Thursday, July 10, 2014

Background Noises.

The Asian Male Victims Of Elliot Rodger.

I have held off on in-depth commentary on the Elliot Rodger murder case for several weeks out of a desire to not take advantage of the suffering of grieving family and friends of the victims and push an agenda of any sort. In the first few days of the killings it seemed as though some observers were paying sympathetic lip-service to those who suffered, only to seemingly push a political or sociological agenda of some kind. From gun-control and white privilege, to pick-up artists and Asian misogyny, the analyses flowed freely. I'm not saying that people were wrong in their analyses, just that all too often, victims and those they leave behind, become the background story in their own murder case.

Anyone acquainted with my blog should not be surprised that in the Rodger murders, it is the Asian male victims who seem to have been really, really, pushed to the background in the various analyses of their murders. Of the three Asian men murdered by Rodger, two, Cheng Yuan "James" Hong and Weihan "David" Wang, were his roommates, and the other, George Chen, was a friend of the other two who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The manner of the men's deaths warrants some attention - all three were stabbed to death, with some reports suggesting that the stabbings were so violent that they describe the bodies as having been mutilated. Elliot Rodger seems to have really hated them, doesn't he? As this article suggests, Rodger's hate was so intense, a single murder weapon did not suffice......
.....evidence taken from the apartment makes them think that Rodger may have used a machete, knives and a hammer to kill their sons.
That article also suggests that the parents of the three Asian male victims are also noticing how their son's (and the other victim's) deaths have received scarce interest in the media. It is of little surprise to me that the violent deaths of three Asian men seems to barely rouse the consideration or interest of the mainstream media, but what is saddening is that the Asian media itself has offered few analyses of the specific racial dynamics surrounding the murders. Although mention has been made of the specific cultural emasculation of Asian men and how this might, could, or did, drive Rodger's violence, it seems that the angle that Asian observers are most comfortable with is the narrative that highlights how Asian male misogyny is being fostered by gender specific anti-Asian racism. Then of course, there are the circling justice activists owning Rodger's "Asian-ness" seemingly excitedly relieved over another example of how we are absolutely not the model minority.

None of this does anything to address the fact that even in death, the three Asian male murder victims - specifically the racial dynamics surrounding their murders - are largely rendered invisible and marginalized in the tragedy of their own demise by both the mainstream and Asian-American media alike. Just as in life, Chen, Wang, and Hong, might have noticed that our American culture had little room for empathy or consideration for the experiences of men who looked like them, in death they are similarly denied a cultural voice. I can understand the mainstream media's comfort with maintaining the empathetic distance from Asian men - after all, that is what they do - less understandable is that the Asian-American media has dropped the ball on honoring the racial aspects of the men's murders and modelling the kind of behaviour towards our own that we demand of the mainstream.

It is an interesting question why as a community we have seemingly been unable or unwilling to attempt any in-depth analysis of the dynamics involved in these men's deaths. One possibility is that we are so attuned to a culture that absolutely denies - or only grudgingly affords - a specific voice for the Asian male experience that we ourselves find it difficult to find the empathy within ourselves that one might expect would naturally emerge. On the other hand, as I have written about in a previous post there is a sentiment that discussions on the experience of Asian men are only credible if they are included as part of an all-encompassing anthology that references and alludes to issues outside of the issue of Asian men's experiences, such as Asian women's issues, the black experience, or some other random issue. Given what I observed in that linked post, it comes as no surprise to me that a racially driven murder directed at Asian men, by a perpetrator whose hate was so intense that he apparently mutilated their bodies, is only approached in a holistic manner, that overstretches the narrative such that the specific act of violence towards Asian men is downplayed. That, to me is the fundamental issue here.

It seems to have escaped our notice that the brutality of the murders of Chen, Hong, and Wang, bears an eerie resemblance to the kind of casual brutal violence perpetrated in the racist fantasies of American film and television. The violent stabbings of these three Asian men has an eerie echo of the frenzied baseball bat killing of Vincent Chin, and the more recent biker mob frenzy of violence against an Asian-American motorist. This type of frenzied anti-Asian violence seems largely reserved for Asian men and is a concept that America is extremely comfortable with - it is common to see Asian men's brains being bashed in, and their bodies being shot to pieces, or the life being squeezed out of them, in some of America's most popular cultural productions. The disturbing part is that at least Elliot Rodger could claim insanity, or cognitive handicap. American culture, on the other hand, depicts frenzied violence against Asian men as an often justified norm. But we, as Asian-Americans, can't really talk about that because it leaves out issues faced by other groups or is somehow marginalizing other identities to focus on Asian men and the cultural fantasies of violence against them that occasionally bleed over into real-life.

What this means for the Asian men butchered by Elliot Rodger is that they have to make do with being the background figures of their own tragedy. The fact that the brutal manner of their deaths is one that is played out over and over again in fiction as well as fact in American culture - in which violent, savage, deaths inflicted on Asian men is normalized and, perhap, even celebrated - is a subject largely missing from the commentaries. Most commentaries that I have seen have neatly skirted around the subject - for the mainstream to do so is expected, for Asian-Americans to do so is inexplicable.


  1. Thank you for a nice article. It did not take long for me to realize that there was something unfavorable for asians (especially men) going on since I came to us as an asian international student. One of which is the mainstream media bashing spotlights on asian-men while being relatively more generous to asian-female. I feel like it's how they make it clear that asian-females should bow to non-asian mainstream to get whatever little attention while their asian brothers suffer from injustice.

    1. Anonymous

      Welcome and thanks for your comment!

      I think that Asian women have their own set of media racism to deal with, but there does seem to be more sympathetic and humanizing depictions of them. It is getting better - slowly - but cultural habits are hard to shake.