Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday list


*Kung Fu Panda. Because do we need MORE reinforcement of Asian stereotypes, especially those that perpetuate the connection of Asians with Panda bears and martial arts, and DAMN IT, this one has BOTH. Maybe I wouldn't be so annoyed if there were more Asian Americans on-screen just being, well, Asian American. Pumping gas at your local Shell station. Ringing up your groceries. Standing in line with you at the bus station. Asian American lead actors and actresses starring in dramas and comedies and sitcoms doing BORING things that ALL people do--not preparing sushi in the latest V8 commercial, not offering pithy phrases that sound like they came out of fortune cookies, not being silent or nearly silent side-kicks to the inevitable white male (sometimes female) lead.

*People who don't recycle. C'mon folks! We only have one planet! Reduce, reuse, recycle--a good mantra!

*Writer's block. I've been stuck with my book project and it's SO FRUSTRATING and I wish the writing demons would leave me alone--the ones that tell me I don't have an original thought in my head or that my writing is at the level of a senior thesis (this was an ACTUAL comment I got back from an anonymous reader report when I submitted something a while back to a journal that will remain unnamed. Suffice it to say, it did not seem like constructive feedback and was a bit like name-calling in the academic world, and while I've never dared to believe that my sentences were graceful and eloquent pieces of rhetoric, this comment seems to be mocking both myself and the wonderful senior theses that I have read. So "phlbephhhhh!!!!" to you Mr./Ms. anonymous reader! And STOP MESSING WITH MY HEAD!)


*The thought of Barack Obama as our next President of the United States. YES WE CAN!

*Pictures of my grandparents and my best friends from college (the Gherkins--long story why we chose this silly nickname) that hang in my home office. I think it's important to have pictures of people you know love you unconditionally (or in the case of my now deceased grandparents, had loved me unconditionally). Good way to fight the inner demons.

*Today's New York Times Weddings and Celebrations page. I know you have to know someone or be someone to get placed here, but if you look on-line at who is featured (photo wise or profile wise) it does make me think we've come a long way baby from the kinds of couples that were featured 10, 20, 30 years ago. The mere fact that they now recognize same-sex unions is a cultural shift of monumental proportions. Because, at the end of the day, it's the small acts that count too--that start to send a message that it's really just commonplace to see two men or two women get married, as common place, one would hope, as seeing two people of two different "races" get married.


*The fact that I still eat pork. Pork is BAD business--quite literally. Factory farming of pork is bad for the environment and bad labor practice. And eating pork is bad for your health (or can be). But I LOVE LOVE LOVE sausage and bacon and ribs--I make a mean rack of baby back ribs. And pork loin. And ham--I have a smoked ham recipe TO DIE FOR. I try to ease my guilt by buying locally produced/raised pork, but the truth is, I don't adhere to this 100% and I KNOW that the salad I ate the other day that had bacon bits on it probably didn't come from a place that is local.

*My consumerism. I buy. I spend. I succumb to marketing and the false belief that I NEED certain things. Even books. I justify it as being a professional expense, but I could check the book out from the library. Do I really need to own my own copy? Yes, I am keeping certain writers in business--and I suppose books aren't really as awful a consumer product choice as some other things. Like clothes or gadgets or handbags. But seriously, I need to take my mantra of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to heart.

*Righteousness. On the one hand, I think there's a lot to be righteous about. Racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental issues, animal abuse, partner abuse, elderly abuse, poverty, mean people, etc. On the other hand, who made me the fairness police? What right do I have to stand on my soapbox and start to rail against the world? My friends joke that it's impossible for me to have a conversation with them that at some point doesn't evoke race. It's true. And there are times when really, no one wants to talk about race...when I don't want to talk about race. Or inequality. Or privilege. We just want to hang out at the pool and eat loco pops and play mah jong. Is that so bad?


*For everyone to have a lazy Sunday and for me to read the books I said I would read (I have daily goals and Sunday's goal is always to do a bit of reading) and to also relax and enjoy myself. After all, it is Sunday.


Cipher said...

Writing an anonymous reader's report is an art form. People who seriously be schooled in it so as to not come off as a jackass.

I'm hearing you with the book manuscript writer's block. Mine is huge right now; the size of the grand canyon. LOL

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the support Cipher. As someone who has written anonymous reader reports, I REALLY try to imagine the person on the other side reading my notes (which is the same principle I try to apply when I grade my papers).

It's easy to toss off comments when you don't know or can't see the person you're writing to. But putting a friend's face in place of the anonymous author is something we should all try to do on a regular basis. Saves you from creating undue harm.

But why do I let it get in my head? I guess I'm just human. And yes, writer's block SUCKS (sigh).

msgr33 said...

Re: comments on Kung Fu Panda (not commenting on the movie yet), is it really a step forward for Asian Americans to be shown as boring and everyday? How is this invisibility going to bring about more visibility? Sure, John Cho's shining moment in the new H&K might be as a goth (ie pasty as a white boy), but is that the really a move forward in racial awareness (I'm not saying it's a move backward, btw)?

Jennifer said...

Hi msgr33,
Thanks for stopping by and for your observation/question, because you raise a good point.

Let me elaborate.

I don't mean to suggest I want Asian Americans in the media to be background noise or window dressing. We already serve that purpose. For example, look at a lot of the commercials--I think there's a Shell or other Gas Co. commercial that features two men, one white, the other Asian. Neither men speak--there's some kind of voice over. It seems relatively clear that both are American (although I suppose that could be disputed) because of some cultural markers within the commercial (eating pizza and riding around various parts of the U.S.). The Asian actor in this series has also played bit pieces in other commercials--I think notably in some cell phone ad where he is the rational guy and foil to some weird/out-of-it white guy.

What I mean by boring is more the opposite of exotic. If you look at the post comments for "Monday query" you'll see that CVT just wrote in with an observation that growing up, he and his friends observed that anything "weird" had the adjective "Chinese" attached. And the history of Asians on-screen support this. In the 20th Century, Asians, when we do appear on screen, esp. in movies, are used as a sign of extreme difference. We're either super dangerous (Japanese threat, Chinese threat, Vietnamese threat), super sexy (dragonlady, lotus blossom, prostitutes of various stripes, M. Butterfly figures), or we're super smart (Asian nerd/model minority).

You get the picture.

So what I mean is, could we envision a film like Indiana Jones where the title character is a Chinese American guy and he doesn't use martial arts--he uses all the skills that Indy has and there isn't any ethnic markers used? Or something a bit more pedestrian, like the Disney movie ENCHANTED where the single-dad in Manhattan is Korean American and nothing is made of his ethnicity either way--he raises a daughter and thinks this woman in a white dress is sort've crazy and they fall in love. Or can we imagine a Vietnamese American or Pakistani American actress who is a Diane Keaton figure--older matriarch/strong woman who just does her thing and, again, her ethnicity isn't really front and center--like in SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, she's a playwright and she has a lover and a younger doctor falls in love with her, but the central conflict is relational and not racial. She doesn't wear chopsticks in her hair; she may or may not be seen eating sushi or some other type of Asian food, but there isn't a big deal made of either her race or ethnicity aside from maybe taking her shoes off when she comes in the house

[btw, I think EVERYONE should do this because it just keeps your house cleaner].

Anyway, I think you get my point.

The other issue I take with KUNG FU PANDA is the voices. It would appear that they wanted to use certain Asian/Asian American actors in the film, perhaps to give it a ring of "authenticity"--and they managed to select Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan. But why isn't Jackie Chan, an actor who has played the bumbling and inadvertent kung fu hero in films like DRUNKEN MASTER playing the lead role?

And really, a panda???