Guaranteed to make you thirsty

A blog post for Week 3, of AS AM 1118 at UCSB by Erika Martinez

I want to bring this Buzzfeed photo stream as the reasoning for my title click here.

I am going to break down this article and bring up the importance of media literacy in a time where Buzzfeed has taken the internet by storm, and now serves as the new “CNN” for the common Facebook user. Let’s start with the title. This photo stream shows how these men are being displayed as exotic figures, as the title is “21 gorgeous Asian men” and not just “21 gorgeous men” thus it is catering to a specific audience. Next if you click on the author, you will see that he is a Buzzfeed hired reporter that produces many other pieces such as “Which Disney Ginger are you?” and “Which foreign actor is your soulmate?” Not to be judgmental of his other work, but I think it is important to look at these pieces as evidence that this author is also viewing these Asian men as objects of desire, as many of the audience comments on the article prove that the thirst (need/desire) for these men is real.

While it is fun to view these pictures of half-naked men, I do think it is important to take a step back every now and then and utilize ones media literacy in order to really break down what is in front of us. This takes me back to the film we watched in class “Forbidden City U.S.A.” This film was a documentary that gave these Asian American performers a chance to tell their stories in a way that they were not able to in the days when they were performing. It was really inspiring to watch the performers who battled the traditional Asian stereotypes as they tried to make it in an industry that was not always welcoming to them.

I enjoy seeing this, as I think it also demonstrates the struggle of dealing with parents who do not share the same world-view as their offspring. I saw myself in these performers, because I too face the identity struggle of feeling that I am “not from here or from there.” Its a borderland (la frontera) as Gloria Anzaldua teaches the formation of an identity within first-generation American people with parents from another nationality. Therefore, I am inspired by the stories of these dancers and singers who followed their dreams and broke barriers. They served as role models to younger generations who would grow up seeing these Asian-American performers on screen. Serving as a new norm.

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Some Thoughts on Forbidden City, USA

Power relations and social hierarchies are embedded in the politics of representation. Like Stuart Hall argues, representation helps us create a map to understand our position in the world and interpret the world through constructing meanings. Representation can be used to normalize social hierarchies so that the privileged can continue to enjoy their privileges while the disadvantaged remained so. It can be a powerful tool, too, to disrupt the existing structure of hierarchies and make room for new meanings, interpretations, and ways of being.

Forbidden City, USA is an example of the latter. Filmed by Arthur Dong, the documentary captures the glory history of the world-famous San Francisco nightclub The Forbidden City in the 1930s-40s. The film interviews Asian American dancers and singers who performed at The Forbidden City and showcases clips and photos of their performances. By giving voices to Asian American dancers and centering their stories, the film helps create a sense of pride of being an entertainer at the nightclub. This sense of pride is precious — as the dancers and singers said, they often encountered rejections from their friends, families and communities because working in the entertainment industry was deemed as “immoral” “insane” and all in all unconventional. Jadin Wong described in the documentary that she ran away twice so that she could dance! In essence, this film shows a different side of Asian femininity that counters the dominant stereotypical docile, servile, and eager to serve Asian wife. Instead, the film shows the female dancers and singers as sexy, autonomic, forward-thinking, outgoing, and fun. The agency of entertainers at the Forbidden City is also highlighted when they shared their struggles to become a dancer or singer despite stigmas and rejections within the community and the odds of being Asian in the white-dominant Hollywood/entertainment industry.

aforbiddencity

forbiddengirls2

Mai-Tai-Sing-and-dancers-at-Forbidden-City-1940s

While the film is celebrating the pride and glory of being an entertainer, I find some images of female dancers and singers quite disturbing and problematic. According to the film, the success of Forbidden City largely depended on its objectification and exoticization of Asian female bodies. Like the owner Charlie Low said, people came to the nightclub because they wanted the novelty of Asian (American) dancers and performances. Like the pictures above, female dancers wore revealing clothes to show off their bodies and mainly legs, which was a quite a titillating thing to do in the 1940s. Even though its name is Forbidden City, the nightclub actually featured many American, Hollywood type of performances, such as tap dance, ballroom dances, burlesque dances, jazz music, and etc. Many songs performed were English songs. Even when they performed so-called “authentic” Chinese dances, their performances were based on the Western stereotypes or ideas of what chinese performances were like or should look like. In this case, I would argue, although Forbidden City did challenge the binary between the West and the East by fusing both, it did so by assimilating the East to the West, instead of fundamentally challenging the unequal power relations between the West and the East. It did not celebrate Asianess by reclaiming Asianess but by making Asianess similar to whiteness.

By Angel (Ruiqi) Ye

Week 3 – Forbidden City: Chinese Attempt at Assimilation

Forbidden City, to me, mostly seemed like an attempt for Pre-World War II Chinese people to assimilate into “Whiteness”. Being white during this time allowed access to certain privileges like citizenship, property ownership, and voting rights. The relationship between the United States and Chinese nationals had never been positive from the mid-1800s up until Pre-World War II when Forbidden City first opened it’s doors for business. If we examine some of the laws leading up to Pre-World War II passed by congress against Asians, particularly  the Chinese, we find that being labeled Chinese in America had very negative connotations. Americans lobbied for legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act to prevent the Chinese to come to the US. Since the Chinese had no access to citizenship they were not able to own property in California. So there were push and pull factors that would motivate a person of Chinese descent during that time period to assimilate.

The only thing “Chinese” about the people in this documentary were their names. They were in a sense, “White Washed.” They all spoke english very well, some of them admit not knowing how to speak Chinese. One dancer admitted to changing his name for the sole reason of making him seem oriental. The dances and songs were all Western/American/English. They didn’t perform anything cultural. Both the men and women were wearing western attire while performing. Even the choreographers agree by saying that in the beginning the girls were, “Trying so hard… [to be american/white]”

One can argue that in a sense the performers at Forbidden City and Charlie Low, the owner, were Chinese sell outs. Their intended audience was white people. They played along with the stereotypes and general curiosities of the general American public. It was mentioned in the documentary that white people would avoid China Town and go to Forbidden City because it was conveniently located in a better part of San Francisco, away from Chinatown. Should we blame them? All the money and privileges came with being White at the time. Chinese culture was deemed as foreign, despicable, and barbaric to these people. There was no money to be earned in Chinatown. All the capital resided with white people who were entitled to citizenship, property ownership, and voting privileges. It was the right move from a business standpoint for Charlie Low.