Cosplay with Caution

With Halloween rolling around, I'm mentally steeling myself for the bombardment of nigh-racist masquerading that we'll see in the next few weeks. Every year, some Halloween company inevitably reinvents the wheel with yet another racist or Asiaphilic interpretation of the East and our people (this year, I've already seen a line of “geisha girl” dresses which, incidentally, are modelled after Chinese chi-pao).

People of colour are no less culpable; last year, I went to a Halloween party at a local night club and saw no less than four BM/WF interracial couples with the Black man dressed in an orange jumpsuit and the White woman dressed as the cop.

However, costuming occurs year-round at some other events, and as the summer wanes, we are coming to the end of a plethora of science-fiction/comic book conventions that took place around the country. One of the popular parts of these events are the fans who take great pains to create (or purchase through online vendors) replica costumes of their favourite characters.

And while it seems like all fun and games to dress up as Rogue from the X-men or that White Mage from the Final Fantasy game (the special costume in the third act for the second cut-scene, not her generic costume — get it right!), these costumes are not without its own level of racial fucked-up-edness.

Upon returning from this year's GenCon, Yeloson reported seeing not one but several instances of racially White fans donning blackface to emulate the Drow race of dark elves from the Dungeons and Dragons world. He managed to snap a picture of one of them find a picture of one of them online:

Upon seeing this image, I was reminded of the countless anime fans who lambasted me when I spoke out against Asiaphilia and the ninja/samurai fetish. By definition, these genres are worlds of fantasy, willingly divorced from reality, and as such, the fans of these genres seem to desperately protect the fantastical aspects of these worlds.

And yet, it is impossible to consider images such as the one above outside of reality. Conventions like GenCon do not take place in alternate universes where racism does not exist, and in this case, one cannot help but find the burnt cork tint of the woman's skin reminiscent of historical blackface. Yes, the woman imaged above was emulating a fantastical race, but it was nonetheless the use of makeup to emulate a race of darker skinned, inherently evil, beings. In this case, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

And certainly not when the same woman is then seen cooperating with other convention attendees simulating a public lynching.

Update (9/18/06): Thanks, again, to Yeloson who commented on this post and directed our attention to this fabulous post by Bryan Thomas written six years ago about Halloween and White privilege insisting that racialized costumes be celebrated during this holiday. At a party, Thomas encountered a group of three White people who donned Black makeup and leather/animal skins to emulate what was later described to him as a “head-hunter”. One even wore a bone through her nose.

I enjoyed in particular Thomas' recounting of the “head hunter”'s initial reaction to being challenged on his costume.

So his smile vanishes.

He drops the innocent bit.

He's been messing with me.

Waiting for me to say something.

“Look, I'm not stupid,” he says. “I thought about this before I wore it out tonight. I don't see what the big deal is.”

Yeah the smile's gone, but the teeth are still there.

Bared.

Angry teeth.

The audacity — the “head-hunter” was not repentent. He was not dismissive. He was angry.

From the description, his subsequent use of a reference to Al Jolson, this man knew what he was doing. This was no accident, no coincidence of racial mockery, no pretense at ignorance. This man had chosen this Halloween 2000 to make a blatant mockery of another race, and to dare others to call him out. This was his cry of rebellion against political correctness, his personal statement that his Whiteness should grant him the privilege to offend whomever he felt like.

With his statement that, “[l]ast year I went out for Halloween as a woman. Dressed as a woman! I didn't offend any women. You know who was the only woman who got offended? My wife! Cuz more guys were hitting on me than her…”, he even suggests that the reason Thomas is upset is that his caricatured makeup is more authentically Black than Thomas' actual racial identity, just as the head-hunter was “more womanly” than his wife in the previous year.

The parallels are obvious. Those in the racial majority are striking back against racial minorities. No longer just content to enjoy their privilege, they are actively pushing the boundaries, seeking to offend and get away with it, willfully refusing to consider the human story behind each bias-related incident. They can't (but more importantly, don't) imagine that every burnt cork applied to the skin, burns an emotional pain for people of colour.

Why should they care? After all, we're ruining their fun.

From Fu Manchu to Ryan Choi

Loren Javier has done it again; Loren, who excells at exploring race relations in comic books as they specifically affect people of colour and Asian Americans in particular has written a wonderful article exploring the evolution of stereotypes in comics for his One Diverse Comic Book Nation column.

I participated in an interview with Loren to discuss the historical stereotypes of Fu Manchu and others, but Loren did an excellent job placing those stereotypes into context, incorporating characters like Jimmy Woo and Shang-Chi into the chronology for understanding how we have changed over time.

Here're the first two paragraphs:

When I was a child, I was constantly searching for images that represented me, but always had a difficult time finding them. The interesting thing is that people of Asian descent have been portrayed in cartoons and comics as long as the media has existed, but the earliest images were always that of the exotic. Jennifer Fang of Reappropriate and The Outsiders: Asians/Asian Americans in Comics gave me a bit of history of these images. She said, “If you take a look at the earliest Asians represented in American pop culture, you see a lot of exoticist depictions of Chinese and Japanese culture. Even back in the Silk Trade era, travelers to “the Orient” returned with exaggerated tales of hyper-feminized men wearing silk robes and overly-sexualized, masculinized, aggressive females who wore pants instead of skirts and dominated their submissive men.

This was a time when the East was first being discovered, few had a chance to see it for themselves, and the imagination of Europe was focused on this 'New World' that was, by definition, the complete opposite of the West…This fascination could only continue to exist so long as Asians remained fundamentally different, and this difference was underscored with quickly popularized dichotomies: female was male in Asia, male was female, the West was courageous and the East was cowardly, the West was intelligent and the East was bumbling, the West was familiar and the East was foreign, the West was human and the East was animal, the West was heroic and the East was evil.

Continue reading at One Diverse Comic Book Nation

New Layout

Yeah, I probably should have been studying, but I needed a creativity break, and plus the one-column layout was getting unwieldy. So, I've re-designed Reappropriate with a two-column layout plus a really awesome header area that includes most of the relevant information for repeat visitors.

A prize to whoever can identify the character in this image. My guess is only Ragnell will get it.

Chow Yun-Fat

A couple of Chow Yun-Fat tidbits.

First, there's word that he and John Woo have teamed up to direct a snazzy-looking video game designed in the style of one of their old Hong Kong action films of the early to mid-1990's. The video game is entitled Stranglehold, and was previewed at the E3 conference earlier in the year. (The following video shows gameplay of the game, here is a link to the trailer)

This game looks hot! The gameplay seems to be dynamic in how you can control the character, and the fact that you can interact so fully with the environment is incredible. The gamplay action looks like it's movie-quality, and John Woo's signature scenes (i.e. the doves) are given new life by being rendered in video game form.

What I'm most happy about is that Chow Yun-Fat is rendered very well in this video game format — because he and Woo are in charge, we don't see any emphasis of Chow Yun-Fat's Asian features in order to make him “look more like himself”. We see more of that kind of thing with Western video game developers who don't seem to be able to include Asian characters without giving them tiny slanted eyes and yellow-tinted skin, so it's refreshing more Asians becoming involved in video games behind the scenes.

However, the first image of Chow Yun-Fat as Sao-Feng in Pirates of the Carribean 3 was released earlier in the year, and I just now came across it.

And, just, wow. It might be the tint of the picture, but it looks like Chow is wearing yellow make-up in addition to being costumed like a Fu Manchu knock-off. I am so not looking forward to Pirates 3.

Live-Blogging Survivor: Cook Islands, ep. 1

So, unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I got stuck in traffic and walked into the apartment at 7:09, just in time to catch the tail end of the Asians discussing the “Puka” tribe that they've been tossed in. Hopefully I haven't missed too much and anyone who is actually here trying to watch the show with me (if there are, in fact, any of you), I hope I didn't lose you.

7:09
Cao Boi (the 'ol Asian hippie archetype) is discussing why he feels apprehensive about being in an “all-Asian” tribe because he's “never fit in with Asians… because he doesn't fit into the stereotype”. Cao Boi proceeds to describe typical Asians in terms of the model minority myth: studious, unassuming, eager-to-please. Here is the problem with the model minority myth in many aspects: it not only divides Asians by constantly establishing a “standard of Asianness” which uses external qualifiers to decide a person's own racial authenticity. Also, Cao Boi assumes that the myth is fact.

7:16
After the Black tribe (“Hiki”, but let's get it straight, these names are more arbitrary than usual. They are, and will be to all fans, the “Black” tribe just as “Puka” will be the Asian tribe) discusses using this stunt to “represent” and… show that Black people can swim… we move on to the “Raro” tribe (the White tribe) where we immediately hear a typical White guy stance on race relations: “it's going to be a cool social experiment” (nice to know that Mark Burnett circulated the talking points to the ones who look like him), a White guy who still can't tell the difference between race and ethnicity (and doesn't care to find out, preferring to just use it interchangeably to refer to “Other”) and a White guy saying that race doesn't matter to him, and it wouldn't matter “what kind of people” he was teamed up with.

We also find out that the White people in the portion of the episode I missed stole a chicken from the Latinos (I think), as well as having one of their own. So, as in history, the White-folk start out with resources privilege by stealing from the brownfolk.

And then they lose the chicken.

7:21
We return from commercial break to see the Black-folks dancing after they find the water source. After the danced when they found their flag. And then the Black women have “Black woman drama” and the Black guy is shown “being lazy” because he takes a nap on a bamboo sheet while the women busy themselves with trying to start a fire. Yeah, this show is really going to be challenging stereotypes.

7:24
More stereotypes — the “sorority chick” immediately throws herself at one of the Neanderthal-ish frat boys “because it's cold out”.

7:25
Further challenging stereotypes, Cao Boi, the Asian hippie, proceeds to go all Mr. Miyagi on one of the Asian boys who was suffering from a headache by diagnosing him with “bad wind” and “marking him” on his forehead. Cao Boi cites traditional Vietnamese mysticism. The younger generation of Asians dismiss the mysticism, but then the headache-sufferer (Yuka? God, I need to learn these names) claims that the headache remedy worked. Because all Asians in touch with “the Orient” have magic hands, and Asian American youths are all Americanized with massive disdain for their heritage. Thus far, it almost seems like Burnett and company are actually writing this show, with the sheer number of racial stereotypes and cliches we've seen, in only the last twenty minutes.

7:30
“Aitu” is the Latino tribe, which is apparently red, so apparently the chicken was stolen by the Whitefolk from the Asian Americans. Look how the Whitefolk screw the Asianfolk in the first fifteen minutes. That's racist!

Alright, the challenge is presented — it's basically a big puzzle race, which is probably too complicated for me to describe. They are competing for three flints, one for each of the non-losing tribes, and the winning tribe will also get a “fire-starter kit” (wait, isn't that just a box full of wood? ooooooh….) As the teams do the competition, I'm going to take a minute to say that these team colours don't make any sense: if they were going to make this the racist season, they might as well have just made the team colours Black, Brown, Yellow, and White. With the Asians being the “green” team makes me wonder if we should be calling them the Hapa tribe?

Glancing up, the “stereotype-exploding”, “representing” Black tribe gets off to a miserable start, incapable of putting together their boat (which needed to be assembled like a puzzle). Anyone who bought into the racist belief that Blackfolk aren't smart enough to solve a puzzle, this isn't helping matters. And, of course, further compounding the stereotypes, the Asians successfully solve all four puzzles in record time and win the thing. Yay flint and their box full of straw.

The Latinos come in immediately after the Asians, and the White team come in third, leaving a teary-eyed Black team re-thinking their earlier comments about swimming.

7:39
This episode is like a bad parody of a horror movie: again, a Black person is the first person to get snuffed out. The “twist”? Before going to elimination, the Blackfolk get to decide who from the other teams gets to go to Exile Island. Immediately, the two men of the Black tribe decide that the chicken thief is going to Exile Island.

Probst decides to get all social scientist on us and actually observe that the Black men made the choice of who got exiled, while the women stepped back and let the “mens” make the decision. But of course, Probst doesn't actually say anything about it — what good is a social experiment if the experimenter is too stupid to make observations of potential cultural sexism? Was Probst perhaps worried of looking like a racist?

7:44
The Chicken Thief disdainly says in his voiceover that he stole “the Asian guy's” chicken and “the Black guy” screwed him. And we get that White entitlement thing, too, because the Chicken Thief actually talks about how he feels wronged for being “punished” for stealing from the minorities. You even get a hint of the “damn minorities, all uniting against the poor 'oppressed' Whitefolk” from him as he bemoans his fate spending a night or two from his tribe.

7:47
Immediately, the Black team returns to the island and divides along gender lines with the three Black women talking about voting out the larger of the two Black men (the “lazy one” who had fell out during the fire-starting incident. Apparently, his name is Seku, but I didn't catch the spelling). The two men reach out to Stephanie, the more ostracized of the women in hopes that she will ally with them, and in so doing, Seku makes a number of sexist remarks including suggesting that the women couldn't build a shelter without the men and that he would be the one to start a fire, and when he does, the women better “keep it going”.

7:51
After Probt's usual teasing apart of team/interpersonal drama, Probst drops the question: “How are things different with tribes divided by ethnicity“? Incidentally, every time Probst talks about ethnicity and this season's stunt, he sounds more and more like the ugly, ignorant White guy who is offensively curious about racial minorities (in that way that's like when a White person wants to touch a Black person's hair to “see how it feels”).

Not surprisingly, the Blackfolk laugh at him. Why? Because as uncool as Probst has seemed in past years, he sounds even dorkier trying to talk about race “without being politically incorrect”.

7:53
As they vote, I just have to say that it would be stupid for the women to vote out Seku, but they'll do it. Early on, it's most important to have a physically strong tribe, because so many of the early challenges are unfortunately based on brute strength. But Stephanie won't see this — and she might feel like she has good reason to vote out Seku because of his sexism.

And, not surprisingly, Seku is gone. And the Blackfolks are unfortunately at a strength disadvantage because Burnett can never get past casting hyper-masculinized men with massive bulging muscles, as if Burnett is over-compensating for something in himself.

As this episode winds down, my first impressions of this show is that it's a typical, tawdry Survivor season, completely mindless and distracting, this time with a healthy seasoning of racism and ignorance. It'll be fun seeing how long I can live-blog these episodes before my brain implodes. Hope my masochism is entertaining to you!

Next episode: Cao Boi makes anti-Asian jokes, making him the most self-hating yet stereotypical Asian man on television, while a large Latino man is lazy.