Archive for the ‘Asian Americans’ Category
The third victim in a photo she shared of herself on social media websites.
The third victim of Monday’s devastating Boston Marathon bombing has finally been identified (sort of): she was a Chinese national originally from Shenyang, and was in the United States enrolled as a graduate student at Boston University studying Mathematics and Statistics. She was at the Boston Marathon on Monday, along with two friends, to watch runners cross the finish line.
Some online news sites and blogs have identified the victim as Lu Lingzi, however CNN has failed to confirm that name out of respect for the family’s request that the victim not be identified, and Boston University tweeted that those reports are wrong and that the name is not correct.
Nonetheless, Boston University has already held a candlelit vigil, remembering the third victim along with the other two who lost their lives in the bombing: Krystle Campbell, 29, and Martin Richard, 8. The Chinese consulate has also issued the following statement:
The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China confirms that one Chinese citizen was unfortunately killed in the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15th 2013. At the request of her family, the victim’s personal information will not be disclosed. Another Chinese citizen is among the injured and is in stable condition now after surgery.
The Consulate dispatched a work team to Boston after the bombing, headed by Deputy Consul General Ruiming Zhong. The team visited the injured in hospital this morning.
The Consulate has contacted the two families and will provide all neccessary assistance to them.
Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy.
CNN also reports that thousands have posted messages of support on the victim’s final post on Weibo, which shows the graduate student enjoying a simple breakfast of fruit and bread the morning of the Boston Marathon.
Boston University has also confirmed that one of the victim’s friends, Zhou Danling, also a student at BU and a Chinese national, was wounded on Monday. The third friend was apparently uninjured.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of all the victims of Monday’s horrific attack.
This is the heartwarming story about how a bunch of White Portlandians went on a bike ride with an Asian American, and discovered they were racist. Picture courtesy of Veloprovo member Nicholas Caleb
As if we needed any evidence that all people, whether Far Right extremists or self-described liberal progressives, can be guilty of racism.
Last week, a local Portland-based
cycling ”tactical urbanists” group launched a weekly group ride bicycle-based “fight against auto-centric infrastructure” that they called “Veloprovo“. The ride was designed to tour Portland streets that the organizers deemed “complete” and designed to accommodate bicycles, and to also “challenge the ‘tyranny of pollution‘ that the ‘capitalist automobile’ has wrought upon urban space”, while also planting broccoli shoots and sunflower seeds on the side of the freeway as “an act of rebellion”.
I shit you not.
Whatever happened to just meeting a group of friends at the local bike shop and riding down the shoreline just for the fun of it?
(Aside: I actually agree with the sentiment of Veloprovo. I’m an occasional cyclist who also finds the design of urban streets baffling when it comes to sharing the road between bikes and cars. I just find the left-wing pretension of this “advocacy” really eye-rollingly dumb. Planting seeds is not a rebellious act. It’s gardening.)
Anyways, in Veloprovo’s original write-up about their inaugural ride, ride organizers posted a photo of an Asian man who joined the group. This man was unknown to the organizers, and stood out to them, presumably because he looked different?
How different, you ask? Well, he was wearing a LiveStrong t-shirt, and according to other attendees, “he had all brand new “stereotypical biker gear,” didn’t speak with anyone and was filming everything.” And, oh yeah, he’s Asian.
Clearly, he doesn’t fit in, right?
Organizers went on to wildly speculate that this Asian gentleman was actually a local, prominent police captain named Chris Uehara, who was an undercover infiltrator secretly monitoring the groups activities, which was proof to participants that Portland is a “police state”.
Original side-by-side photo posted by Veloprovo organizer, Jonathan Maus.
The same man is pictured in a more head-on image, where it is obvious that he bears little resemblance to Captain Uehara.
The only resemblance between Uehara and the LiveStrong man? They are both stocky Asian men.
This shit is racist.
Why? Because here are a few incredibly asinine assumptions that have to be made in a person’s mind in order to conclude that this unknown person must be the local police captain:
- This Asian man doesn’t belong at your ride.
- This Asian man must be up to no good.
- All Asian people look the same.
- There’s only one stocky Asian man in all of Portland, and he’s the police captain.
- Police captains in Portland have the time and/or the desire show up undercover at your local “anarchist” bike ride in order to keep tabs on you and your group.
And seriously, thinking any one of the above five things is enough to get a pretty big “fuck you”. But all five and simultaneously?
Of course, there’s absolutely no way that the LiveStrong man was perhaps some random Asian dude who went out on this local group ride because it was, y’know, a public group ride. Perhaps he was new to the area and looking to make some friends while seeing the sights? Perhaps he had recently just sold his car and purchased a brand-new bike and associated gear in order to get around the relatively bike-friendly city that is Portland, Oregon while being a little more active? Perhaps he didn’t talk to other people because he arrived at the group and immediately realized he wasn’t dressed right? Or perhaps because he didn’t speak English very well and felt like taking time to warm up to the group? Or, perhaps because he felt a little uncomfortable because everyone around him thought he was a fucking undercover cop?
In short, the average person, armed with basic critical thinking skills, and who is not a racist douchebag* (see below) would realize that the Livestrong man was not Captain Chris Uehara.
But, of course, Maus writes:
The man in these photos appears to be the same man wearing a PPB uniform and identified as Cpt. Chris Uehara in a Portland Public Schools video from September 2012. Tracy Mattner was on the Veloprovo ride Sunday. She spoke to the man and is sure it’s Cpt. Uehara. “I spoke to Officer Uehara, who identified himself by his real first name, Chris.” she shared via email today. “He did not identify himself as an officer, but claimed to be a bicycle activist and enthusiast. When I asked how he heard about the event, he simply said he was at the “Tar Sands Ride.” Later, during group introductions, he stated that he had sold his car to buy the brand new bike he was riding.”
Another person on the ride, Nicholas Caleb, says having an undercover officer on the ride is a sign that we live in a “police state.” Caleb says the group has publicized everything they’ve done, held public meetings, videotaped their speeches, and so on. “You’d think when you do that, there’s no way you’d be the target of police surveillance.” “It’s scary,” he added, “But, we’re going to keep going forward with our positive ideas and creative energy.” Caleb said the man he suspects of being Cpt. Uehara was suspicious because he had all brand new “stereotypical biker gear,” didn’t speak with anyone and was filming everything. It’s worth remembering that the Portland Police has a history of secretly monitoring bicycle-based activism.
It turns out that days after Veloprovo posted their original article, local reporters from the Oregonian Janie Har and Helen Jung picked up the story and accused Veloprovo of racism. Jonathan Maus (who tweets at @BikePortland) unleashed a flurry of defensive tweets that first accused journalists of not knowing the context, and that then rationalize his conclusion by saying that people are “evolved to notice ppl that look different. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Yes, people of Veloprovo, there is absolutely something wrong with that. There’s something totally wrong about singling a guy out because of his race, and automatically assuming he doesn’t belong.
I know. This is a level of stupid that amazes. But this story has a happy ending. Why? Because, it turns out that the self-important Jonathan Maus was oh-so-very-publicly wrong on this one. It turns out that the LiveStrong man named “Chris” who showed up at Veloprovo ride was not Captain Chris Uehara; he was Krisapon Chaisawat. Having recently moved from Key West, Kris is a 35 year old food server who doesn’t speak English too well (thus why he wasn’t very talkative during the group ride) and had joined the Veloprovo group to “meet people”.
Krisapon Chaisawat is pictured here in a picture from his Facebook page.
He also seems randomly hilarious, based on his “About Me” on his Facebook profile:
1. I eat tacos with a fork.
2.I eat gummy bears by tearing them limb from limb and eating their heads last.
3.I cried when Spock died in Star Trek II
4.I like to tape my thumbs to my hands to see what it would be like to be a dinosaur.
5.If you asked me to tell you my favorite movie, I would have a hard time not saying Titanic
6.When I die, I want a steaming hot Reuben sandwich shoved in my mouth during the open-casket part of the funeral.
7.When I was little, I pretended my bike was a horse named Satan.
8.i’m single but it does mean im gay
(Aside: Kris, if you ever read this, I too cried when Spock died in Star Trek II, I too like the movie Titanic even if it’s horribly cliched to love it, I decapitate my gummy bears before I eat them, and I now really want to tape my thumbs to my hands to see what it would like to be a dinosaur.)
Kris’ wife (presumably an indication that #8 has been rectified) saw Maus’ Veloprovo post last week and urged her husband to contact the group and clear up the
Maus issued an embarrassed apology and has since posted an edited version of his original post without the finger-pointing and fear-mongering.
I regret the misunderstanding. I went with my gut because I felt the story was worth publishing with the information I had. However, I published it without 100% confirmation about the man’s identity. That was a mistake. When I published it, I didn’t fully respect or appreciate how it might make people feel if I was wrong. For that I am deeply sorry.
Maus has also offered to have Kris join them on future rides and to buy him a drink. Because, y’know, alcohol solves all of the world’s racism.
Thanks, President Obama.
In the end, Maus is just happy to have “learned something” from this experience. Like, y’know, that not all Asians look the same. Or that, y’know, the police don’t care enough about your little “tactical urbanist” group of sunflower-planting cyclists to send the damned police captain undercover to spy on it.
Because, after all, we people of colour are just here to teach you these things. We aim to please.
Never mind that this all is stuff you should have already known.
If the thought of confronting Jonathan Maus and the other folks of Veloprovo over their racism brings you all sorts of indescribable glee, than you can comment on the Veloprovo apology page here, send an email or comment on the BikePortland forum here, or tweet Jonathan Maus @BikePortland here.
Update: Okay, so I’ve had a chance to read Jonathan Maus’ apology posts and his wrap-up of his meeting with Captain Chris Uehara. I also got a chance to read this post by Veloprovo participant Jess Hayden. And, I gotta say that I’m impressed. Maus and Hayden acknowledge their privilege and apologize unconditionally for their roles in this fiasco. While I cringe at the concept of boiling this all down to a “teachable moment”, it’s nice to see some of the folks involved chastise their fellow bloggers and commentors for trying to rationalize and justify what they acknowledge as a product of internalized racism. So, I take back the “douchebag” comments above; these folks are not douchebags, just misguided.
Let’s just not let this happen again, m’kay, guys?
The first ever summit on Asian American stereotypes is being organized by Jeff Yang, of SHATTERED and Wall Street Journal.
If you’re going to be in the Los Angeles, California area on March 23, take the day to stop by the Japanese American National Museum, which will be hosting the first ever summit on Asian American stereotypes: Beyond the Bad and the Ugly. An all-day series of panels has been organized by Wall Street Journal columnist and SHATTERED co-editor Jeff Yang (@originalspin), and includes some really great guest speakers from across the community.
Here’s the full skinny:
In 1914, Sessue Hayakawa became the first Asian American actor to break through on the silver screen, appearing in movie pioneer Thomas Ince’s silent classic The Typhoon, and launching a career as one of the most popular and well-paid stars in the nascent Hollywood industry, albeit in roles that consistently depicted him as villainous, violent and manipulative. As he put it himself, “I want to be shown as I really am, and not as fiction paints me….My one ambition is to play a hero.”
Ninety-nine years later, Asians and Asian Americans have a much greater presence in U.S. popular culture — but they are often represented in ways that Hayakawa would recognize and lament: Silent thugs. Sexless nerds. Predatory temptresses, calculating conspirators and impossibly strange foreigners.
Organized by Jeff Yang, columnist for the Wall Street Journal Online and editor-in-chief of the new graphic novel anthology SHATTERED (http://siun.org/shatteredbook), which uses the medium of the comics to explore and explode unyielding stereotypes of Asians in pop culture, BEYOND THE BAD AND THE UGLY gathers together some of the brightest and most interesting Asian American creators, and critics, activists and academics in a unique one-day summit that begins by looking back at the heritage of Asian images in American media and society, and ends by looking ahead — discussing new ways to prevent distortions and present more vivid, humanized, three-dimensional portraits of Asians and Asian Americans to a wider and more accepting audience.
Featured sessions at the summit include:
• Opening Plenary “IS THIS STEREOTYPE REALLY NECESSARY?”, a fresh, frank, informative (and likely snarky) exploration of Asian images past and present, moderated by SHATTERED editor-at-large Keith Chow and featuring notables such as graphic novelist Gene Yang (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE); performance poet Beau Sia (DEF COMEDY JAM; author, THE UNDISPUTED GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME); bloggers Andrew Ti (YO, IS THIS RACIST?) and Jen Wang (DISGRASIAN) and actor Parvesh Cheena (NBC’s OUTSOURCED)
• Keynote Conversation “ORIENTATIONS”, a three-way talk about the history of stereotypes of the “far” and “middle” East, between Professor John Kuo Wei Tchen of New York University’s A/P/A Institute; science fiction author and cultural studies scholar William F. Wu; and Jack Shaheen, author of REEL BAD ARABS, former CBS news consultant on Middle East affairs and Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
• Keynote Conversation “SEXTYPES,” a discussion of race, gender roles, sex and sexuality, with Jeff Yang and adult film star Keni Styles
• Closing Plenary “CHANGING THE GAME,” a conversation about reevaluation and reinvention of stereotypes, moderated by Oliver Wang, cultural critic and Assistant Professor of Sociology at CSU-Long Beach, and featuring Parry Shen (star of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW and SHATTERED managing editor); Christopher Chen, producer of the forthcoming documentary LINSANITY; Jay Caspian Kang, Grantland editor and author, THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE; Brian Hu, managing editor, Asia Pacific Arts magazine; and other special guests to be announced.
For more information on BEYOND THE BAD AND THE UGLY, or to connect with participants for interviews, email organizer Jeff Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEYOND THE BAD AND THE UGLY will also officially kick off SHATTERED’s 2013 book tour, which will take Yang and his co-editors Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma to select cities and college campuses in the East, West and Midwest. For further information on booking the SHATTERED tour, contact Keith Chow at email@example.com, or complete the SHATTERED booking form at http://siun.org/shatteredtour.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
ADDITIONAL PROGRAMMING IN PROGRESS
9 am-9:30 am (and through day): REGISTRATION
9:30-10:00 am: Brief Welcome: Dr. Greg Kimura; Jeff Yang
10:00-11:00 am: Opening Plenary:
IS THIS STEREOTYPE REALLY NECESSARY?
Keith Chow, editor at large, SHATTERED [possible moderator]
Beau Sia, poet
Gene Yang, graphic novelist
Andrew Ti, blogger, YO IS THIS RACIST?
Jen Wang, blogger, DISGRASIAN
Parvesh Cheena, actor, OUTSOURCED
11:00-12:00: Keynote Conversation:
Professor Jack Tchen, NYU Asian Pacific American Institute
William F. Wu, author
Jack Shaheen, Professor Emeritus of Mass Communications from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Keynote Conversation: SEXTYPES
Jeff Yang, columnist, Wall Street Journal Online, editor-in-chief, SHATTERED
Keni Styles, adult film star
1:00-2:00 Lunch Break
2:00-3:00 Breakouts A: What We Teach and Show
TAMING TIGERS: GETTING BEYOND STEREOTYPES IN PARENTING AND EDUCATION
Jason Sperber, cofounder, Rice Daddies
Julie Kang, blogger, Geisha School Dropout
Cynthia Liu, cofounder, K-12 Network
D. Rikio Mooko, associate dean of students, Pomona College
SCREEN ADJUSTMENTS: GETTING BEYOND STEREOTYPES IN MEDIA
Jocelyn Wang, blogger, 8Asians
Steve Nguyen, Channel APA
Paula Yoo, author, GOOD ENOUGH; producer, EUREKA
Stephen Dypiangco and Patrick Epino, National Film Society
Jerry Ma, art director, SHATTERED
3:00-4:00 Breakouts B: What We Do and Say
MOVE THIS: CAMPAIGNS THAT WORK
18 Million Rising (Jenn Pae/Cynthia Brothers)
Racebending (Michael Le and Marissa Lee)
Lisa Lee, blogger, Thick Dumpling Skin; diversity program manager, Facebook
THE POLITICS OF PERCEPTION
Ling Liu, executive director of the Fred Korematsu Institute
Jay Chen, Hacienda Heights school board member, congressional candidate
Tanzila Ahmed, voter engagement manager at Asian Pacific American Legal Center
4:00-5:00 Closing Plenary:
CHANGING THE GAME
Oliver Wang, Assistant Professor of Sociology at CSU-Long Beach
Parry Shen, actor/producer, managing editor, SHATTERED
Christopher Chen, producer, LINSANITY
Jay Caspian Kang, editor, Grantland; author, THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE
Brian Hu, managing editor, Asia Pacific Arts
“ALL IN” Q&A/ROUNDTABLE
6:00 to closing
SHATTERED: The Asian American Comics Anthology Reception
You need to check it out. More information forthcoming at the event’s Facebook page.
Steve Yuen portrays Glenn, the charismatic survivor of “The Walking Dead”.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to be talking about the events of Walking Dead up until Season 3, Episode 10. If you haven’t watched yet and don’t want the plot spoiled, don’t read on.
Hours after his reunion with long-lost brother Merle, Daryl has chosen his brother over his new family of survivors. After escaping from Woodbury with a banished Merle, Rick and Glenn are unwilling to bring him back to the prison; Daryl decides to strike out into the woods with his brother rather than abandon him to the wilderness. Blood, after all, is thicker than water, right?
But, it turns out, that after a year on the road with Rick and the gang, Daryl now shares less in common with his brother Merle than he thought. Upon hearing a baby’s cry in the woods, Daryl rushes to the aid of a Spanish-speaking (presumably Mexican) family about to be overrun by walkers. A flurry of crossbow bolts (as well as the best and most gruesome walker kill of the season thus far) later, and the family is safe although unable to communicate their confusion and gratitude to Daryl. Merle, who reluctantly jumped into the fray with his brother, immediately begins to raid the family’s car for food and supplies (as a “reward”), causing Daryl to threaten him with his crossbow so that the family can leave with their belongings intact.
Over the last few seasons, we’ve watched Daryl come into his own when outside of his brother’s shadow. Following his reunion with Merle, Daryl’s decision to confront his brother is pivotal.
It is this incident that helps Daryl realize a few things: 1) he is not his brother, and 2) he is innately a hero. A confrontation erupts between Daryl and Merle, and Daryl decides he must return to the prison. Merle, he hopes, will join him (after all, if Rick and company are his family, than they will have to learn to accept Merle, too), but he’s willing to leave Merle in the forest if needs be. Merle protests, arguing that there’s no way in hell that the survivors will accept him — they chopped of his hand, he fought against them as part of the Woodbury militia, he tried to kill Michonne, and he tried to kill “that Chinese kid”.
Which prompts Daryl to retort: “He’s Korean.”
The single exchange symbolized, in my mind, the spectacular characterization of Glenn in The Walking Dead and what his character has done to combat Asian American stereotypes in mainstream media. Glenn is a new class of Asian American character, one that I’m not sure we’ve seen on-screen before.
Unlike previous Asian American characters, Glenn is at once Asian American and incidentally Asian American. Conspicuous among other Asian American characters, Glenn’s racial background does not define or justify his presence. He’s not the computer whiz, the scientist, the intellectual, the geek, the doctor, the technician, or a host of other stereotypical roles typically relegated to the Asian token. Although it is implied that Glenn’s parents were strict, Glenn himself was a pizza boy prior to the zombie apocalypse and assumes the role of forager and fighter — not “medic” or “ninja”, two roles that might be stereotypically Asian yet fulfilled by other members of the group. In short, there’s almost nothing inherently stereotypical about Glenn and his presence in The Walking Dead.
More importantly, Glenn’s thematic role in the group of survivors is striking. Glenn has repeatedly been described by many, including by the show’s executive producer Glen Mazzara, as “the heart of the show”. The Walking Dead is a show about losing one’s sanity in the face of insanity, and to tell that story, we witness many of the characters — Rick, Shane, Michonne, Andrea, Merle, and the Governor to name just a few — descend into madness and barbarism as they slowly lose touch with their own humanity. But, Glenn is unique in this respect: he is intended to inspire the reader because unlike his fellow survivors, he has a strong connection with his own humanity and personal morality. Glenn’s attitude remains among the most recognizably pre-apocalyptic despite his post-apocalyptic zombie-killing environment. Glenn’s innocence and optimism — even in the face of grisly violence — is feel-good and inspiring, and the budding love he feels for Maggie suggests that happiness is still possible even during the apocalypse.
In short, while we as viewers are supposed to be compelled by Rick and his struggles with his personal demons, to root for Michonne and her samurai sword badassery, to be inspired by Daryl and his story of redemption, and to deplore the Governor and his growing sociopathy, we are supposed to identify with Glenn. Says Mazzara:
“Everybody loves that character; everybody’s rooting for that character. He may be tortured and sensitive, but he’s always a hero.”
Think about that for a minute. The Walking Dead is a TV show where the viewer is supposed to feel the closest kinship with Glenn, an Asian-American pizza boy in love with a southern belle.
The budding relationship between Glenn and Maggie has served to emotional ground the show in the face of otherwise incredible immorality and horror.
In a genre that has long cast the Asian American as the villain, the foreigner, and the Other, Glenn stands in stark contrast. He is Asian-American, but his race does not define his membership in the cast. Glenn is an Asian American character, but he’s also an individual — capable of incredible heroism (like when he faced down a walker while tied to a chair, and emerged the victor) and profound emotional ugliness (like the rage he felt that Maggie, but not he, participated in the preliminary assault on Woodbury). He is a leader in the survivor group, assuming the role in Rick and Daryl’s absence, and his romantic relationship with Maggie is a thumbed nose to the stereotype of the desexualized Asian American male.
Television has historically treated its racial minorities much as Merle treats the non-White members of the survivor group: with disdain, irreverence and occasional downright racism. Merle is as dismissive as he is contemptuous of the group of “beaners” that he and Daryl saved in last night’s episode. Striking, then, that Daryl — who in Season 1 was little more than a younger clone of the racist backwater Merle — has spent the last eight months living and fighting alongside Glenn and the other survivors. He has come to see the humanity in Glenn, whom he referred to in Season 1 as “a Chinaman”.
The exchange between Daryl and Merle over Glenn’s race in Season 3 Episode 10 hearkens back to a similar exchange between Daryl and Glenn in the first season.
How far Daryl has come such that, at the moment of the climatic confrontation of his brother, he chooses to express his rebellion with the simple truth about Glenn: “He’s Korean.” Implicitly: He’s not “that Chinese kid”. He’s not what you assume he is based on the way he looks. It’s important to me that you know that he’s Korean, and it’s important to me that you know that he’s not just Korean.
We’re living during a time when Asian American characters seem more prominent than ever on television today: Lucy Liu as Watson on Elementary, Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project, Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum Jr on Glee, the bevy of Asian American actors and guest roles on Hawaii Five-O. Yet, while each character is remarkable and stereotype-defying in his or her own way, all remain explicitly racialized characters that fail to stray too far from their respective boxes. Liu and Kaling are both doctors, while Ushkowitz and Shum are specifically characterized (and treated) as the Asian kids at the predominantly White high school. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are powerful and nuanced Asian American characters on Hawaii Five-O, but ironically they (and the many other Asian American guest stars who have appeared on the show) implicitly rationalize their appearance because the show is set in Hawaii; Kim’s stilted use of pidgin Hawaiian in his early episode portrayals of Chin-Ho Kelly was a source of some specific chagrin in the blogosphere.
By contrast, it’s the quiet strength of Glenn that rings as the truest, most sincere portrayal of what it means to be Asian American on television today. Glenn is Korean, true, but he’s so much more than that: he’s a forager, a survivor, a hero and, above all, just a person. And it is that person – with all of his strengths and failings — whom Daryl through his time on the road with the survivors has had a chance to get to know, and to come to see, not as a “Chinaman”, but as family.
And that’s something television should aspire to do with all its Asian American characters.
Update: You Offend Me You Offend My Family makes a similar argument in favour of Glenn: Why Glenn on ‘The Walking Dead’ is the Most Interesting Asian Male Character on American Television
Sports Illustrated’d Swimsuit Edition is offensive. Who knew?
Note: this post contains images which may not be desirable to view at work… at least without having to explaining yourself out of some awkward moments.
Earlier this past month, Sports Illustrated released its 2013 edition of its popular “Swimsuit Issue”. This issue is, as far as I know, this magazine’s only influential “contribution” to American pop culture. I mean, who’s even seen any other issues of Sports Illustrated these days? Does anyone even have a Sports Illustrated subscription, anymore? It’s like people claiming they read Playboy for the articles.
According to Wikipedia, Sports Illustrated – started in the 1950′s — was once America’s most prominent and influential sports magazines. Credited with both popularizing many sports and many athletes over the decades, as well as liberal use of colour photographs in the magazine media, Sports Illustrated set out to legitimize itself as the premiere magazine for sports enthusiasts.
It’s interesting to note, therefore, that the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue, which was first published 14 years after Sports Illustrated‘s founding, was intended to fill space in an otherwise slow winter issue of the magazine when few sports were being played. The magazine’s editor requested that a then-unknown photographer conscript some aspiring models and take pictures of them in bikinis in exotic locales to fill a five-page spread and the cover. Since that time, the swimsuit issue has come to define Sports Illustrated, and has helped launch the careers of many supermodels. Yet, the irony of the swimsuit issue is that, even in its conception, the feature was never expected to have anything to do with athleticism. It was intended merely as a ploy to sell magazines, not focus on athletes or the sports they play in any way. Over the years, the swimsuit edition has evolved into what it unabashedly remains today: cheap regressive exploitation of (White) sexuality imperialistically juxtaposed against exotic locales in a seedy effort to sell more magazines.
And, the tragedy of the swimsuit edition is that it works: in 2005, it generated $35 million dollars in advertising sales alone.
Last week, several feminist and Asian American blogs including Jezebel, Shanghaiist, and Angry Asian Man wrote about Sports Illustrated‘s latest swimsuit edition, citing its use of Asian and African people and cultures as ethnic props. And indeed, the magazine’s usage of clearly ethnic signifiers to underscore the “exoticism” of each model’s environment is clearly offensive.
A Sports Illustrated model, Anne V, is pictured above in a bikini contrasted against a Chinese fisherman serving as an ethnic prop. The image is part of the magazine’s extensive Swimsuit Issue photoshoot in China.
In these photos, locals are not treated as human; instead they are ethnic and cultural scenery, no more human than the hat they are wearing or the boat they are poling around on the river.
But, I also have to express some frustration that of all the problems inherent in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, that the blogosphere has chosen to focuse largely on the few images (that I could find) of people of colour (and frequently Asia people) being used as ethnic props, and have spoken largely on the problem therein. No mention is made of the more widespread Orientalism inherent in these images and their design, wherein the same blonde model pictured above is also dressed in a chi pao-inspired one piece and stood up in front of a curtain with Chinese writing on it to evoke a sense of the wild, sensual East. True, no Asian person is being used as an ethnic prop in these images, but that doesn’t make them any less Orientalist.
Model, Anne V, poses in a chi pao-inspired one piece and a feather for SI’s 2013 swimsuit issue.
The very nature of these photoshoots is that they are (and have been since their conception) nothing more than an annual cultural safari that feeds upon the West’s fetishism for the foreign and the exotic.
Moreoever, while one can express clear anger towards the dehumanization and Otherization of the Chinese fisherman above as an ethnic prop, I would argue that that the models, themselves, are also no more humanized than their backdrops (human or otherwise). The visual juxtaposition that Sports Illustrated hopes to achieve through their swimsuit issue is one of culture clash: a “hot girl-next-door” meets “exotic locale”, all designed to tantalize and titillate. In that pursuit, it’s no surprise that just as Chinese fishermen, coolie hats, and feathers are used to signify the exotic and the Other, the swimsuit models themselves — and specifically their race, ethnicity, and overall aesthetic — are signifiers of the familiar (and specifically the West). It’s no surprise therefore that of the 21 models featured in this year’s swimsuit edition, no more than three are non-White or Hispanic. In fact, most are blonde or brunette Caucasian women, and all (regardless of race) share the same facial features and body-type typical of Eurocentric ideals of beauty.
Thus, these female models, too, are dehumanized props: of Whiteness, of femininity, of sexuality. These women are not presented in these photographs as intellectual and nuanced individuals, but as objects to evoke the reader’s sexual desire. They exist in these pages to entice the (implicitly male and implicitly heterosexual) reader, to be looked at and longed for. In short, it’s soft-core porn, pure and simple.
I mean, really. This picture doesn’t even have a swimsuit in it. And my problem with this photo really has almost nothing to do with the presence of the coolie hat
In short, there is no one in these photos who is humanized by the camera’s lens: neither the half-naked woman ostensibly “modeling” a swimsuit (whatever that has to do with sports) nor the Chinese fisherman standing behind her (whatever that has to do with sports). Everything about these photoshoots is about putting women and non-White people subservient to the sexuality of the White male reader of Sports Illustrated.
So yes, I’m outraged by the use of Asian people as ethnic props. But, I’m also outraged by the use of women as sexual props. And, most of all, I’m outraged that in 2013, Sports Illustrated is still managing to sell itself as a reputable and legitimate magazine when one month out of the year it’s about as racially and sexually progressive as Maxim.