By Andrea Plaid
Two form of entertainment with passionate defenders garnered some great critiques that drew quite a bit of Tumblr attention this week, starting with Chronicles of Harriet’s Balogun spot-on post on the white-washing of urban fantasy:
Come on, y’all…if you write a story and set it in a place like Broaddus’ Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, London, or Las Vegas, basic demographic research will indicate the presence of people of color. To read and enjoy Urban Fantasy, I am expected to just accept that Black people don’t exist? You get the side-eye for that one.
Whether or not you like Urban Fantasy, the fact of the matter is that this subgenre of Fantasy has had an immense and global impact on people through literature, television and film.
It is because of this impact that we cannot ignore the messages that Urban Fantasy brings. Each time an author of this subgenre decides to tell a story, instead of working so hard to erase people of color out of existence, they should work just as hard to erase the problems that plague our society. And fanboys…do not say that writers should not have to be political; that they should be free to write merely to entertain. Every statement we make is political. Every sentence we write is potentially life-changing for someone. Such is the power of the word.
You cannot truly change culture without literature. We can pass a thousand laws saying that racism and sexism are wrong. We can make a thousand impassioned speeches to rouse the marginalized masses; but if everyone returns home after those speeches and sits down to read the latest installment of Twilight, or watch the next episode of The Vampire Diaries and their fictional worlds in which those same marginalized masses barely even exist – then how much change can truly be affected?
[T]here’s a very clear utilization of offensiveness in pornography, to some the idea of a pornographic film that doesn’t intentionally offend the viewers taste is useless. As a society we’ve fetishized the very idea of being offensive for offensiveness sake. A movie like Slant Eye For the White Guy might not actually ever refer to the Asian women as slurs durring the scene, but the taboo attached to “yellow fever” itself is part of the fetish being served to consumers. If any of the parties involved were trying to insult their audience like many porn films aim to do that would be entirely different that defending yellow face as completely innocent.
There were no such Asian Americans in the Walking Dead parody. The people who had the power decided to go with yellowface and are continuing to defend it. Interestingly, according to actor Danny Wylde in his apology, the role of Glenn was the last to be cast and not being familiar with the show he wasn’t even aware that he would be playing an Asian- American. After seeing himself in make up , he raise questions about racism. The reaction was mostly laughter.
Wylde was cast because he was already an considered an acceptable performer. Every person involved has mentioned that the casting was inevitable because the one Asian man in porn either wasn’t available, wasn’t Korean, or just wasn’t considered. Pistol and Warren weakly argue that people would have been just as upset if Keni Styles would be cast–something I highly doubt as the British Thai actor is somewhat of a Asian American folk hero and favorite among female viewers. He’s also one of the first award winning performers in the United States, but far from the first or the only Asian male doing straight porn. No one mentions actors from websites such as Asian-Man.com , Shelovesasiancock.com or PhuckFuMasters.com, the latter having 3 Asian, and Asian American male performers. Even more telling , no one mentioned the idea of finding a Korean American actor for the role.
Warren, Pistol and Wylde all write that there are plenty of stereotypical portrayals of Asians in American porn, they are absolutely correct. There are stereotypical and negative portrayals of every group, but what is uniquely lacking for Asian Americans is options. Black and Latinos can find content created with the intent to be consumed by Blacks and Latinos without racist overtones. Lesbians that are sick of seeing female sexuality performed for hetersexual male fantasy can check out Girlfriends Films. Buck Angel created Sexing the Transman for the often ignored female to male transgendered population to feel celebrated. If Asian Americans, want to see non-objectified Asian American sexuality performed by Asian American men and women together, where are the choices? If Asian American men want to see a reflection of themselves perform on screen where can they turn?
Two Asian American women, Nicole Soojung Callahan and Shiuan Butler, took another industry to task for using stereotypes about Asian Americans to turn a profit: the personal-care company Cibu International.
About two months ago, my husband came home from a haircut and said, “Did you know that Hair Cuttery has a line of ‘Asian-inspired’ hair products by Cibu? They have something called ‘Geishalicious Shampoo.’” I went to Cibu International’s website to check out the rest of their products, and could hardly believe the awfulness of the names: Miso Knotty Detangler. Mousse Lee Volumizer. Spring Roll Hydrating Cleanser. Ancient Veil Oil Mist. Hi-Ya! Keratin Reconstructive Conditioner. Dry Kwon Do Dry Shampoo. Wok This Way Sculpting Sauce. Take Out Clarifying Shampoo (with a picture of a take-out box on the bottle). It was as if a bunch of people had all gotten in a room and brainstormed as many Asian stereotypes as they could, and then named beauty products after all of them.
Cibu is part of Ratner Companies, which also owns nearly 800 Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo, Salon Plaza, and Colorworks salons in 19 states. Cibu’s product names are all based on reducing Asian cultures to a handful of food and martial-arts references, tasteless puns, and fetishizing Asian stereotypes. As if the names aren’t bad enough, Cibu’s Facebook page also includes a picture of a staff member dressed in an “Asian costume,” fans laughing at “me love you long time” jokes, and a horrible cartoon ad featuring a naked geisha on her knees, hands behind her back, with the ad copy “Seduced by Geishalicious.”
After participating in a comment thread on Cibu’s Facebook page in which many women of color, as well as white women, chimed in to express their concerns about Cibu’s offensive names, I began communicating with Cibu’s brand manager. Our discussions were cordial–though she called me a “radical”–she voiced some openness to changing the Geishalicious name at some point in the future, when existing stock had been sufficiently depleted. But there was no openness to changing other names. In the meantime, Cibu had deleted several critical comments from their Facebook page, including my friend Shiuan Butler’s. The brand manager told me it was because she did not want “[her] brand hijacked by negativity.”
At this point Shiuan suggested that I start a Change.org petition to encourage Cibu to change all of their names, not just Geishalicious. I didn’t think Cibu would listen, but I did think they should know we weren’t alone in finding their names offensive. With some advice from Shelby Knox at Change.org, we settled on the petition wording and uploaded it on January 28. Miss Representation, Katha Pollitt, Shelby Knox, Disgrasian, Angry Asian Man, Lela Lee, and many others signed and shared the petition. By February 6, the petition had garnered over 1,100 signatures–well beyond our wildest hopes.