Orientalism and the Kpop/Kdrama Fandom

So I’ve been thinking about Orientalism a lot lately trying to come up with a good idea for this blog post. Then a few nights ago as I was watching a Kdrama it hit me, the Kpop and Kdrama fandom. In few places will you find as much unabashed Orientalism as you will in those fandoms. As someone who loves Kdramas I am all too familiar with it.

Now, before I write anything else I would like to say that I am not bashing on everyone who likes Kpop or Kdramas. The orientalist mindset that I take issue with is not shared by all fans of Kpop or Kdramas, however, it is an issue within these fandoms.

It all comes down to the fact that they seem to see Koreans as completely homogeneous. Logically, one can assume that Koreans are individuals and as individuals are not all going to act like characters in a tv show or a celebrity who has been coached in how to respond to an interview Koreans will not all act that way. Well, according to some Kpop/Kdrama fans you would be wrong.

The problem with seeing an ethnic group that way is that it dehumanizes the members of that group. When you treat people as though they are nothing more than their culture, when you forget the variability of individuals, and when you objectify them, you are not fully recognizing them. That is what I think the core of Orientalism is, the refusal to look at another group with nuance, to other them. Whether the resulting distortion idealizes or demonizes them it is still wrong because it works against mutual recognition.

Orientalism in Our Lives …

When I was first reading about orientalism I had never heard about it specifically. I knew about the idea but I was still very confused about why and how it comes across. It is in a way stereotypes mixed with racism mixed with a Eurocentric attitude.

When I was thinking back to my own life and how it influenced me at young age. Orientalism has been present in the media that surrounds me since a young age. Even Disney movies pushing this view. When you see costumes or superheros who are written by Westerners especially recently with the push for more diversity. They attempt to be inclusive and sometimes succeed, but still end up falling short. Even halloween costumes that portray a belly dancer or a general asian costume with no attention to the difference in cultures.

Orientalism is all around us and affect us all even on a daily basis, and the media is a large part of that. When everything was happening with ISIS or the affect effect of 9/11. The media was inadvertently (or on purpose) trying to make Americans believe that everyone that came from that region was bad. Even with the coronavirus we have a president crossing out corona and calling it the chinese virus. Which messes with people’s heads to make them think anyone of Asian origin has it.

Orientalism runs deep in our society and everyone has either seen it in action or been subjected to it. While I was learning about it the implications and the history it has is enormous and crazy how much of an impact it has had on our society.

Is Crazy Rich Asians Enough?

I have now seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians 3 times. What can I say — it’s a great movie. Awkwafina is hilarious, Constance Wu is brilliant, and Henry Golding is attractive. But something I hadn’t taken into account until recently is that maybe it’s a little too simplistic. I’m not here to bash the movie because at the end of the day, it was a HUGE win for Asian Americans. But it was exactly that: a win for Asian Americans. What never crossed my mind, though, was how it portrayed Singaporeans. Once again, I still believe this was a landmark film in increasing representation in Hollywood. As director Jon Chu said a while back, it’s a movement. While the movie has enjoyed massive success and shed light on a non-white cast, some people still think it could’ve gone even further.

Take this quotation from a profound article on Vox, “While it’s definitely significant that Hollywood is finally producing an all-Asian film, the anticipation for this film demonstrates that representation can mean different things to different groups of people, and that there is a divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia.” I couldn’t agree more. Here, as a Singaporean of Chinese descent, author Kirsten Han touches on how she felt the film was flawed in more ways than one. What she wrote next made me come to another realization. In western films, we really only see Asia depicted in 1 of 2 ways: as “rising Asia” with modern architecture, servants, and next-level wealth, or as an extremely impoverished place with a lack of social mobility. When I think about the films I’ve seen with an Asian cast in the past year, it totally fits the description. In one of my personal favorites, Parasite, we see this deeply-entrenched divide between the rich and the poor. In Raise The Red Lantern, we see extreme generational wealth and tradition. While I loved both of these films and I actually think they did a great job with representation, it makes me wonder. Is Orientalism at play here? Is this really an accurate depiction, or are these over simplistic?

In other western movies, what we see of Asian countries is very little. And what we do see motivates these 2 narrow stereotypes. We see overwhelming markets with foods that seem foreign to us, tech-savvy people, expensive homes, and action movie backdrops. We see a place with more than 4.4 billion people through one, white-washed lens. I think it’s interesting because something perceived so incredibly progressive in the U.S was actually perceived as not diverse enough to people from Singapore.

 

Nicki Minaj: Superbass or Super-culturally-inapropriate?

Orientalism is the depiction of aspects of Asian cultures through Western imitation or expression. It was derived from a prejudice interpretation of Asian culture, as European people saw their culture as exotic and unusual. Orientalism can be strongly abused and broadcasted on a large scale by people that have heavy influence in society.

Nicki Minaj, an unusual suspect of enacting orientalism (in my opinion), insults the Asian culture in her song, “Your Love”. In the music video for the song, Nicki alters her usual appearance to exhibit Asian influence. She dresses in silk clothing (also wears a Japanese geisha), slants her eyes using makeup, and puts chopsticks in her hair in addition to several other Asian “imitations”. Her attempt at embodying the Asian culture is extremely limited and false, and she takes away from the true diversity and complexity of this culture.

One of the lines of her song states, “Anyway I think I met him in the sky / When I was a geisha he was a samurai / Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai / Never spoke lies and he never broke fly”. My interpreation of these lyrics are that the relationship between a geisha and a samurai is glamorized and falsified. She is using the idea of an “exotic” relationship to add to her song, and through that idealizing the concept of having a “foreign lover”. She also states that the Samurai spoke Thai, yet Samurai’s are a part of the Japanese culture.

In my eyes, she is mushing multiple Asian cultures together throughout the song, failing to give recognition to the beauty of each individual culture.