Saturday, August 31, 2013

Those Creepy White Guys

So the other day I was wondering around in cyberspace (remember when we used to call the Internet that?) and discovered, a collection of ridiculous comments left by primarily white males on ethnically East Asian females' dating profiles. Originally the page was started by one woman but it now includes submissions from a number of different women who have experienced creepy comments by, it would seem, dudes with Asian fetishes.

Here's the blurb . . .

Every Asian girl who has ever tried online dating, whether on POF, OKCupid, or Match has experienced it: messages from Creepy White Guys with Asian fetishes. I just got back into the dating scene and am already being bombarded with some absolutely horrifying messages. I've collected some of the best ones here, and I welcome any additions to my collection.

If you check out the link and read some of the comments, it's pretty distressing. I sometimes forget just how racist and ignorant people can be, but the Internet usually reminds me. I've recently written a number of posts about racism and objectification in relation to East Asian women (or women of East Asian descent) so I feel I don't need to write another long-winded article about that too soon. Regardless, here's a summing up of my views on the matter . . . (ahem)

Ethnically non-white communities have been major parts of both Canada's and America's national community for over a century. I find it ridiculous that non-white Canadians and/or Americans continue to be socially marginalized within their own respective countries.

I understand there are other issues and elements involved in "the race issue" discourse, but this is currently the basic view I hold. So naturally when I read some of the posts on this Creepy White Guys Tumblr page my reactions went from eye-rolling "Seriously?" to "Eeeewww. . ." Then I got the idea that if one were to pull a role reversal on a number of these comments, we would see just how ridiculous stereotyping actually is. Hence I have decided to take three of the less vulgar (but still racist)  illogical comments that I found on the page and write equally illogical responses to them. First I've written the original comment and the blogger's response and then my hypothetical response to it. Though these may be good for a laugh, it's also important to see just how stupid stereotyping actually is. These are apparently real comments, people.

1. Original Comment 

"I noticed one of your favorite books is The Joy Luck Club, have you read The Kitchen God's Wife? It's also by Amy Tan, it's about how Asian men are really bad to their wives and so Asian women look for white guys who support and care for them instead. I'm that kind of white guy =). I highly recommend that book.

Blogger's Comment

"I’m starting to see a trend here: the only thing creepier than white guys’ obsessions with Asian women may be their obsession with insulting Asian men."

My Hypothetical Response

"Wow, it seems you possess a great and unique understanding of Amy Tan's works! Who knew that The Kitchen God's Wife was actually an allegory for how awesome white guys are? Incidentally, have you ever read Shakespeare's Hamlet? It's about this white guy who tries to kill his mother and stepfather because he feels they were responsible for his biological father's death. The dude in the story also drives a young girl to insanity and she kills herself and everything! It's pretty famous. Do you have a stepfather? Have you ever driven anyone to insanity or tried to murder your mother? If not, maybe we could meet up sometime ; )"

2. Original Comment

"I am a very distinguished and wealthy white man. I work in the high paying finance field where I manage million dollar accounts, I'm in great shape and regularly compete in triathlons, and I believe in always attaining the best, whether the car I drive or the homes I own. Many women find themselves attracted to me, but I am only interested in the best: Asian women. Why is that? Could it be their fine skin and long silky hair? Could it be the fact that unlike white women, they remember what it's like to be a woman: to be docile and submissive and respectful to a man? Could it be their delicate, playful personalities? I believe it is all of the above . . . and more! As I mentioned before, I am wealthy and have a lot of status in this country. If you have many of the qualities associated with Asian women I mentioned above, you and I would be an amazing match =)"

Blogger's Comment

"A man who is distinguished, wealthy, competes in triathlons … AND is white?!? Ai yaah, I must call mother already and tell her I am ready to get married!  How wonderful that as an Asian woman, I am on the same level as the cars you drive and the many homes you own!  It must be my docile nature and long silky hair.. PUKE!!!!!"

My Hypothetical Response

"A man of distinguished taste, I see. I'm glad that my silky hair and fair skin have not gone unnoticed. I see you've been reading Marco Polo's latest accounts of life in China. We 'exotic peaches of the Orient' do try to educate ourselves on proper feminine etiquette. I would love to take you up on your offer but I simply can't believe you compete in triathlons or are in 'great shape' as you say. I've heard that nasty things like obesity, bad teeth, gout, and syphilis are common among rich white guys, and I've also heard that they are impotent and sometimes inbred. There's this rich white guy named George IV who lives in England or some place in Europe and he's like always gambling and cheating on his wife and getting STDs and stuff, which is totally gross! Nice try, but I've read enough P.G. Wodehouse to know to say no to rich white guys."

"P.S. If you have any long-lost treasures from my ancestors' countries of origin, could you kindly return them? Thanks."

When you read the original comment, did you not envision someone like this? I know I did!

3. Original Comment

"Konichiwa! I want you to know you are beauitufl [this typo was in the original], like a lotus flower. I am crazy about Asian stuff, like the culture, the martial arts, the food, the anime and of course the women. I have studied many martial arts and know how to protect a woman, and how to treat her right. I would love to get to know you. Arrigatou!" -- RichB

Blogger's Comment

"Really, RichB? I’m “beauitufl,” like a fucking lotus flower? And clearly, the only Asian country that exists is Japan, which is why I speak Japanese and am oh so impressed that you started your message with “Konichiwa!”… BARF!!!"

My Hypothetical Answer

"Guten tag, mein herr. I see that you're a connoisseur of languages like myself! I want you to know that your head seems wrinkled and strong like a walnut. I'm gaga (ya know, like Lady Gaga?) for European stuff like bratwurst, Ferraris, and Tintin! I love crushing grapes with my feet while listening to opera. I would have loved to get to know you too, but I don't know what 'arrigatou' means. Better luck next time!
до свидания, comrade!"         


So there you have it. What I hoped to illustrate here is how silly and illogical stereotyping is from a purely common-sense point of view. My responses were just as ridiculous as the original comments were, using the same logic to answer illogical questions. I hope it worked. 

Whenever I see stuff like this, I can't help but imagine what I would have written in response to such ridiculously racist and plain stupid comments. These weren't even the worst comments up there; I just thought they were among the most idiotic. It seems to me that a lot of these men just don't understand that Asian-Americans and Asian . . . uh . . . Asians are, at least culturally, two totally different communities of people. They also don't seem to realize that time affects us all the same way and that, just like here in North America, East Asia has made significant social and technological strides in the past century! WHAT A SURPRISE! This means that women are treated quite a bit differently than they were 50 years ago. Ya know, like in North America too! It's like these people have never met a real Asian person. I mean, I would have to assume that if any of these men had ever actually dated an Asian or Asian-American woman, they would know that they don't reflect the outdated stereotypes that keep getting flung at these poor women on a daily basis. 

Also, on a side note, East Asia is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Do you seriously believe that, in this day and age, every East Asian women is an ambitionless, submissive, and docile pet bred for man-pleasing!? It's impossible, based on the law of averages alone. THINK ABOUT IT. Better yet, meet a real Asian woman and see for yourself!

I've said this once and I'll say it again: If you like East Asian women and are not East Asian yourself,  that's not inherently a bad thing. But for goodness' sake try actually frickin' learning something about these people! Read my blog! Better yet, read blogs by the myriad Asian-American bloggers who put out stuff everyday on these issues. Here is a good place to start.   

Alex out!           

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Company Man

The other day I finally got around to watching the Korean film A Company Man, or 회사원 (that's Hwae-sa-won). What did I think?

The film is pretty short by Korean standards, running around only 90 minutes. There are numerous plot holes, impossible situations, and lots of melodrama. That being said, the film also has a number of redeeming qualities that in my opinion merit a viewing. The action is gritty, realistic, well edited, and well directed, which I imagine is really the point of the film. There are also a few memorable scenes and some creative satire of Korean corporate culture, which is pretty funny if you have some background knowledge of it. But yes, the action really is the highlight of this film.

Here's Hyeong-do's manager -- he's a huge dick. One of the reasons you'll want to sit through the whole film is to see him bite it . . . and he does . . . gloriously. 
The story is one of those hit-man-with-a-heart ventures and follows the main character, the emotionless Ji Hyeong-do, as he assassinates various targets, bumps off old co-workers, gets promotions, and dates his old crush. I won't ruin the story 'cause there are actually some twists and turns, but if you've ever seen a Korean action film before you can likely call the scenes.

"So . . . about that raise." 
I originally saw the trailer for this film while I was studying in Korea and it looked really cool. I remember trying to find a theatre that played it with English subtitles (which some theatres actually do, according to the Korean tourist board). Sadly I wasn't able to find a place that was playing this particular film, so now, here in Canada, I finally got to see it. After watching it, while I wouldn't say it's a must-see, I'd definitely recommend it to any East Asian cinema action fans out there. I know there's a lot of you, myself included. I enjoyed this one overall, but if you really want to enjoy it, just don't think too much about what's happening; its just a setup for the next solid action scene anyway. I'm aware that this is a fairly short review but there's not all that much to say about this one. Solid action, some memorable scenes, thin plot -- by now you should know if you want to see this or not.

Here's the trailer if you haven't made up your mind yet!


Monday, August 19, 2013

Alex's Top 5 Monthly Playlist (Korean Edition)

Hey, guys, sorry for the delay. I was dealing with a number of things concerning school and job searching. One thing I've wanted to do on this blog but haven't is talk about music a bit more, because I listen to a lot of Asian music and friends of mine have asked me from time to time for recommendations. So I will take this time to let you guys know about some awesome tracks that I have on replay. Though I have to admit that all of these tracks are Korean right now, I do listen to a lot of Japanese music too, and I'm also trying to expand my tastes into China and Southeast Asia as well. But for now here's five Korean tracks that I've been coming back to again and again this month! (I have to stress that most of these are not new songs, only that I've discovered them recently.)

5. 긴금 상황 ("Emergency") -- Drunken Tiger (Tiger JK)

While certainly not one of JK's best tracks, this is the first track off his One Is Not a Lonely Word album, which was produced shortly after he split with longtime partner DJ Shine back in 2004. I love this track mainly for its flow and backbeat with the organ sample; it just sounds cool and it's a great workout track because of its consistent beat. I also like the Movement references (the Movement being a large collective of well-known Korean hip hop artists who regularly collaborate together). It's just a solid track for when you're on the move, and it's also proof that Tiger JK could hold his own after the split! WOO!  

4. "Click Me" -- Zion T

When I played some Zion T tracks for my mum she pointed out that he sounded a lot like Bruno Mars or some other guy who sings poppy R&B ballads with the voice of an adolescent. I've never been a huge fan of Bruno Mars (I've liked the odd track) but I'm a pretty big fan of Zion T, and its not because he sings in Korean. Zion T has a diverse range of styles and at times exhibits some really interesting composition choices on his tracks, and his vocals are just interesting enough to set him apart from others in his genre. Though "Click Me" is certainly not his most unique track, it is really solid and his smooth vocals contrast really well with Dok2's (the rapper's) hard rhymes. I listen to it practically daily. His music videos also exhibit some great use of lighting and photography, which gives him bonus points in my book. Have a listen!

3. "Bon Voyage" -- The Koxx

If there's a few things I LOVE about the Koxx it's their whimsical style, those minimalist repetitive guitar riffs, and the front man's powerful yet controlled voice. This song is a perfect example. I just can't stop listening to this track, and the video is pretty awesome too. . . that's really all I can say about it. I just love this track! Proof that good alt-rock lives in Korea.

2. "If You Want Me to Stay" -- Kumapark

My first exposure to Kumapark was watching them play live at All That Jazz, a famous jazz venue and bar in Itaewon, and I instantly fell in love with them. This song was originally a Sly and the Family Stone track from back in the day, and you know what? This version blows the original out of the water, in my opinion. This jazz fusion group mixes classical jazz vocals and instrumentals with DJs and vocoders, making for an awesome unique sound. Check it out!

1. "Ego" -- Kumapark

Surprise, it's them AGAIN! For some unknowable reason I can't post this video on my blog, despite its obviously existing on YouTube, so instead I've provided a link to it. I've been listening to this track just about every day for the past three weeks! Why? Well, I like jazz and I love the sax solo and the bridge just sounds so awesome! When I hear it, "I feel like melting, melting, melting, melting, ooh ooh!"  

Anyway these are the tracks I've been spamming this month. Hopefully next month will be a bit more diverse country-wise. Stay tuned! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pacific Wolverine

Last week I watched the latest Wolverine film, and some time before that I saw Pacific Rim. Wouldn't you know it, they both contained myriad references to Japanese things and in the case of Wolverine took place almost entirely in Japan! I thought it would be fun to quickly examine how each movie deals with its portrayals of Japanese characters and places, as they present them rather differently and I thought that was neat. 

Now first off, I understand (or at least I think I do) that these movies are not meant to be taken absolutely seriously, one being about giant mentally controlled robots fighting giant Japanese-inspired monsters and the other being based on a popular comic book character. Still, I found their portrayals of their respective Japanese characters to be on opposite ends of the exaggeration spectrum. Let's see . . . 

Pacific Rim


Notable Japanese Characters: 1

Actor: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori

Portrayal of Japan

The film revolves around the eternal struggle between giant monsters called kaiju (a Japanese name for giant monsters that is synonymous with that genre of Japanese films) and giant robots (piloted by humans) called jagers (pronounced yagers). Despite the film's inspiration being rooted in classic Japanese cinema, it spends little time in the Land of the Rising Sun, choosing to portray the events on a global scale and switching between countries fairly frequently at first. You can tell that the character designs are at least somewhat inspired by anime (just take one look at the Hong Kong and Russian pilots and Mako's hair), but Japan itself is portrayed as a modern developed country like any other, insofar as it is shown (which is not much, actually).

Portrayal of Japanese Characters

There really is only one major Japanese character in the film, Mako Mori. I've seen Kikuchi in a number of Japanese films (though not in Babel, oddly enough). She apparently has a reputation for being funny and weird in her films, according to my Japanese friends. It was kind of neat to see her playing a more straight-edged character this time around. Mako is essentially a by-the-book, no-nonsense strategist who plans the jager missions and eventually copilots one of the machines herself. She suppresses her emotions, possibly as a result of being traumatized at a young age when a kaiju wrecked her home city and killed her parents. She knows martial arts too (but apparently all jager pilots know how to fight). 

Mako Mori doing that hallway thing with her copilot Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam. 

My Thoughts

Mako Mori is a pretty believable character, all in all. Aside from her speaking Japanese, having a Japanese accent in English, and obviously coming from Japan (as illustrated in flashbacks and the like), the movie doesn't really make big deal about her origins, which is kind of unusual for Hollywood. She doesn't spout tonnes of rhetoric about how the kaiju besmirched her family's honour, she doesn't have a katana hanging in her room that she routinely practices with, and she's not totally unscrupulous. She's just a woman who wants to kill her some kaiju! Also what is interesting is that her relationship with the main character, a rugged white dude with washboard abs, is surprisingly platonic, at least for the duration of the film. They don't get it on; they don't make out in a wild display of passion. While there is at times some sexual tension, the majority of the time they just seem to be two friends and colleagues who work well together. It's pretty cool and unexpected. I'm not saying people shouldn't get it on, but usually when there's a guy and a girl in a movie like this, it's only a matter of time, so I was surprised to find this wasn't the case. Who says men and women can't be buddies!?

The Wolverine

Notable Japanese Characters: 6

Actors: Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Rila Fukushima as Yukio, Hiroyuki Sanada as "Lord" Shingen, Brian Tee as Noburo, Hal Yamanouchi as Yashida, Will Yun Lee as Harada

Portrayal of Japan

Japan is an exotic and mysterious place full of things you can't understand, run by powerful zaibatsu, and the battleground in a never-ending struggle between yakuza and ninja. When travelling to Japan it is advisable to bring a sword, body armour, and several years' worth of martial arts training. You just might need it.

Ninjas -- damn.
Portrayal of Japanese Characters:

Most Japanese people, especially upper-class Japanese people, know martial arts to some degree and care deeply about honour, tea, swords, and things like that. All the characters are pretty stereotypical: a "feminine" unscrupulous heiress; her too-evil-to-be-true father, who is trained in dual sword fighting; her ninja former fiancé; a whimsical and unscrupulous katana-wielding girl; a backstabbing and gutless politician; and of course the aged company CEO.  

Rila Fukushima as Yukio. With her unique facial features she kind of looks like someone ripped right out of a comic book. That being said, I think she looks AWESOME!  
My Thoughts

I'm a big fan of Hiroyuki Sanada, and seeing him in a movie doing samurai stuff is always fun. And also I'm in love with Yukio -- I love dames who kick ass, and she can be my bodyguard any day -- though I might find it difficult to accept the fact that she knows when I'm going to die. Anyway, I found Mariko, the love interest, to be your average "feminine" Japanese stereotype. Yeah, she can fight and stuff, but not very well, and she's always brooding and feeling sorry for herself and always needs stronger men and women to bail her out of sticky situations. These are traits I find decidedly unattractive, as my girl's got to be a positive ass-kicker! WOO! (I think I'm getting carried away.) 

Regardless, it's a fun movie that I'd actually recommend. It may be tempting to cry travesty at this film because of its blatant stereotypes. However, let us be reminded that The Wolverine is a comic book adaptation and that content in comic books, especially those published by Marvel and DC, is often sensationalized to the nth degree. In other words, they tend to stereotype EVERYTHING. So I found little fault with the film in that context, and the action scenes were brilliantly directed, shot, and edited, -- quite a treat, really. Just check your brain at the door and remember, JAPAN IS NOT REALLY LIKE THIS. I went there myself recently for the first time and I didn't see a single ninja!           

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

She is the one... Sailor Moon!

Sailor Moon as she appeared in the first season.
Hey, friends! Something a bit lighter today. The Internet personality the Nostalgia Critic most recently took a look back at the North American version of Sailor Moon! Remember that show from your childhood? (If you were born between the mid-80s and early '90s then you probably do). I remember being called Melvin (the swirly-glasses guy) in elementary school by girls in my class. In all fairness I was a pretty nerdy-looking kid with glasses, so I suppose it stood to reason. I also remember not realizing that the show was from Japan until quite some time after it became popular. I remember the toys and the cards people had and not being able to admit that I watched the show from time to time because I was boy, etc., etc.--good childhoody times. While its obvious that the Nostalgia Critic is neither a fan of the show nor an expert on Japanese culture (it's okay, most people aren't, myself included), his videos are often entertaining and his analysis interesting.

Check out the video here!
Melvin from Sailor Moon--and me in elementary school, apparently. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Asian Girlz Update - The Problem with Poking Fun at Racism in North America

Oh man, I thought I was done talking about this . . .

So this was a thing..
Here's an interesting bit of news: Day Above Ground pulled their music video "Asian Girlz" from their Youtube channel and the Internet at large, which is why it can no longer be seen at a the link I provided. Another bit of interesting stuff is this Q&A with the band that Angry Asian Man posted on his Facebook page, available here ->

Read it! It's actually kind of interesting, because as Angry Asian Man states, it seems that they haven't learned ANYTHING! Seriously, WTF, guys??

So in my last post I surmised that these guys had to be ignorant of history and culture, stupid, or actually racist and sexist to make such a video. It turns out it was mostly the second one (and possibly all of the above), at least based on what was said in the Q&A. Incidentally, I was more or less right about the intention of this video as well. It was intended to be a parody of Asian fetishes, which is apparently why they used lyrics that were so over-the-top. They thought that everyone would realize how ridiculous the whole thing was and be in on the joke. It's all good, they were just kidding around--those rascals! Oh, wait, what's that? It's still poorly conceived and horribly offensive? WHO KNEW!? *face palm*

Okay, so I can kind of understand the reasoning behind the comedy because I too think exaggeration and going over the top in certain scenarios can be pretty funny. But these scenarios do not include RACISM. Racism is not a funny topic. Remember when Michael Richards (the comedian who played Kramer on the TV show Seinfeld) inadvertently killed his stand-up career by addressing a group of black audience members as "niggers" when they were making too much noise one fateful evening at the famous venue Laugh Factory? He tried to cover it up as part of his routine and then got booed off the stage. The reaction of audience members to that incident can be likened to the reaction netizens had to "Asian Girlz." Maybe Richards isn't a racist person, but the fact remains that he used racist slurs and deeply offended members of his audience; at that moment he was being racist because he was using racist language. In the Q&A Day Above Ground claims the song is not racist because "none of the band members are racist."Guess what, guys, we didn't know that, and how the hell could we? IT WAS YOUR DEBUT SINGLE!

But even so, the lyrics of "Asian Girlz" are racist; therefore it is a racist song. Believe it or not, racism does not exist only in attitude. It also exists in language, which is made even more problematic when there is little or no prior social context for that mode of language. For example, if I walk up to a group of total strangers on the street who happen to be of East Asian ethnicity and say, "Hey, chinks, do any of you japs or charlies have the time?" HOW THE HELL DO YOU THINK THEY'RE GOING TO REACT!? "Oh, you are a random white guy whom we've only just met, yet it is obvious to us that you are not an actual racist white person because your combination of racial slurs is just so ridiculous that we can't help but think you are using them in jest! How novel!" That's totally how it would go down, right?! WRONG.

Another testament to the group's lack of social awareness is this precious excerpt from the Q&A . . .  (DC is the reporter, JA is the front man of the band).

DC: Could you define what racism means to you?
JA: No comment on that one.
(Joe continues after a pause)
It didn't come from a place of hatred. Racism is seeing people for what they are on the outside and not what they are on the inside. It didn't come from a place of hatred. It's satirical. The lyrics are all satirical.

Yes, there is such a thing as racial prejudice--a.k.a. hating on people because of their race--but this is only one, very specific and very overt form of racism. I think that's all I need to say on that topic for now.

One of the final points that is implied in the Q&A is that "Asian Girlz" was meant to be art, to be rock 'n' roll, to be edgy and controversial and an in-your-face example of free speech, but also satirical and therefore harmless. It's meant to make fun of the Asian fetish, to cast a new light, to celebrate Asian females and the band's relationship with them (according to the group). I have no problem with that idea, but unfortunately, according to the lyrics, what they're saying is that their relationships with Asian women consist of objectifying them, relating them to objects such as food and other miscellaneous paraphernalia, and using them as sex objects. Great job, guys. Believe it or not, this isn't even the biggest problem here, in my opinion.

For those of you who didn't read my "Do I Have an Asian Fetish?" posts, let me just reiterate that the Asian fetish stems from racism and is in no uncertain terms a currently existing, rather common form of racism. How many classic mainstream rock 'n' roll acts have written famous songs in which they poke fun at racism? Not many, right? As I previously stated, racism is not funny. Racism and its various manifestations make people feel frustrated, oppressed, scared, angry, isolated, alienated, and overall unhappy. I remember I got hated on in downtown Toronto for being a white person a few years ago, by some fanatical religious group that I can't remember the name of, and it made me feel frustrated and angry because they were making assumptions about me based on something I had no control over. Later I felt better because I knew their ideas were widely unpopular, but I can imagine that what I felt then was a minuscule--nay, an infinitesimally small--taste of the feelings of those who must deal with racism on a near daily basis, such as (you guessed it!) Asian women in North America. When you make fun of an issue that affects these people, you trivialize it; you take something that affects individuals in a negative way, some very deeply, and turn it into a joke. When you do that, a lot of people are going to get pissed off at you.

Some of you might be thinking this extremely specific thought: "But wait a second, Alex! In the comedy blockbuster Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr's character was satirically wearing blackface and everyone had a big laugh! How is 'Asian Girlz' any different?" To you I ask the following question: Have you seen anyone in the past decade appear in a mainstream Hollywood production portraying a black man by using blackface in earnest? No, you haven't. That is because such a film would be universally panned by critics and those responsible for its production subjected to media waterboarding. No one in popular media wears blackface anymore, as the results would be catastrophic. But East Asian women are still commonly objectified, fetishized, and stereotyped. Do you see what I'm getting at? A BAD THING IS HAPPENING AS WE SPEAK, AND YOU ARE MAKING FUN OF IT. Not very tactful, gents.

So in conclusion I have to say that "Asian Girlz" was and is a VERY poorly conceived product. While I don't believe for a second that Day Above Ground is a bunch of raging xenophobes, I can certainly say they come across to me as being pretty damned stupid. I love comedy, I love satire, I love things that challenge the way we look at the world. Unfortunately there was nothing in "Asian Girlz" to indicate it was meant to be a satire, no disclaimer that informed viewers it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Hence it came across as a song that was about "we like Asian girls 'cause they're Asian and we like to have sex with them too." But I must also say that even if there had been some obvious indication, it was pretty poor satire to begin with. Listing a bunch of stereotypes, sexual innuendos, and superficial Asian cultural cues rates pretty poorly on the creativity and wit scale.

You know what would have been better? How about a song about a bunch of guys who hook up with Asian women thinking they're gonna be all [insert stereotype here] but then find out that they're all [insert unexpected reality here]. That could have been pretty damned funny, creative, and not offensive! Hell, if you'd done that you might even be getting props from the online Asian-American community instead of being flamed by them. Just saying. I'm surprised no one during the making of this had the good sense to say, "Maybe this might upset some people." Regardless, Day Above Ground, for all I know you could be good guys, but you didn't think this through and you ended up doing something stupid. You dropped the ball, so what should you do? Try to understand why people are so angry about all this and apologize. Show people that you're not a bunch of idiots. Sadly, if this Q&A is any indication, I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Anyway, I think I've said more than enough on this topic for now. Join me next time for . . . something else.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Asian Girlz

All right, I figured I'd have to blog about this at some point or another because people keep asking me about it. It's terrible and has a lot of people, both Asian-American and others, rightly pissed the hell off.

So basically this group called Day Above Ground thought it would be a great idea to make a song--nay, a tribute--to Asian women, titled "Asian Girlz," in which the band would lovingly list all the wonderful things they love about Asian women in a touching celebration of the Asian female . . . 

Okay, okay, that already sounds kind of creepy and misguided, am I right? Well, it turns out that the reality was actually A LOT worse. I've been reading Angry Asian Man for many years now, so when I see something posted in which Phil Yu refers to something as "pretty much the worst thing ever made," I feel like I need to check it out. Call it morbid curiosity. 

There's a link to the video in the article but Yu also takes the time to write down the lyrics so you can see just how disgusting and derogatory they are. For those of you who don't like reading additional things, here's a link to the actual video. 

So yes, it's pretty damned heinous that this exists. Not surprisingly, it garnered all manner of negative reactions from both the Asian-American community and others. Such as this intermittently hilarious and vehement rant by Korean-American comedian and Internet personality David So . . .

And this hilarious mock interview with Levy Tran (the woman in the music video) as imagined and portrayed by Kristina Wong (remember? I talked about her article in the Asian fetish posts) . . . 

So there you have it: pretty concise and creative criticisms on what is inherently wrong with Day Above Ground's debut single "Asian Girlz." And of course I would like to add my two cents to the matter because I've been doing a fair bit of thinking on this issue myself.

When I first discovered this travesty on Angry Asian Man, Yu had written that he could not bring himself to sit there and watch the entire video. I decided to see if I could, and like him I found myself unable. I would REALLY like to know the thought processes of all involved in the making this song and video. I feel as if these Day Above Ground chaps were trying to be . . . funny? edgy? racy (no poorly conceived pun intended)? all of the above? Here's how I figured it went down . . . 

Front Man: "You know how like some white dudes have Asian fetishes and stuff? Wouldn't that be like hilarious if we like made an Asian fetish anthem!?" 

Bandmate: "Dude, that's hilarious! We could like objectify Asian woman and say a bunch of racist stuff but like, it wouldn't be racist 'cause like our bassist is Asian and like my buddy knows Levy Tran and she's totes Asian and could totes be in our video and stuff, making it like ironic or whatever!"

Front Man and Bandmate together: "DUDE!" 

Guess what, fools, racism isn't funny. Oh, and while we're here, neither is sexism. Therefore I'm left to assume that these guys are either woefully ignorant of history and culture, stupid, or actually extremely racist and sexist. Here's the problem with all this: North American women, especially North American women who belong to "visible ethnic minorities," have been and continue to be indiscriminately objectified, hypersexualized, fetishized and stereotyped on a regular basis, by their fellow countrymen as well as their own country's mass media outlets, which SHOULD KNOW BETTER. Issues surrounding race and racism in North America are still touchy subjects and will likely continue to be as long as people continue to judge people and stereotype them based on their ethnicity.

I have to say I'm generally pretty optimistic about the whole race issue in North America. I know there is still a lot of racism and we still have a long way to go, but we have made and continue to make great strides. I like it when the discourse gets moved forward to less superficial and overt forms of racism and attempts to tackle issues such as systemic or institutionalized racism, or the racism that exists in the film and music industry that many of us consume every day without question. Sadly, though, it seems to me that whenever we get to that point, some idiot or idiots do something stupid and push the whole discourse back a decade or two. Many commentators have argued that "Asian Girlz" has set back Asian women 50 years, and while this may very well be the case, I feel that it has also set humanity at large back about the same amount of time. I could be overreacting but I doubt it. To all those responsible for "Asian Girlz." do us all a favour and smarten the hell up.

Afterthought: This was their DEBUT SINGLE!!!??? STOP THEM NOW! 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Do I Have an Asian Fetish? (The Conclusion!)

In Riverdale, Toronto, where I was born and raised: East Chinatown, where I spent most of my days! (That doesn't flow so well.)
All right, so in the last post I mentioned that I often find myself in situations in which I meet many East Asian people on a near-regular basis. Now I did just spend the previous year studying in South Korea, so naturally I met a lot of East Asian people there, but that's not what I mean. The reason for my knowing or being involved in Toronto's various East Asian communities is because, quite frankly, my life has more or less always been like that.

At a very young age (five or six) I developed an acute interest in things East Asian. Toronto has one of the largest East Asian populations in eastern North America. The elementary school I attended had signs in three languages--English, French (the official second language of Canada), and Chinese--because of its close proximity to Toronto's East Chinatown (I lived on the edge of it myself). Not surprisingly, a rather large Chinese-Canadian community lived in the area and the children attended my school. My elementary school was culturally unique in a lot of ways. The school library had a fairly expansive Chinese-language section and an Asian-Canadian/American literature section, after-school Chinese classes were held every day (I did not attend those, obviously), and the lunar New Year was a big deal. It's those New Year celebrations I remember best. 

For lunar New Year the whole school got into it. The classrooms would be decorated with red and gold tchotchkes; there would be performances, lion dances, and special food; the library would exhibit Chinese-Canadian and Chinese-themed children's books (that's how I got my first taste of the Monkey King); and the principal would even come around to each class with lai see (red envelopes containing money--usually just a few coins) for the students. Most of the performances were done by students, but some years the school would hire professional acrobats, dancers, or musical performers for shows in the school auditorium. It was really something. 

In hindsight this was all rather quaint, possibly even superficial, but to a six-year-old child this was AMAZING! Something about the colours, the images of dragons, the lion dancing, the folklore, the food, and the performances just captured my imagination and wouldn't let go. I still have vivid memories of it, but that was only the beginning.

Throughout my elementary school years many of my closest friends (some of whom are still my closest friends) had Chinese backgrounds and were typically second or third generation. I would go to their houses after school fairly often, sometimes eating dinner with their parents, sometimes with their grandparents. It was always interesting to me because, naturally, interacting with one friend's first-generation parents who had actually immigrated from China or Hong Kong and another friend's second-generation parents who were native to Canada was totally different (obviously). That is when I started realizing the profound cultural differences between the generations and the differences between East Asian and Asian-Canadian culture generally. 

By about the age of eight it was fairly obvious that I had an interest in East Asian culture, and my parents were really supportive of it. I was enrolled in martial arts classes; I was bought children's books based on folktales from China and Japan; I loved the Ninja Turtles and collected Ultra Man figurines; Jackie Chan was the coolest guy in movies; I watched every movie with the word ninja in the title that I was allowed to (by the rating system); and my best friend's older brothers had started watching subtitled anime on VHS tapes they bought in Chinatown, which we would take peeks at. At this point I couldn't really tell the difference between nor was I aware of the vast scope of East Asian cultures and their many differences and subsections. But then again, I was a child, so I think some slack can be cut.

This exposure to various East Asian and Asian-Canadian cultural elements and people continued through middle school and into high school. Though my middle school had a similar scene to my elementary school--much of a student body came from my elementary school and was ethnically East Asian--my high school was a different story. It had fewer Asian-Canadian students, but that gave me a chance to meet other non-Asian students who were interested in Asian stuff (anime and Japanese rock music were getting popular online in those days) and also non-Asian students who had no idea why I was so into Asian stuff in the first place. Anyway, my interest continued uninterrupted and culminated in a growing love of East Asian cinema. Also, many of my best friends from elementary and middle school, whom I kept hanging out with, were attending another high school where there was such a concentration of Chinese-Canadian students that the day of lunar New Year was not a mandatory school day (I was really envious of that).            

By my high school days I had become so used to being with ethnically East Asian people that when I met the girl who would become my first girlfriend, the fact that she was Chinese-Canadian was a mere detail. There was no mystery or exoticism or preconceived notion of submissiveness or what-have-you. Ethnically East Asian girls and women had always been around me, as characters in storybooks, as authors of those storybooks, as characters in film and television, as childhood friends, as parental figures, as teachers, as friends of my parents, as role models, as actors, and as inspiring figures in both fiction and real life! When I made the decision to ask out my first girlfriend, it was not because of her "Asian-ness"; it was because she was a girl I liked. It just so happened that she was the child of two ethnically East Asian parents and I didn't have a problem with that. 

This interest in East Asian culture and my comfort level around East Asian people never went away. Even now I regularly find myself at social gatherings in which someone will make a joke about me being the token white guy, something I don't usually give much thought to until someone points it out. And, of course, as I meet more and more East Asian people I tend to come into contact with women who are of that ethnicity and who I find attractive. However, I also have myriad platonic ethnically Asian female friends who for various reasons I do not wish to have romantic relationships with. I respect these women; I understand that they are all unique individuals. Some of them I meet once, some become my friends, and a few of the women I meet have become my partners. I can't say for sure if I'll marry an East Asian woman, because it's not really something I think about all that much. If I meet a girl I find attractive, I'm going to try to date her--simple as that.   

However, my situation is somewhat unusual. Also, Asian fetishists DO exist and they exist big-time. It seems to me that many men who have Asian fetishes fixate on the differences between themselves and the people around them and the women they desire to be with--the physical, the behavioral, the cultural. But the discomfiting thing is that most non-Asian men I've talked to who have Asian fetishes seem to know very little about the reality of contemporary life in Asia or the cultural differences between Asians and Asian-Americans generally. When most of these men look at Asian women, they see a type of people, not individuals, and they often have outdated and straight-up misinformed ideas about how this group is supposed to behave. This has not been the case with me since a long, LONG time ago (basically when I was a child).  

So to conclude, no, I don't think I have an Asian fetish. A fetish is something specific; it's a fixation, an objectification, a reduction, an isolation of an object. I am proud to say that I've never looked at any woman, East Asian or otherwise, as an object (with the possible exception of Barbie). Toronto's East Asian communities, whether they comprise Canadians or members of the international community, ethnically East Asian or otherwise, have always had a major presence in my life. From a very young age that's always the way it's been for me. If you're a person who is dating someone whose ethnicity is other than your own and you love them for WHO they are rather than WHAT they are, then in my opinion you're all good. And if you're a non-Asian male attracted to Asian women specifically, just check yourself for a second and try some introspection; your perceptions could be a bit out of whack or just straight-up wrong. But for the record, if you are non-Asian, there's nothing wrong with liking Asian women. However, there IS something wrong with stereotyping or assuming that Asian women are collectively a certain way because of their ethnicity. If you're going to show an interest in people and their culture, it's your responsibility to actually learn about them and get to understand them. There's no excuse for ignorance.  

So you still might be curious: why have my girlfriends been mostly East Asian up till now? I dunno, I guess I just meet a lot of East Asian people. But you know what? I think that's okay, and they seem to think so as well.           

Here are some interesting websites and editorials I discovered while researching this topic--they're very informative and varied!