May 27, 2008


ni01_nihaolaikan-rainydayle.jpgI saw this post from the fine people of 8Asians today. In the post, Efren links this article by Jeff Yang (founder of A Magazine) in today's SF Gate.

Let's skip the identity questions for now. As I've mentioned before, I think identity as a form of activism is a complete waste of time (in the words of Frank Chin, it's "bullshit"), and I think we already have identities that we just need to become more comfortable with. I was actually more interested in Yang's words about technology.

I think most of us Asian American bloggers are in our late 20's or early 30's, and perhaps Yang is correct in saying that some of us might be out of touch with the way younger people are communicating today. Many of us are not on Facebook or MySpace, and I can speak for myself personally when I say I feel a bit out of the loop. I saw this other scary article (scary for me, anyway) about how social networks are changing the way people talk to one another. Obviously Youtube is changing the way celebrities are created, and obviously the blogosphere is allowing non-mainstream voices a greater audience. If the internet didn't exist, we could very easily still only have Kingstonian Long Duk Dong types of portrayals and thinking, and that should scare everyone. So Yang is definitely correct when he talks about tranformative technologies.

However, I think it would be premature and wrong to say, as Efren and Yang seem to imply, that Gen X is somehow outdated. The theory/history is problematic on three counts. First, there has hardly ever been any major political or movement led and sustained only by very young men and women. People in their teens usually look for guidance from their older peers, the same way people like me read Frank Chin, David Mura, and Hegel (who isn't Asian but has some really cool ideas about government and history) or speak to real life leaders in our community in order to learn from their experience. Experience counts for a lot.

Second, Yang says that social media is more about "inclusion" than "effort." While he's correct on that count, social media doesn't imply social movement. Social movements are about both inclusion and effort. Within a social movement, effort is the more important of the two because that is where people create new ideas.

Third, let's not discount the importance of reading. I've stressed this many, many times on this blog and to everyone I know in real life, but there is no substitute for the book as a form of communication. Whether we're talking audiobooks or regular books, we're still talking about the single greatest medium for communicating deeper ideas. To that end, the "dialogue" that Yang discusses as being a part of social media isn't going to save us. What will save us are big ideas and the ability to absorb big ideas, and these ideas take place in books. I just finished reading an 800 page book on Lincoln, and I can assure you that I now know more about how he operated than I could've ever learned in a movie or on a MySpace page. Any movement within Asian American media will require the production of book-length works.

I also think it's premature for Yang to say that he now understands the mindset of these young Asian American kids because they are reacting differently to "Ni Hao Kai-Lan" and "Jackie Chan Adventures" and "American Dragon: Jake Long." Remember, we're talking about kids! I'm sure many of us also thought we had it figured out when we were that age. For many of us, it wasn't until later in life that we looked at the world, learned about politics, met different people, and figured out that there was something in the world that needed some serious fixing. While these young Asian American kids may be satisfied with the status quo right now, there is no guarantee that that satisfaction will last once they get experience and knowledge that only comes with age. In fact, barring some kind of drastic social upheaval, it's unlikely that they it will.

I've always thought that we need to engage the younger people of the world, and to that end, some people from Gen X probably have to learn the new technologies. On the other hand, the rise of a new generation does not in any way imply the obsolescence of a current young generation. We're all part of the same culture, and there's no reason at all that we should stop fighting for what we know is right.

By the way, I just did a Google search on Frank Chin. It looks like Aiiieeeee! was published in 1974, which would mean that Frank Chin was 34 at the time. Imagine what would happen if he interviewed younger Asian Americans at the time and determined that his way of thinking was out-of-date and irrelevant. Asian American lit would never have been born.

Everyone plays a role within our culture and society, whether we're young, in our late 20's/early 30's, or older. Part of creating a strong social movement, I believe, is recognizing that people perfect certain skills at certain points in life. It's just a matter of making use of these skills and enabling others to make use of their skills.

(Kai Lan image from here.)


Jeff said...

Hey Byron,

[Ah, Google Alerts are great, aren't they...]

Really insightful thoughts! For what it's worth, I wasn't dismissing the efforts of (presumably) our generation, nor suggesting that we should cease and desist from writing books, or even making TV and movies and music and magazines or other "traditional" expressions of our culture.

Far from it: We need these as much now than ever--perhaps more so, given the fact that our window for making a real mark in these media is rapidly shrinking.

What really motivated my, er, rant was the feeling that our cohort sometimes seems so self-satisfied in what we've accomplished, and so presumptive that the next generation automatically feels what we feel, thinks what we think, cares about what we care about. Maybe they do--or would--if we reached out to them effectively...but all too often, we don't, and they don't.

I find it amusing that actors with supporting roles in forgettable Hollywood movies get the full-on celeb treatment while people who potentially have audiences orders of magnitude larger and more engaged are completely anonymous in our community, simply because our leaders are disengaged from the platforms in which they operate.

In the near term, this simply means that there's a profound awareness gap between our generation and the next; in the longer term, I think our old media focus means we may be losing our big chance to get our stories into emergent media--platforms and channels that we might otherwise be poised to dominate.

It's as if at the dawn of Hollywood, we were demonstrating outside of vaudeville theaters.

But I'll elaborate on this argument in my followup column next week...

Thanks for reading (and blogging!)


B said...


I agree with you. I think I was just trying to draw attention to the cultural momentum that older people can create. I run an Asian American awareness group, and I see how people tend to contribute based on where they stand in life.

As for the self-satisfaction, you raise an interesting point. I saw that a lot when I lived in New York, and I saw it a lot in San Francisco, but I don't see it so much now that I'm in Portland. It may be a regional thing.

Anyway, I hope I'm not too late in responding to this. I'm still trying to figure out this blogging technology!

Burnt Sienna,

Are you Akrypti? I can't see you e-mail addy. I'm such a techno dork. Haha...on the Fighting 44's, I'm the technologically incompetent admin!