Saturday, April 21, 2012

Asian-American Movies.....

....Are They Bad?

The 8Asians blog has an article posted recently in which the post author, Edward Hong, asks the question; "Why Are Asian-American Films Bad?" That, I think, is a very good and valid question, and one which when posed, will most often elicit some response of defensiveness or even attack on behalf of those being criticized (which is probably understandable). Hong's post suggests that pervasive and beyond-tired "Asian-American" themes of identity crises and inter-cultural confusions may be so self-limiting that the end product can only be repetitively mediocre at best.

I would have to agree with Hong - sadly, the Asian-American themed movies that I have seen have been mostly dull or unengaging. As I explained here, what seems to be lacking in Asian-American film  is a worldview, or point of view that acts as a foundation upon which to derive meaningful ideas - a film without ideas is a poor film. Maybe it is because of this that there isn't much that I have ever taken away from an Asian-American movie that has made me think, or challenged my beliefs in any way - which to me is the difference between a great movie experience and a pointless one.

Why this state of affairs exists is difficult to say. I do maintain that there is a lack of autonomy in Asian-American creative endeavours in the sense that there seems to be an underlying axiom that the product of an Asian artist's work only has value if it is appreciated by mainstream (yes, that means white) audiences. What this translates to, perhaps, is that Asian-American films are deliberately non-threatening or non-provocative for the sake of mainstream audiences, so maybe there is some degree of self-censorship that debilitates the Asian-American film-making process. This, of course, is sad because I believe that the Asian experience in the modern world (both within the US and outside of it) is hugely significant both historically and for the future.

I have come to believe that the basis for culture - and perhaps the basis of creative honesty - are to a great degree derived form the individual and communal experience of historical circumstances. I maintain that the Asian-American voice is fundamentally out of step with this history, and is instead informed by the biased version of our historical experiences as propagated by mainstream America. This is my the biggest issue with Asian-American film - its uncritical acceptance of the mainstream historical perspective which, effectively, stifles an autonomous viewpoint or opinion. Asian history of the past couple of centuries and our experience of racism necessarily places our stories into an oppositional stance to mainstream American culture, yet this doesn't manifest in Asian-American films.

Maybe this is why Asian-American films just seem not to be saying anything and why they seemingly lack the strong point of view that I look for in movies that might make me think or perhaps even challenge my view of the world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Stepping Outside The Comfort Zone

Dating Non-Asian Women......

Masir Jones over at the Destroy & Rebuild blog just posted a piece in which he notices the "cliquish" behaviour of some Asian-American women, in particular how so many of them just don't seem open to being approached by Asian men. I agree with everything he wrote, but I will say that women of all races - if they are out with a group of girlfriends - will more or less act in a similar manner. There does, however, seem to be a major difference between Asian-American girls and non-Asian-American girls that I think partially explains this experience that Asian men seem to have of feeling made to jump over higher hurdles than, let's say, white men, perhaps.

Of course, it is bizarre that white, Hispanic, and black women might seem to be more open to being approached by Asian men than would Asian-American women (in my experience, non-Asian women are definitely more open to Asian men) and most often the reasons given for this state of affairs places a good portion of the blame on Asian cultures and Asian men themselves.

Whatever the reasons, the one factor that is common to every instance of Asian men's interactions with the opposite sex is that the Asian man is going up against the weight of cultural stereotyping that denigrates, ridicules, and demeans him. Any woman who dates, or marries, an Asian man in this society is swimming against a current of cultural certainty that Asian men are the worst option or simply dysfunctional in some way. And this I think, offers an explanation for why non-Asian women would seem more open to Asian men.

It might be cultural factors or simply result of racially toned marginalization from mainstream society, but when it comes to going against the current of public opinion, it seems that non-Asian women are the leaders. It seems natural, therefore, that non-Asian women would be more inclined to go against the group or clique when approached by Asian men.

This is an important point for Asian men simply because American culture has rendered Asian men so completely invisible and irrelevent that it takes partners who are strong and wise enough to see through the bullshit to take the time with us. It is the rebels and those who value the prerogative of the individual over the opinions of the group who are open to Asian men. And that is a very good thing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

He'll Charm The Pants Off Of You...

Heejun Hun

Via Angry Asian Man......

Also, here.

To my mind this Heejun Hun interview is a great illustration of how personality will beat out good looks any day. It's fair to say that Hun doesn't have male-model good-looks, but his charm more than makes up for it.

Of particular interest is his rapport with the woman interviewing him. Now in my experience, if you are able to make a girl giggle like that then you have one hand almost in the cookie jar.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Asian Men Less Bastardly Than Previously Thought

New Study.......

A recent study on interracial marriage rates in the US has been making the rounds in the Asian-American blogoverse, the main point of interest being a slight decline in the high outmarriage rates of Asian-American women with white men. Here's the NY Times report. As you can read from the NY Times article, some Asian-American women have experienced a kind of disillusionment with dating white guys because they have come to the realization that much of the attraction to them seems to actually be based on objectification. The bigWOWO blog also has an interesting post about this, as well as a stimulating discussion in the comments section.

Feminist blogger, Shiuan Butler, has also posted on the article, and has included some more in-depth charts showing the specifics of IR marriage trends. And some very interesting things show up particularly on this chart. .......

What is interesting here are the numbers for white woman/Asian man pairings. As you can see, of all pairings of white women, those who marry Asian men report a higher average earning capacity, as well as a slightly higher percentage who have had an income within the previous 12 months.

Why is this interesting? One of the stereotypes that are happily and casually put forward about Asian men is that they are irredeemable sexist pigs whose suffocatingly backward attitudes to women's equality makes them unsuitable partners for the modern emancipated woman. Yet these figures would seem to tell a different story. 

According to the data, white women who marry Asian men have a high earning capacity, over 90% of them continue to earn during the marriage (at least within the previous 12 months), and almost 60% are college educated. What this might imply is that Asian men who marry white women seek out partners who accomplished in their careers, are educated, and who continue to pursue their earning potential. 

To me, this suggests that contrary to the claim that Asian men suffocate the aspirations of their wives, many Asian men are, in fact, more likely to seek partners who are the opposite to the meek, submissive, woman that we are informed are the type that Asian men prefer. Even compared to other ethnic groups (including white men) white women who marry Asian men show possibly a greater degree of accomplishment which in turn suggests Asian men are more comfortable with empowered women than every other group. What kind of sexist pig would be partnered with an accomplished and educated woman? Maybe one who isn't actually as sexist as some would like to believe.

This brings up some interesting questions on an aspect of the interracial dating debate that is never really explored; what are some of the reasons for Asian-American men to marry outside of their race. We hear ad-nauseum about the billions of reasons why Asian women choose to marry outside of the race, but never why Asian men might do the same. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Brother's Keeper

Asian Representation By Asians.....

The YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily blog published a post recently about a movie project that is in the works from one of the blog's writers, Quentin Lee. The project is being described as a "slasher" movie, in which the protagonist is an Asian man who has been driven psychotic as a result of pervasive racial denigration and stereotyping throughout his life. As you can see from the comments section of the post, this premise has elicited some degree of opposition. But what most interested me was some of the dialogue in the comments section in which a couple of points are made with which I happen to disagree. This is the first comment of interest...
“White” films are able to tell whatever stories they want. Because no one film portrays their race. There’s enough of them that it’s not an issue. Asian films from Asia are the same. So in order for this to stop being an issue for Asian-American films, there must be enough, where the variety and volume of films won’t warrant the discussion. But we can’t achieve that without supporting ALL works, regardless of what it’s about.
I simply disagree with this because "white" films well and truly do represent the white race on many levels. The industry's machinations seem set up to ensure that white actors land most of the meaty roles and production funding and hence the story-telling most often reflects all the good things that white America wants to believe about itself. Although it is certainly true that white movies show some white characters as evil, their negative qualities are always off-set by other white people who possess the "right" values that exemplify the awesomeness of white culture and its values. Surely, this is "representing" the white race.

Furthermore, discrimination, as well as societal chauvinisms mean that the American film industry is monopolized by predominantly white producers and investors who favour white actors and "white" stories. This results in discrimination against Asian actors - particularly Asian men - which is a well-established and accepted practice within the industry. So to claim that mainstream (white) film-makers do not, as a matter of course, positively represent their race is a dubious claim at best.

The same commenter goes on to say the following.....

.......I strongly feel that Asian-American films are not obligated to be responsible for representing our race. Their only obligation is the representation of the Asian-American artist making it. The VOLUME of Asian-American films is going to determine and represent our culture. Not a single film. The aggregate will create the culture we’re all so concerned about representing...
This  idea that the Asian artist has no obligation to represent their race is a point of view that I have heard voiced by several Asian artists (mainly writers and film-makers). The suggestion seems to be that works of creativity carry with them an implicit freedom that cannot and should not be molded into a pre-packaged framework that might limit the very creative process itself. Often this defence is offered in response to criticisms that the work of Asian artists often focuses on the negative aspects of Asian cultures and people (in much the same way that the mainstream media does) so instead of promoting an alternative and positive representations it simply reinforces existing stereotypes and characteristics created by non-Asians that limit the definition and concept of what it might mean to be Asian.

In some cases - many cases, perhaps - this is a valid and accurate assessment of the way that, what is termed "Asian-American arts" conceives of itself and its work in relation to the mainstream. It seems to me that there is often a drive to produce work that is palatable to mainstream America, and thus commercial considerations (i.e. the sellability of a product to mainstream America) play a major role in how Asian artists may seek to portray Asian people. Yet, this is something of a conundrum that I've never really heard anyone address. Allowing one's work to be defined by mainstream sensibilities - something that many Asian artists seem happy to do - is itself limiting and no less so (and possibly even more so) than the expectation that artists should represent the community. Surely the pressures of commercial aspirations are as much of a compromise of creative expression as is any obligation to represent the race?

Perhaps this is why Asian-American creative output has generally been somewhat irrelevent in the broader context of modern western artistic endeavour - it seems that it all too often chooses the path of least resistance which may also happen to be the most limiting compromise. A significant issue in discussing this subject is one of definitions. When we say "Asian-American arts", what exactly does that mean? What exactly does it mean to "represent the race" and why on earth would anyone do such a thing?

It is entirely possible (probable even) that the term "Asian-American arts" is meaningless, yet it is used routinely and habitually to describe something, or a group of things, for which it is hopelessly incapable of describing. It is a catch-all phrase that says nothing about a point of view or a worldview. There is no Asian-American stylistic character (except perhaps a rather droll penchant for a fatalistic angst and cultural self-flagellation) and "Asian-American arts" doesn't describe a "movement" devoted to an idea or point of view and driven by a group of like-minded thinkers. Certainly the term does imply some kind of Asian-American worldview (which without a commitment to represent the race may actually be an oxymoron), but ultimately the term is so all-encompassing in its vagueness that it has no meaning.

This is important when considering the the idea of "representing the race". Why Asian-American artists would seem to be so vehemently opposed to this idea is bewildering, and their opposition explains why Asian-Americans have a "roll-your-eyes" attitude towards their own cultural "elite". After all, few people within the community would deny that negative media representation and hostile stereotyping have caused immense harm for the Asian minority. So, the simple response to the question of why Asian artists should represent their race is that we are in dire need of being fairly represented. Isn't that reason enough?

Furthermore, much of the endeavours of Asian-American activism involves complaints and protests against the media, and the hostile-to-Asians celebrities it regularly produces, in which it is demanded that mainstream America portray Asian characters respectfully and fairly.Yet, why should the mainstream be obliged to represent the Asian race fairly, when many - and sometimes well-known - Asian artists themselves see no reason to? This attitude itself enables mainstream apathy and cynicism in tackling the issue of fair and balanced media representation of Asian people and is a contradiction of one of the most widely supported tenets of Asian activism - the struggle to combat the propagation of anti-Asian attitudes and xenophobic political rhetoric by a hostile media.

Is it surprising that there seems to be such distrust and cynicism towards Asian-American artists from within their own community? Even more surprising is that Asian writers and film-makers are themselves shocked (and indignant) that Asians react negatively to the news that they don't have a commitment to represent their community, and that they might, indeed, be supplying mainstream America with more ammunition for their prejudices.

I think that ultimately, it may all come down to this idea of what it means when we use the term "Asian-American" in relation any creative endeavour . To me it doesn't mean anything, and much confusion would be averted if we dropped the term altogether when discussing work produced by Asian-American artists. That way there wouldn't be the expectation of some kind of representation and the artist could assert their creative identity. Perhaps this simple act would initiate the beginning of actual creative "movements" informed by the Asian-American experience (perhaps), that reflects an autonomous worldview and historical perspective, that relies less on squeezing the Asian narrative into restrictive mainstream American sensibilities and more on the power of its own original creative value to attract a following.