by Sharon H Chang
After researching European colonialism intensely the last month for my second book and thinking deeply about systemic racism as a colonial project–I had the crap experience of watching Iggy Azelia’s new music vid “Mo Bounce” the other day, sequel to her blatantly orientalist “Bounce” of 2012. If you haven’t seen the new vid I don’t recommend it. But you’ll probably watch it anyway for the same reason I did. It’s the kind of plasticized, botoxed stuff a la the Kardashians and Real Housewives that we tell ourselves is a train wreck but watch anyway cause it’s so sickly fascinating we can’t help it (plus, white supremacy)–and then it makes a ton of money off our consumption. Sigh.
Iggy Azelia’s vid features her in nighttime Hong Kong against backdrops of, alternately, the city’s skyline punctuated by expensive cars; the city’s streets replete with foot palaces and roasted whole ducks hanging in windows; some smoky opium-den-esque space styled with cyclops maneki nekos (huh?); and of course people of color as appropriated voiceless props. There are some amazingly fierce Black women dancers but their awesomeness is reduced to objectified camera-exploited twerking. There are (surprise!) some beautiful Asian people in the “opium den” who are smoking, tattooed with elaborate dragon and floral designs, and (surprise!) stand behind Igloo like wallpaper displaying their tats with arms raised and faces turned away.
There’s also some super talented youth dancers including a cute little Asian girl named Bobo. The video’s director said Bobo doesn’t speak English and is “really young” maybe 6 years old. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait up. Starring a 6-year-old girl in a video that’s highly sexualized, objectives women and girls, and features “motherfuckin” over twenty times (among other choice language like “hoes” and “bitches”) without even the opportunity to have some kind of critical discussion about it because she doesn’t speak English?? I’m not uptight about cursing or the straight-laced ethics police but come ON. That’s got to be some kind of moral failing right?
Anyway Azelia’s stupid new vid, its cultural appropriation, its gendered racism, are not any different from what she has built her entire career upon. Okay fine. But it burned worse this time. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was only a month ago that I watched Ed Sheeran’s new vid “Shape of You,” saw it was filmed in Seattle my hometown, thought the romantic storyline was sweet–only to then see everything take a weird comedic turn when *SPOILER ALERT* a sumo wrestler suddenly showed up making wild faces and Ed Sheeran donned a fat suit to fight him (what in hell?).
Or maybe it’s because US Vogue put an Asian women (Liu Wen) on its cover this March for the first time in 125 years but then didn’t feature her inside the issue in any notable way; instead giving a six-page spread to white supermodel Karlie Kloss in yellowface. I’m seriously not kidding. March 2017 people. US Vogue, in it’s Modern American Woman diversity issue, thought it was a good idea to dress Kloss up as a geisha girl and take pictures of her, in Japan. And by the way Kloss is the same supermodel who got in shit trouble for wearing a super offensive appropriated Native headdress in Native-styled lingerie at the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Either way I was fed up. So I went on an #Orientalist twitter rant:
This is not about getting my feelings hurt though of course I’m pissed. It’s much more than that. The practice of fetishizing, taking, and reshaping Asian culture to fit a Western agenda while throwing away the people themselves is very old. This is something the earliest, earliest colonizers loved to do in Spanish/Philippines, British/India, Dutch/Indonesia, French/Indochina, etc. Even white colonial New World settlers were gripped with a “craze” for so-called oriental things (which incidentally led to the Opium Wars and dismemberment of China). It is the conquerer’s perennial mindset: take what I want because it belongs to me, I deserve to have it, it makes me feel awesome and those “other” people need to get out of my way.
The practice continues today. The Western media machine (which includes the music industry) is incredibly wealthy and powerful WORLDWIDE. Sure some performers of color are allowed but the machine is still overwhelmingly white-dominated and more importantly white-owned and run. Further it is a primary vehicle for propagandizing Western ideals such as what is beautiful, who is powerful, rich, glamorous, who matters, who’s deserving (mostly white people). Those rationalizing messages are spread everywhere, create a global racial hierarchy, and have real consequences for people of color. Why is it, for instance, that a white man can travel the world over and be treated like royalty pretty much anywhere he goes but a Black man could never expect the same. And yes I have personally witnessed this in Asia firsthand.
How often do we see Asian and Asian American people succeed in the Western music industry? Almost never. And what about popular artists in the Asian music industry–can they find success as “imports” to the US? Of course not. Yet Taylor Swift, a very white woman, can fill the hugest venues in any nation it seems and go on to become the top-grossing 2016 artist internationally. She’s like a white goddess deity to our musical planet (kidding, kind of). Which means what? The artists, production teams, labels, media giants in my rant above are CAPITALIZING, building their wealth and power, off the appropriation and diminishing of people of color (turning us into stereotypes, silent props and backdrops) while denying us the same opportunities to participate and maybe even succeed.
This is white supremacy at its finest. I will not accept that machine making money and building their power off me, my family and my communities without putting up a serious fight. And if the limit of my power right now is an #Orientalist twitter rant then I will rant very mightily for as long as I can. Hehe.
Here’s to hashtag ranting…