When three Asian American children were trotted out in front of a national audience as both the props for and the butt of a joke delivered by Oscars host Chris Rock, mainstream attention was momentarily placed on the extent to which Asian Americans face racism. Ironically enough, Rock’s joke simultaneously demonstrated anti-Asian racism while it relied upon the model minority stereotype, a trope that has long served to obscure anti-Asian racism.
The problems with the model minority myth are legion. I am not here to debunk the model minority myth—thereismuchacademic and popularwritingonthesubject—but to examine one effect of its prevalence in public discourse: confused narratives of Asian American aggrievement.
For weeks we have endured endless chatter about #OscarsSoWhite and how to better increase diversity in Hollywood. Now that the awards season has officially ended and the Academy Awards have been handed out, I can finally give my two cents about this.
Regular readers of the blog will remember my occasional stories of my desperately Americanized childhood: those brief years when my parents would identify some quintessentially “Western” cultural practice, and try to synthesize it for me and my sister — often without ever quite understanding why White people even liked the thing in the first place — in futile, and ultimately comical, attempts by two culturally displaced Taiwanese parents to ensure the proper North American upbringing for their daughters. This is how I saw my first baseball game at Skydome, how my father burnt my first Thanksgiving turkey, and how I choked down my first bowl of oatmeal with the consistency of concrete.
And this is also how enduring the Academy Awards became an annual tradition in my house.
For years, my mother, my sister and I would gather around the television one Sunday evening and “ooh and ahh” over the fabulously-coifed White ladies and gentlemen as they floated down a red carpet a thousand miles away. Later, we would watch the entire Academy Awards from start-to-finish, rarely commenting (my mother would wander off, during the middle parts of the ceremony when the more technical awards were announced). Even after I moved away, the Academy Awards was my Superbowl, and I would relish the night of opulence-by-proxy, printing out nomination cards to keep track of the winners against my own predictions.
But, as the years passed, my interest in the Oscars waned. And now, as I sat mere hours away from the start of 86th Academy Awards ceremony, and I realized that I wouldn’t be tuning in. I realized that I haven’t watched the ceremony in years. I realized that some time in the last decade, the Oscars stopped being relevant to me.
And then, I realized: maybe the Academy Awards were never relevant.