asian american leader. but in a gutless materialist age the best we get is a gutless materialist generation...unless someone proves otherwise. we all want answers, but does anyone want to create the solution? or do we just want to blog about our emptiness? ( no offense to you, btw)

  2. Anon..

    Thank you for your comment!

    I wasn't really referring to Asian-American identity - I think that the we do, in fact, have identities.

    I think that there is a huge chasm between those who are held up as the shakers and movers of Asian-American culture, and the actual experience, expectation, and desires (if you will) of the general Asian-American population.

    As you read in the post, there is a clear and pervasive pride and unity in seeing, strong, powerful,and fearless Asian men. Yet, strong Asian masculinity is a no-go area for many Captains of Culture.

    And it's not about emptiness on my part, or on the part of any Asians I know, neither is it about representation. But I do have an issue with the way my thinking is represented by Asian-American cultural endeavour, because I do believe that there is much intellectual vapidity amongst in the "upper echelons" of our community.

  3. Power is derived from the willingness to use physical force to achieve a goal. That's part of the reason why we admire guys like Bruce and Pac.

    And that's part of the reason why some Asian guys don't get any respect. There's racism involved, of course. But I also think there is a lack of respect based on the stereotypes of Asian men: effeminate, nice guys.

    Effeminate nice guys don't any respect, regardless of what race they are. So this stereotype intertwined with racism is why we have such a bad image.

  4. @James

    I agree, the fight against stereotypes doesn't begin in the media - it begins with individuals acting in their own lives to change their immediate environment.

    A shift in media representation won't cause the change, but would rather be the end product of it.