Brenda Song’s Crazed, Hypersexualized Asian Female Stereotype in “The Social Network”

The Social Network portrays Asian American women as hypersexualized, buxom women of loose morality -- and programming nerds as sexist assholes.

I haven’t seen The Social Network — nor do I really plan to see it anytime soon. I mean, how much do I care about rich White guys battling other rich White guys to be the richest White guys out there?

But, out there on the blogosphere, there’s been some vague excitement about the return of Brenda Song, freshly grown-up from her Disney Channel days. She is shown prominently in The Social Network‘s trailer, and there was some early speculation that Song would make for an interesting supporting character against the backdrop of Jessie Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake making billions of dollars with some simple databasing and a lot of drunken debauchery.

Turns out all of that hope was for naught: despite Aaron Sorkin’s normally brilliant writing of strong female characters (to wit, C.J. Cregg of West Wing), Brenda Song’s Christy in The Social Network is only the most visible of a long litany of hypersexualized, dehumanized female props that exist merely for the sexual gratification of the movie’s White male main characters.

In Rebecca Davis’ review of The Social Network, Davis describes the viewer’s introduction to Christy:

We first meet Brenda Song’s character, Harvard co-ed Christy, when she throws her cleavage at newly successful (and, ohmigod, final club member!) Eduardo Saverin. A few minutes later, she’s giving him oral sex in a public restroom. Afterward, Christy and her friend sit uselessly on a couch while the men plot the expansion of Facebook. This isn’t the only time in the movie when two girls are drunk and irrelevant on a peripheral sofa.

Then, inexplicably and suddenly, Christy becomes mad with jealousy. Near the climax of the film, Christy lights a scarf on fire in Eduardo’s apartment, then turns and asks, doe-eyed, if he’s leaving her. What this scene contributes to the film’s development is beyond me—unless Sorkin is trying to explain why Harvard’s all-male final clubs won’t let women become members: We might all be vindictive pyromaniacs.

Kartina Richardson, a filmmaker and writer, described this scene to me as “really the only cheap move on the movie’s part—here’s the erratic hyper-sexed Asian woman totally obsessed with her white Harvard man.”

The counter-point to the Social Network‘s army of bubble-headed groupie women are apparently, according to Davis, “feminist killjoys”. Because, of course, any woman who actually has respect for herself, and can think for herself, must automatically be ugly and hate fun.

And, this is the film that critics are calling “brilliant“?

Awesome. I’m really gonna go see this movie now…

By contrast, at least this Taiwanese animated news version of the movie is honest about the movie’s sexism. (Warning, minorly NSFW because it animates the “sex in the bathroom” scene.)

The Expendables — Fuck, Yeah.

The Expendables fuckin’ rocked.

Last month, I predicted for Jeff Yang’s summer blockbuster round-up that The Expendables (co-starring Jet Li) would be the best movie of the summer. Although I planned to see the movie on opening night, I only managed to make it to the theatres last Monday night — which was all the better since the movie’s first two weekends were jam-packed.

And yes, it was well worth the wait. The Expendables was fuckin’ awesome.

The incredible thing about The Expendables was how it knew exactly who its audience was — 25-34 year old males — and adapted itself accordingly. The Expendables is best described as a campy eighties action flick with post-millennial special effects.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is an aging special forces-type guy who heads a gang of mercenaries, along with his lieutenants Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Ying Yang (Jet Li — yes, his name is a play on yin and yang). Sure, they’re mercenaries, but they’re “mercenaries with morals” — they apparently only get hired to save innocents from bad guys with big guns. The movie establishes this point clearly within the first few minutes of the movie: the mercs are hired to save some hostages from some pirates. Shortly after Stallone and Statham ruthlessly execute five pirates (using handguns and knives respectively — it’s a running gag), they are aghast when Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) wants to hang one of the pirates from a noose.

“We don’t do that,” says Stallone’s character, moments before Jet Li attempts to stop Lundgren with his fists. After the dust settles, Gunner is fired from the crew for being too cold-hearted. And, so we know that the Expendables are “good mercenaries”.

What follows is some completely meaningless events to get the team of Expendables to the final, climatic fight scene. We can’t really even call it a plot — it’s more of an excuse to move the characters to the fight scene. It had something to do with Angel from Dexter leading a massive army of faceless soldiers (aka cannon fodder for the Expendables) to take over a small South American island, and working with Eric Roberts to rule it with an iron fist and a ton of cocaine. Angel’s daughter is Stallone’s love interest, and she needs a-rescuing. But who cares, right? Within fifteen minutes, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and all we care about is how the good guys will destroy the bad guys.

Much like the “A” Team, the Expendables each have a silly name, a field of expertise, and a personality quirk. Stallone is the strategist (yes, that is probably ironic) and the gunner, Statham is the knife expert with a superfluous white knight subplot, and Li is the stealthy martial artist who inexplicably wants more money. If only he knew that he could read a LightStream personal loans review and take out a loan the same day! Hale Caeser (Terry Crews) is the heavy weapons expert (AA-12 baby!) who names his weapons after women, and Toll Road (Randy Couture) is the MMA specialist who preaches the virtues of psychiatric  therapy. Mickey Rourke plays Tool, Stallone’s mentor and retired war buddy.

On the villain side, we have Angel and his army of red shirts. Eric Roberts is his business partner, an ex-CIA agent turned drug kingpin; Gary Daniels (kick-boxing champ) plays The Brit and Stone Cold Steve Austin plays Paine, Roberts’ bodyguards.

Just like ’80’s action flicks, The Expendables doesn’t concern itself with race consciousness or stereotypes. Yes, the black guy is a fast-talkin’ brutish dude with biceps bigger than my thighs. Yes, the Asian guy is money-grubbing. Yes, the plot involves White guys saving brown people from other White guys. Yes, the only Expendables who even remotely get a nod at character development are the White guys in the lead. Yes, none of the women have agency, and are little more than props to help the boys demonstrate the size of their cojones. And the movie can be justifiably criticized for these points — this was, after all, a problem with all 80’s action flicks.

In fact, I was disappointed in the treatment of both the female characters in this movie. Charisma Carpenter’s entire point in the movie was to suffer domestic violence and be rescued. Giselle Itie spends most of the movie captured and being tortured, or otherwise powerlessly angry. And there’s really no excuse for this — even 80’s action flicks had powerful heroines. Why couldn’t there have been a sexy but bad-ass female Expendable?

But, when it comes to the race stuff, there’s something a little charming and tongue-in-cheek about how it’s done. The stereotypes are there, without a doubt. But, Terry Crews’ Hale Caeser steals every scene he’s in, and I guarantee that he will be considered the most bad-ass of the characters by anyone who watches the movie. Racebending’s review suggests that Crews doesn’t get his own characterization, but I would argue that none of the Expendables excluding Statham and Stallone, get any real chance to develop a personality. Crews is forgettable for the first hour, but so is Couture — and, unlike Couture, Crews is unmissable in the last thirty minutes.

Racebending notes that Jet Li’s Yang never wins his own battles (even though the other Expendables get their own fight scenes) — however, I think this was a running joke of the movie. Yang complains several times that the other Expendables keep stepping in to “rescue” him — when he was perfectly capable of taking care of the fight himself. The other Expendables think of Li as weaker, but Yang repeatedly disputes this point and even gets angry at Stallone for saving him in his first fight scene.

Further — and hopefully I don’t get flamed for this — the one scene where Li makes short jokes about himself was hilarious. Offensive, but hilarious. Jet Li is smaller than the other Expendables (and we see Crews make a quip about that in the trailer), but Li’s character actually runs with it. He argues to the effect that because he is shorter, he has to work harder than the other Expendables, and therefore should be paid more money. To me, this was using a stereotype, but also reappropriating it to the benefit of Li’s character — we end up appreciating Li’s good-natured humour about his stature. Further, I also liked how Li’s money-grubbing was contrasted with his character’s integrity — Yang is the one who goes toe-to-toe with Gunner at the beginning to save the pirate, and he’s the first mercenary to join Stallone on the suicide mission to the final fight scene.

And how about that final fight scene? I’m not going to give away its awesomeness, but let’s put it this way: if you grew up on vintage 80’s action movies (and you miss them now), and liked the recent Rambo sequel, than you will love this movie’s action scenes.

In summary, The Expendables was total schlock — and that’s what made it so damn awesome. Fuck, yeah!

How long until the sequel?

Why Pop Culture Matters to Race Bloggers

Another recent post over at Change.org:

Why Pop Culture Matters to Race Bloggers

Prince of Persia, TwilightThe Last AirbenderKarate KidRed Dawn — this summer’s blockbusters seem to have gotten the blogosphere humming more than usual, with many writers examining Hollywood’s relationship with race.In my experience, sardonic or critical posts focusing on the latest pop culture icons fare far better among readers than dry, data-heavy sociological analyses (which take about 23 times as long to prepare). Pop culture diatribes tend to be easy to write, widely read and more likely to go viral. For bloggers who live and die by pageviews and ad-clicks, this is our bread and butter.

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“Earthbenders! You Are Powerful and AMAZING People!”

(H/T: giandujakiss)

There are plenty of fan movies on YouTube that look like they could be a big blockbuster Hollywood epic. The Last Airbender is the first big blockbuster Hollywood epic that looks like it should be a shitty YouTube fan movie.

Jeff Yang’s Summer Blockbuster Round-Up (featuring quotes from yours truly)

I am Jet Li! I am nobody's bitch!

Jeff Yang does it again, proving without a shadow of a doubt that he’s a better (and wittier) writer than most of us. His latest column of Asian Pop effortlessly wraps up all of this year’s summer blockbusters. It includes quotes from notable Asian American bloggers and writers, including a couple from me (although I’m hardly “notable”).

Here’s a (self-promoting) excerpt:

Fortunately, even if you hated on “Karate Kid,” the blogger hive mind noted that there are plenty of other Asian Pop pleasures to look forward to this summer.

For instance, the over-the-hill action-hero boondoggle “The Expendables”: “Yeah, I’ll say it, I’m not ashamed: ‘The Expendables‘ is going to be the best of the summer blockbusters this year,” says Reappropriate’s Jenn Fang. “Not because the story will be compelling — it won’t be. Not because the acting will be Oscar-calibre — not a chance. No, this movie is going to rock because of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li. It’s like every campy action flick from the ’80s you ever loved just threw up, creating an adrenaline-fueled hot mess of a guilty pleasure. How could that possibly suck?” (Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man agrees: “Can’t resist this crazy gathering of aging action stars — glad Jet Li was invited to the party, also glad Steven Seagal was not.”)

There’s Robert Rodriguez’s “Predators,” the latest hunter-killer alienfest, starring Louis Ozawa Changchien, and Chris Nolan’s “Inception,” featuring Ken Watanabe as Leo DiCaprio’s prime nemesis. There’s Edgar Wright’s adaptation of hapa Korean Canadian Bryan Lee O’Malley’s awesome graphic novel series, “Scott Pilgrim,” featuring Ellen Wong, Satya Bhabha and Shota and Keita Saito.

And then there’s the third in Jon Chu’s series of dance-off flicks, “Step Up 3D.” “It’ll be the biggest surprise hit of the summer,” asserts Kevin Hsieh, who runs the videoblog ChannelAPA. “Jon Chu knows how to market dancing; just look back at the online dance battle he staged, the biggest in YouTube history: ACDC versus M&M Cru with Miley Cyrus. With his new Web series, ‘LXD‘ — ‘Legion of Xtraordinary Dancers’ — starting up on Hulu in July, all the dance hype will lead directly into the ‘Step Up 3D’ release in August. And hey, both feature Harry Shum Jr. — think of ’em as the only ‘Glee‘ action you’ll get this summer!”

Finally, there’s Paramount’s tent-pole release for the Independence Day weekend, M. Night Shyamalan’s $150 million adaptation of the hit animated series “Avatar” — “The Last Airbender.” “Airbender” has been hitting the martial arts classes too: Yesterday, Hudson came home with a set of lick-and-stick tattoos and requested that I shave his head, so he could apply them to his naked scalp.

That wasn’t happening, not just because I wasn’t enthused about walking around with a bald, arrow-headed kid in tow, but also because of my disinterest in supporting the film, which has drawn widespread protest from both Asian Americans and hardcore fans due to Shyamalan’s decision to cast the heroic protagonists as Caucasians — despite the obviously Asian-influenced culture and aesthetics of the original source material.

You can read the full column here: Hot summer fights.