Asian American Feminism–Podcast Edition

If you haven’t been reading along at Jenn Fang’s Reappropriate site, you may have missed her interview at Fallout Central, a website that produces a weekly podcast devoted to Asian American issues.  True to form, she gives a lengthy and down-to-earth discursus on her definition of Asian American feminism—its relation to both AA activism and mainstream feminism.  The questions, and responses utilize my favorite intellectual apparatus—theoretical/political knowledge and pop culture references (Jenn beautifully fields a question about Tila Tequila, for example, with reference to media representation, third wave feminism, and positionality.  Not her terms in the interview, perhaps, but the ideas are right there).  And a particular highlight: a nuanced and civil discussion about the continuing gender friction within the Asian American community.

Both Jenn and the guys at FC are great examples of a new generation of AA activists using new media—something I’d like to think about more in the coming year.  In what ways are new media forms allowing access to political affiliation? God knows there was none of this when I was a kid!  It used to be the case that you’d have to be located on the coasts to get wind of these kinds of discussions.   Thanks to sites like these, kids with computers (and since Pew reports  that AA’s are using the internet far more than other ethnic groups, this might make some significant differences).  I’d love to use some of these sites for the Asian American Literature class I’m teaching in the spring.  Too far afield, perhaps?

Professors on Film

I had the great pleasure of catching a matinee of Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages yesterday (winter break=weekday matinees=bliss). The accolades for the film are everywhere, so I’ll spare you my own review here. What struck me in off moments, however, was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, John—a depressed, overly-rational expert on Brecht and a professor of drama in Buffalo. Despite significant differences in characterization, I couldn’t help but think of Steve Carrell’s Frank, a depressed/suicidal, emotionally-distant “foremost expert on Proust” and a professor of literature in Little Miss Sunshine. I’ll admit that like most of America, I took a pass on The Human Stain, but having read Roth’s book, I can imagine the characterization of Coleman Silk that stems from his lifelong elision of his past, his dismissal from the college, and disturbing relationship with a cleaning woman decades younger than him. Let me guess: depressed? Unable to cope with the real world? [Sidenote: K. just reminded me that Dustin Hoffman’s professor in Stranger than Fiction is the exception here: quirky and a mainliner of coffee, but seemingly a relatively happy chap with an improbably large office. Of course, he studies living authors, and that might account for the difference. :)] And, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s probably necessary to note that all of these characters are literature professors.

This is by no means a comprehensive study; let’s instead call it an intuition with a few examples. But, dear reader, what on earth is going on with representations of professors?!! Who are these guys?! Does anyone really know them? Worse yet, did anyone ever take a class from one of them? I understand that professors, like psychiatrists, occupy a certain region of the American pysche, and thus cliches and caricatures are born. But there are two things, specifically, that chap my hide here.

First, it’s the equation of literary expertise and depression. More: John/Frank/Coleman each have a failing or failed relationship that they’re engaged/engaging in. Isn’t that just too Madame Bovary? Emma isn’t the only one who is led down the path to ruined love by books. Even Jules (the Hoffman character) seems unattached at best—in fact, do we ever see him outside the confines of the school? He bears a torch for an author who famously kills people in her books. In short: the equation seems to be a redux of an old chestnut about the dangers of literature (makes you incapable of “good” love!), with a dash of American anti-intellectualism (too much book-learnin’ will make you weird!) for good measure.

Second, on a note of perhaps useless call for some sort of realism, is it impossible to imagine a woman as a professor? Maybe just one? Somewhere? Is that asking too much? It’s not such a new thing for women to have doctorates in literature, I’ve heard—just ask the MLA. I’ve been out of undergrad for over 10 years, and I had a good-sized handful of smart, quirky, engaged female professors even back then. In graduate school, there was a collective of brilliant, well-published, psychologically-sound, sartorially-gifted lady doctors. I can only imagine that there are more now than there were then.

So what gives, Hollywood and indie-filmmakers? How about one measly female professor who’s not eating barrels of Zoloft in 2008? I’d consider it a personal favor.

Old Documentary, New Tricks

When taking an unannounced blog hiatus, is it best to start back up at whenever you have the wherewithal, or wait out a more rational time period?  It looks as if I’m just about at the 3 week mark–I could wait until Christmas Eve to post, but why let my blogging get any rustier?

One of the differences between end-of-semester thinking and post-semester thinking is that my brain actually engages with things it encounters.  Case in point: after a morning of snow shoveling, I had a chance to catch about half an hour of David Redmon’s 2005 documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China.   Ostensibly, the film begins with a simple premise; Redmon notices that Mardi Gras beads are made in China, and he embarks upon a research trip to understand the ways that such a quintessentially New Orleans artifact is produced so far away.  What he documents instead, however, are the material consequences of that production, and the misperceptions and rationalizations of those Americans who import and use those beads.

This DVD went to the top of my Netflix cue so quickly it could make your head spin.  How did I miss this film when it came out?!  It’s such a beautiful representation of globalization and all of the psychic positions that allow economic injustice to proliferate.  The American importer of the beads tells the filmmaker that the Chinese workers are industrious–so much so that when he visits the factory floor, they’re too focused on their work to speak to one another (unlike, of course, the jocular American factory workers).  Redmon indicates, however, that the workers are fined a day’s pay for talking.  Mardi Gras revelers are asked what they think about Chinese workers begin paid pennies a day to produce the beads that they throw away.  One man replies that pennies a day makes for a better living situation than others more unfortunate in China.  Meanwhile, Redmon interviews workers who are well aware of their exploitation, who feel very little “gratitude”  for their terrible working conditions and pay.

It may be the case that I’m teaching the introduction to American Studies in the fall, and if so, this documentary may be front and center.  I love the way that it positions an American tradition vis-a-vis workers in a global economy.  And it seems to make ever more relevant the recent histrionic fears about Chinese imports.  I wonder if I could organize an entire class looking at the transnational underpinnings of specific U.S. celebrations?

Link Storage

Who says that blogs can’t be giant filing cabinets?

Here’s a link to a NY Times interview with David Henry Hwang (most famously the author of the play M. Butterfly) about his new play Yellow Face.  The play apparently features a character names D.H.H., who shares significant history with the playwright himself (thus giving my postmodernism students the chills.  or making them gag).  Meanwhile, the plot centers around a very particular conflict: apparently, D.H.H. casts a white actor thinking that he’s a mixed-race Asian American, and then believes that he has to cover up his mistake in order to retain his own reputation as an Asian American role model.  In the interview, Hwang explains what’s at stake:

For instance, the fact that the D. H. H. character in this play mistakes a white man for being part Asian. That’s actually a perfectly understandable mistake, because you can’t necessarily tell by looking anymore.

You can’t tell by the last name. You aren’t allowed to ask at auditions, legally, a person’s race. So what does race really start to mean when you add all that up?

I’m fascinated by the idea that Hwang sees this as a means of investigating the depths of race as a whole, but doesn’t mention the particular context of mixed-race identity here.  I realize that the first might encompass the second, but mixed-race identity in Asian American circles is no small deal; it’s linked to vexed political/historical relationships (e.g., war and post-war military occupations), deep-seated resentments about intermarriage, etc., etc.  Surely that’s got to play a role here?

Yellow Face opens Dec. 10 at the Public Theater (and apparently only runs through the 23?  Website info here.)  If I can get into the city to see it, I’ll post a review.

Benedictions of the Blogosphere

If I had known that I was going to take such a massive break from the blog, I would have asked for it to be subsidized by a sponsor.  But two bits of blog-related news are just too good to keep to myself.

When I first started including blogs as writing practice in my courses two years ago (or “forcing us to do this stuff” as some students like to say), I consistently had a few resistant bloggers.  Rightly so, really.  If you’re not a blog reader, why would you be invested in writing one?  So I’ve learned, every semester, to make the case that we often make in composition contexts: online writing equals writing for a real, public audience; it familiarizes you with rhetorical conventions of particular communities; it instills (i.e., forces) a consistent practice of writing as thinking about readings and/or viewings and/or discussions that we engage in for class purposes.  And with recent high profile examples of bloggers getting deals in more traditional media (Wonkette’s book, Julie Powells’ book, and Julie Dam’s novel), I’ve been hinting around—blogging is becoming a way to secure a “legitimate” (not my choice of words, but one that comes up) way of leveraging a career in professional writing!

This month, it’s nothing but good news from the Strose Student/Alumni blogosphere.  First, Mallory’s soap opera snarkfest, Serial Drama, has bought her a regular column in Soap Opera Digest.  And then, Kim C. finds out that her post on Jean Baudrillard’s passing ended up in the latest edition of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies.  And these are only two of the multitude of Strose bloggers!  Who’s next?!  [I wonder what to call a group of bloggers.  If it’s an exultation of larks and a pride of lions, should it be a byte of bloggers?  Bring on the collective nouns!  Where’s James Lipton when you need him?]

So, if that isn’t the kind of good news that brings me back to blogging, I don’t know what is.  If you see these two around the interweb, give them a hearty helping of congratulations.