“Seemingly minor yet persistent things penetrate the mind over time making it difficult to ever realize the impact; hence, though quite unfortunate, the most dangerous forms of corruption are those that are subtle and below the radar.”
― Criss Jami
Kulture is a media watchdog on behalf of Asian-Americans. This site is our way of showing Hollywood and the media that we are watching, that we will be highlighting their offenses to the community. We will combat media oppression of Asian-Americans wherever we see it. We are not so dazzled by your production values so as to overlook your subtle aggression towards Asians.
What Kulture is about…
“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The Power of Storytelling
Storytellers have always had a central role in human societies from the oral tradition where generations would pass down life’s wisdom. Songs and plays added an audio and visual dimension as well as emotional depth. Some think of Iliad as the first major written work and Homer as the first prominent storyteller. But over 1,000 years before, written record was found of the epic tale of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian king.
Today, television reigns supreme with the average American watching 5 hours…. per day. Movies, the Internet, and print media have significant audiences and together, they have universal reach. The storyteller holds the key to the nation’s culture even if his methods change over time. Our instinctual behavior is primary; our response to subconscious cues make up 90% of our decisions. Where do these ‘subconscious cues’ come from? That’s important to know when we consider that everything in the social and professional realms flow from them.
“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”
― Allen Ginsberg
Stories are so fundamental to human nature, so essential in teaching, that some argue the primary way man understands the world around him is in narrative form. Famed linguist George Lakoff has said, “Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” Those in power understand how readily people are drawn to stories- to be enchanted by them, to feel their emotions, but most importantly - to accept their logic in a way that bypasses their rational faculty. Advertisers do not spend billions of dollars on 30-second spots if the medium didn’t have substantial subliminal impact on the thoughts and perceptions of the audience - shaping the unconscious cognition of the masses.
“The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half-second clips in it, or one-third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
TV ads take up about 8 minutes of the 30 minute block. Can you imagine what impact the remaining 22 minutes of content have on our mind? Particularly if it is driven by agenda, or put charitably, unconscious bias by those who don’t necessarily have the interests of Asian-Americans in mind.
The Effects of Culture
What is worrisome about the modern entertainment industry is that the products of its creators, directors, writers, and producers have a deleterious effect on minority audiences. The academic journal ‘Communication Research’ featured a study showing that exposure to TV lowered the self-esteem of minorities (and girls). But raised the self-esteem of white boys. Our identity is, in part, socially constructed. The idea that TV and other media can shape our self-identity, our associations, and our worldview is well understood. Eisend & Möller (2007) describes how television informs us of our social reality. There is documented evidence that entertainment products influence the way we think, but the brainwashing of modern media works because we don’t think it works. We feel there is nothing to resist because we can’t even trace where our social assumptions come from.
So key questions about our media: who plays the role of hero? Who plays second-fiddle? Who gets the girl, who can’t get the girl? What is the dynamic between white men on the screen and Asian men.... or Asian women for that matter. You can expect that millions are watching and processing these exchanges the way men have done for millennia - to understand who to respect, who to follow, who they can safely dismiss. The seeds of attraction are planted early as well. If TV can alter your dreams and make people more violence-prone, then it could also compel its viewers to adopt certain attitudes towards people based on their race. What seems like harmless fun rewires the brain.
The Culture’s Treatment of Asians
So are we unreasonable for focusing on TV scripts and movie cast members & plotlines? Their scripts contain the ‘life scripts’ of the millions of who consume them.
On that point, the dark truth is that Hollywood has been maligning Asians for some time. To cite a few themes used against Asians from Zakkeith.com:
Perpetual Foreigner: An Asian face or accent is used as a shorthand symbol for everything antithetical to American or Western culture.
Deserving Target of Open Denigration: In the movies, Asians are frequently subjected to open slurs and discrimination, and either portrayed as deserving or highly tolerant towards such treatment.
Inferior and Subordinate: Asians are shown as being inferior and subordinate to whites. Asians serve as sidekicks and extras in supporting roles to Caucasian protagonists, or play the antagonist who ultimately loses to a Caucasian protagonist. Asians are also shown as cowardly and impotent in the face of danger. When Asians are cast as being “on the same team,” they are usually faceless, unassertive conformists—often assistants and analysts—never leaders or trendsetters.
Gender: Can you name a movie in which an Asian male consummates a relationship with a Caucasian woman? Hollywood is replete with images of the sexual Asian female and the asexual Asian male, and it promotes sanctioned racial coupling — Asian females may couple with Caucasians, while Asian males may not. Asian men are desexualized, while Asian women are fetishized. In Hollywood, Asian women are sexually available. If an Asian female is cast in a relationship with an Asian male, the Asian male is, as a rule, an abusive or incapable husband who ultimately loses her to a more deserving Caucasian.
The site shows dozens of movies that reinforce these highly offensive and damaging themes against Asian-Americans. The site samples over 390 movies that feature one or multiple offensive themes against us. This has been going on for a while. And where is our decisive response?
Let’s take a few examples that Kulture has found on how Hollywood assails the image of Asian-Americans.
In the Royal Pains TV show on USA, the lead Asian female, an Indian woman named Divya, is engaged to an Indian man named Raj. However, she is said to ‘resent’ her family ‘forcing’ her into marriage with Raj. Here, it is implied to Asian females that choosing an Asian partner is simply reflective of family pressure; a conformist and unempowered way to pick a mate. So Divya develops a crush for a white male patient of the doctor’s office she works for. That goes nowhere. Then she gets knocked up by another white male, is pregnant with his child, but no relationship. Her unrequited lust and her being knocked up and left by a white man is seen as adventuresome; and ultimately preferable to a “lame” relationship with a committed Asian male.
In Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Asians are depicted as helpless victims against larger forces. The white heroes fight the villains in a battle in Korea; they are the brave, valiant rescuers. Meanwhile, Asian men and women are fleeing the battle scene. There is one prominent Asian woman who plays the role of a scientist (Dr Helen Cho played by Korean actress- Kim Soo-Hyun). She is ballsy and confident. However, when asked to go to a party, she declines, but then drops her "alpha woman" front and asks sheepishly "Will Thor be there?". She shows up to the party and admires Thor and the white heroes from afar. In the end, she is saved by the same white superheroes when the villain Ultron attacks.
BT TV ran an ad in the US which exemplifies how the media establishes a pecking order in very subtle ways. The ad features a handsome, composed white man (Ewan McGregor) and a fat, ridiculous-looking Indian man. The Indian man appears to be the ad director; but he is contemptuously ignored when he speaks; disregarded by whites who are supposed to be working for him. The others respectfully listen to the white man.
When we couple these accounts with what we discussed regarding the malleability of the human mind by culture, we begin to see how Hollywood tarnishes the identity of Asian-Americans, and even ruins our own self-perception. The message is unmistakable:
What is the Upshot of these Negative Depictions of Asian-Americans?
These assumptions, adopted by both Asians and non-Asians alike, form the baseline for all social interactions from the office to the wine bar. While many talk about Asians improving their skillset to overcome the Bamboo Ceiling, or that Asian men can do more to be seen as attractive, how much of this deficit is artificial, with the entertainment industry creating an image handicap for Asians and exacerbating the status delta between whites and Asians? It is like trying to improve your long-jumping skills across a yawning canyon while the separation grows further each day. There is something fundamental that is contaminating perceptions before the first word is spoken.
We fight a very real invisible force that alters the social landscape and disadvantages us at the outset.
This is the struggle.
We know people are susceptible to narratives for biological and cultural reasons. We are exposed to them 5 hours a day. Study after study shows they rewire our mind. AND they are actively being used against us -- makes us seen as lower social status, and as mating market losers.
This is where we draw the line.
Kulture, in conjunction with the Asian-American community and our natural allies, will confront the systematic media oppression that we endure.
How do we decode Media Oppression and Fight Back?
The largely white entertainment industry has used various cultural vehicles to reinforce harmful stereotypes towards minorities for decades. It is time to speak up.
Today, to the extent the Asian-American community even focuses on media oppression, we dwell on the very obvious, overt but rare cases of obvious racism. These can be called media oppression macro-aggressions. Or we focus on sins of omission (white-washing). In these explorations, we miss, by far, the far more sinister and impactful form of media oppression. That is media oppression micro-aggressions. The aggregate of these leads to Asians on their knees in the social and professional realm. Kulture will bring these offenses into sharp relief whereas in the past they slipped by, after having their impact, back into the never-ending stream of imagery. Kulture’s goal is to make the Asian-American community aware of this remarkably subtle but pernicious dynamic.
Specifically, we outline the primary themes of these offenses: Denigration (the multitude of ways that people are made to think less of us), Self-Aggrandizement (whites representing themselves exclusively as heroic, powerful, etc.) and Gender (white men represented as sexually desirable, Asian men are not; Asian female as submissive prey).
Still some may say: “What media oppression?”. Media oppression works because we think it doesn’t work.
We will take action against offenders. Put the business and media world on notice that we see what they’re doing. We will speak with their advertisers, their stakeholders, the press, address the offenders within the corporations that perpetrate these offenses on an individual basis. We will connect directly with the offending organization and show that it is preferable to work with the Asian community rather than against it.
As a secondary goal, we will advocate for diversity within media organizations, and especially their executives. To the extent media oppression is unintentional bias, this corrective action will go a long way to remedying the problem. It is in Hollywood's interest to adopt this goal. As much as 2/3rds of movie box office is now international, and much of this audience is non-white.
Ways you can help:
Be a Kultural Warrior - submit an Offense Report about a negative portrayal of Asian-Americans you observed
Share our Offense Reports with a friend (email, Facebook, Twitter)
Join Kulture (email list)
Every media offense, once added to Kulture, stays forever in our Offense Database. It serves as a repository and reference for our community- to know which TV shows, which directors, which companies cannot be trusted.