Monitored Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation
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Fu Manchu 1. In a similar vein, Chun theorizes the concept of high-tech Orientalism as a response to Japan becoming the largest creditor nation in Such an idea is especially compelling when considered alongside contemporary waves of Asian migration across the globe. Multimodal orientalism builds upon and deviates from these works in that it centers the rhetorical process by which such orientalist tropes are constructed across digital modalities in the current technological context. At its core, multimodal orientalism builds on the idea that sonic rhetorics are not made up of mono-modal experiences; rather, multimodal orientalism treats listening as synaesthetic.
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Moreover, an analysis of the rhetorics of sound on YouTube can help establish ways of guiding digital communicators toward making more purposeful and culturally reflexive decisions with regards to the use of sound in multimodal compositions. In this study, I analyzed approximately fifty videos including their titles, descriptions, tags, likes, dislikes, and comments with a focus on how users rationalized the decision to get or not get the surgery.
I find this content to be especially fitting for conceptualizing multimodal orientalism because the topic of double eyelid surgery—a technologized method of body modification largely influenced by transnational migration—is often racialized and often understood very differently across cultural differences. In the analysis below, I identify two sonic strategies of multimodal orientalism as deployed by digital composers: 1 aural stereotyping , or the sonic re-inscription of old, essentialized, and racialized tropes such as the Asian riff or the sound of a gong in a multimodal context; and 2 aural othering , or the use of sound to create the sensibility of racialized others as strange, foreign, odd, or otherworldly.
These two strategies are not meant to serve as a comprehensive set of strategies for multimodal orientalism; rather, they are examples that effectively highlight the rhetorical workings of multimodal orientalism. In this way, the audience not only cognitively understands the content i. Because aural stereotypes are often paired with other modes of Orientalist and racialized signification, these sounds quickly become racialized themselves in an associative fashion.
Aural stereotyping and multimodal orientalism can be seen, heard, and felt in my study of YouTube videos about East Asian cosmetic eyelid surgery. The video opens with stereotypically Orientalist music in the form of a falling glissando followed by sparsely plucked notes from the strings of what sounds like a guzheng see fig.
Furthermore, this text is positioned in contrast to the all-caps serif font for the word blepharoplasty—as if to visually signify scientific and medical authority. To the right of the video is a large, cropped image of a sepia-toned, seemingly Asian, mono-lidded eye, bringing focus to not only the subject of the video but also the anatomical part most commonly attributed to visible Asianness. The background is greyish green in color with a shadowy circle swirled over it as if to provide a sense of mysticism—a sensibility also often attributed to the Orient. These elements work with the music accompaniment to communicate the stereotypical and Orientalist idea of Asian as mysterious, timeless, essential, and unchanging.
Through this process, the music is further associated with—and solidified within the minds and bodies of the audience—in relation to the ideas and affects of Orientalism. By challenging the credibility of the video, these commenters encourage a wider swath of users to view the video through a critical lens. Given these elements of multimodal orientalism, one might surmise that perhaps a non-Asian video designer created this video using Asian stereotypes via aural stereotyping for a non-Asian audience. The video goes on to include patient testimonies as two women explain why they decided to get the surgery—reasons that, again, seem to speak to a primarily non-Asian audience, or at least an audience who up until this point has not already considered various reasons for getting the surgery.
The audience shifts as the video progresses, and the implied audience of the video seems—at least at times—to be potential blepharoplasty patients. Following the patient testimonies, the video goes on to speak to an Asian audience as Dr. Charles Lee appears to promote the double suture technique DST for potential patients. He describes what DST is, who is a good candidate for this technique, and its benefits.
If DST is intended for use on Asian patients, it is not entirely clear why a viewer who is not Asian, and thus not a potential surgery patient, would be interested in this information. It is not precisely clear why the video creators move across audiences and purposes in this way, but one might speculate that perhaps they intentionally address multiple audiences and speak to multiple purposes because the video is posted to YouTube where it might be encountered by a wide range of viewers from different cultures and backgrounds.
Given the contested nature of Asian cosmetic eyelid surgery, it is very well possible that the creators decided to explain and rationalize the surgery as an attempt to appeal to a wider secondary audience by accounting for the fact that some viewers might, with insufficient information and understanding, sensationalize a practice that is unfamiliar to them and further stereotypes about an entire group of people as a result.
Such sensationalist interpretations within the wider public sphere can perhaps deter potential patients from being open to the surgery in the first place. If it is true that the rhetor s intended to appeal to either potential patients or secondary audiences in an attempt to deter problematic, racialized, or limited interpretations of the surgery it seems they did so, ironically, through use of aural stereotyping—perhaps as a way of appealing to familiar, simplified sonic and racial tropes and archetypes often associated with Asian people.
Finally, it seems entirely possible that the video attempts to appeal to multiple audiences and purposes in inconsistent and even contradictory ways. The sonic, visual, and linguistic elements work together to essentialize Asian people—the very target audience themselves—as foreign, exotic, and mysterious in ways that can be off-putting for that audience.
By highlighting the rhetorical workings of racialized stereotypes in a multimodal context, understanding aural stereotyping can have useful implications for engaging in culturally-reflexive digital composing practices. Aural stereotyping as a term becomes one way of identifying the cultural rhetorical work of certain sonic strategies. While aural stereotyping is quite obviously Orientalist as it constitutes a mimicry of Asian sound and as it works to render audible recognizable visual tropes, aural othering operates on a subtler affective plane by appealing to xenophobic sensibilities of the Asian body as alien, strange, otherworldly, and threatening.
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In this way, aural othering works in a markedly multimodal context as it necessarily relies on textual, visual, and additional features to present its representation of racialized Other-ness. In other words, the sonic components of aural othering may not be Orientalist or racialized in and of themselves but instead work to represent an Orientalist sensibility when used as a way of contextualizing other racialized content. The fifteen-second opening brings together sound, movement, and light to frame the video and inform viewers that they are about to witness an urban and technologically advanced environment that is strange, weird, and otherworldly.
Content warning: graphic depictions of surgery. As the video begins, we hear sounds resonant of dark ambient space music: a single, higher-pitched tone is textured with mechanical whoops and whistles. The tone repeats while a zooming effect enters the sonic landscape; and a quick crescendo and decrescendo quakes and echoes into open space. A deep, vibrating mechanical hum. The sound is urban and futuristic—reminiscent of a science fiction soundtrack in the way it conjures feelings of suspense and otherworldliness.
These sonic elements are accompanied by slow glimpses of Seoul at night: images of a busy street surrounded by lit skyscrapers. Headlights whiz toward viewers from a large boulevard. A collage of brightly lit storefront signage peppered with Korean and English text blur, tremble, flicker, and flash as the video fades in and out of black.
The music bed and flashing and trembling visual effects pause and then continue. Our host begins her narration:. This narration is voiced by the tall, thin, and modelesque Duboc who speaks with an English accent. The sonic, ambient, visual, textual, and narrative elements work together to produce a sensibility that is metropolitan, futuristic, and eerie all at once.
In many ways, this rhetoric reflects a techno-Orientalist affect that evokes Eurowestern anxieties about the hyper-capitalist and mysterious East. The dark ambient space music conjures feelings of suspense and mystery, which frames the visuals and the script addressing Korean culture in such a way that it registers as weird, otherworldly, and conspicuously foreign. Furthermore, this sensibility is mapped onto Asian bodies; this opening not only characterizes an urban landscape that is ostensibly Asian but it also frames an account of South Korean embodied practices via fashion, music, gender and sexuality, and cosmetic surgery.
In fact, some of the sonic and visual distortion effects described above recur at later points in the program—providing a repetitive and recognizable sensorial pattern as a way of managing how new information is processed , Ultimately, the video spends almost half of its runtime—fourteen minutes of a thirty-four-minute program that is meant to be about Seoul Fashion Week—exploring cosmetic surgery in South Korea.
Unlike the examples of aural stereotyping, the non-verbal sound effects in this video are not in and of themselves racialized.
This example demonstrates that even beyond cultural soundings i. The VICE example shows how the re-contextualization of sound, made possible by digital recording technologies and facilitated by transnational inter-networks, can do significant symbolic work to rhetorically re-shape how we perceive the world around us. In this way, a range of sonic elements can work together within a larger context of experience to shape how we interpret not just place but also what we understand as reality more generally, including our orientations to history, culture, people, and our relationships with them.
The VICE video exemplifies a techno-Orientalist approach to aural othering through use of dark ambient space music, futuristic sound effects and post-apocalyptic narrative spoken from the authority of someone with an English accent; however, the second example from my YouTube research project demonstrates a different, perhaps more subtle approach to aural othering. I guess the perfect eye is the one that matches your face the best. As Kim speaks, the image cuts to what appears to be the reception area for a cosmetic surgery office where botox brochures are displayed over a reflective glass table.
She has a slight smile, but her expression is otherwise even-keeled. Through this sonic contrast, the video presents the show with a powerful, confident, contemporary, and relevant affect while Othering the two speakers as curious, diminutive, and perhaps enigmatic and intriguing but at the same time a bit sad.
Such sensibilities are in line with the racist tendency to infantilize Asian subjects who are often assumed to lack the critical awareness of Eurowestern subjects. This feeling is enhanced by the title of the video.
Consuming Orientalism: Images of Asian/American Women in Multicultural Advertising | SpringerLink
Spotlighting Asian Americans on both sides of the motion picture camera, Countervisions examines the aesthetics, material circumstances, and politics of a broad spectrum of films released in the last thirty years. This anthology focuses in particular on the growing presence of Asian Americans as makers of independent films and cross-over successes. Essays of film criticism and interviews with film makers emphasize matters of cultural agency--that is, the practices through which Asian American actors, directors, and audience members have shaped their own cinematic images.
One of the anthology's key contributions is to trace the evolution of Asian American independent film practice over thirty years.