“Weeaboos”, “Koreaboos” and foreign policy

The fourth installment of Inkstick Media’s new cultural column, The Mixed-Up Files of Inkstick Media, explores Techno-Orientalism as expressed in the media and the public and how it then affects our understanding and consumption. current events and foreign / public policy.

Unless you live under a rock, you must have already heard that ‘BTS’ means more than ‘behind the scenes’. Or maybe you have noticed your 10 year old running around your yard, bending over at a 90 degree angle with arms outstretched straight behind him, in what is called the ‘Naruto Race’ or more generally the ‘Race. ninja ”. Remember last year’s “fox eye” trend that took Instagram by storm? Undoubtedly, the importance of East Asian cultures and aesthetics appears to be growing in the United States, but this influence is seeping into other areas of society, including foreign policy.

First of all, what is a “weeaboo” or a “Koreaboo”? They are almost like the original terms of what most now call “Asian fishing”. Weeaboo specifically refers to non-Asian people who are hyper-obsessed with Japanese anime and manga and from there, they will often appropriate Japanese aesthetic or cultural practices without truly considering historical or cultural significance. Koreaboos are similar but for idols or K-pop groups instead. Olli London, a white British influencer who claims to be “transracial” and identifies as Korean, is a standout example of Koreaboo (although he takes it to extreme new levels). They have had several plastic surgeries to look more like Jimin, a member of the BTS group.

The (at best) questionable use of Asian aesthetics – including physical characteristics of Asians, Asian culture, and Asian landscapes – exists long before social media, however, especially in sci-fi and dystopian media. Researchers David Roh, Betsy Huang and Greta Niu coined the term “techno-Orientalism,” an extension of the term “orientalism” first coined by researcher Edward Said, to describe this type of treatment towards Asia and the Asian peoples in the media.

Although the consumption of Asianism as a commercial or evoked aesthetic product continues to explode, the otherness of Asia and its people grows with it.

One of the earliest common examples of using Asian aesthetics to project an idea of ​​the future dates back to “Star Wars IV: A New Hope”, from his costume design and character compositions. strongly inspired by the archetypes of Asian films. and cultural. Darth Vader’s iconic helmet was noted by George Lucas as being inspired by the Kabuto helmet of samurai Date Masamune. All of Luke Skywalker’s mentors also look like Orientalist tropes from their robes to their “Zen” demeanor that Dr. Jane Iwamura has dubbed the “Eastern Monk” (also seen on the big screen as recently as in “Doctor Strange”). The success of “A New Hope”, in particular, ushered in a new era of blockbuster films – a cultural phenomenon that established techno-Orientalism as a style of visual representation in science fiction that arguably outlived its own. popularity of Star Wars.

Recent media examples of techno-orientalist messages or images include the 2014 film “Ex Machina” in which an AI sex robot is played by an Asian actress and named “Kyoko”, or the superhero animated film for children of the same year “Big Hero 6” in which the setting is literally named “San Fransokyo.” And, even more recently, celebrity, musician and former partner of Elon Musk, Grimes, posted a TikTok with a background green screen of a panel from the hugely popular “Berserk” manga series although its video has nothing to do with the manga series, or even manga and anime in general.

While these media forms are generally considered pure entertainment, the subtext of LED plating, neon lights with Japanese markings across the dystopian Los Angeles skyline of the 1982 film “Blade Runner” does more than just have looks cool. These references signal the public and consumers that terror is the appropriate response to “the anticipation of an overwhelming Asian future”. Even media that do not use these tropes in purely sinister ways still confuse a hyper-technological future with abundant “Asianity”. The added bonus of high-tech sci-fi worlds also being complete dystopias with Japanese AI robots incapable of true humanity or higher level situational awareness sends a clear, even subliminal message: “Asians of the East are imagined as hyper-technological but intellectually primitive. ”, Aptly said TikTok user @haileyych.

Pen “Banana Series # 3” (2021), colored pencil, silver leaf by Molly Hurley

It looks like a back to back game of UNO reverse cards. Instead of being primitive savages like in the good old days of European colonialism, Asia is now too much advanced, except only in terms of technology, but not in terms of spirit. “Primitive” is like “primitive”. The hypocrisy in Orientalism of who holds the right to own certain technologies such as nuclear weapons or expansive surveillance networks is further supported by the subtext (if not the overt text) of techno-orientalist narratives.

We have increasingly observed the violent and deadly consequences of dehumanizing tropes within Techno-Orientalism, from the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 to the 150% increase in incidents of anti-Asian violence reported by China. California State University in the 16 largest cities in the United States for 2020 take out the trash, along with many more not mentioned here.

At the foreign policy level, techno-Orientalism largely distorts the understanding of China and East Asia by rumors that the Chinese are smart enough to have fabricated the entire pandemic from one laboratory to the next. Wuhan, but yet are so incapable of critical thinking that they could I probably not support the Chinese Communist Party without being brainwashed. This cognitive dissonance in trying to understand China, its people, its government and its culture as we consume information and media about them becomes increasingly relevant as President Joe Biden prepares for a new review of the nuclear posture, headlines proliferate on the expansion of Chinese nuclear weapons, and tensions are drawing closer and closer to a breaking point in the South China Sea.

So although the consumption of Asianism as a commercial or evoked aesthetic product continues to explode, the otherness of Asia and its people grows with it. From popular films like “Star Wars” and “Big Hero 6” to the export of anime and K-pop idols, East Asia is commodified and appropriated by the white West in the world. point that the growing Cold War tensions with China may make the very existence of the country entirely consumable, as whites can simply apply enough filters on TikTok or Instagram to continue our aesthetic.

That is, in a hypothetical universe in which China or East Asia in general is “exterminated” – whether literally through nuclear war or metaphorically through assimilation – it doesn’t necessarily matter because “weeaboos” and “Koreaboos” will carry on the “traditions” of their fetishistic interpretations of our appearances and our culture. The West will extract commercial use of Asian bodies and labor through anime, manga and K-pop while refusing to finally declare an official end to the Korean War after more than 70 years. Consuming and enjoying anime or K-pop is not in itself problematic. But these works also come from entire countries filled with entire populations with their own distinct histories and cultures far richer and diverse than a single form of media could possibly cover.

Molly hurley is a community artist currently studying for an MA in Community Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Previously, she was Wagoner Fellow of Rice University, Nuclear Fellow with The Prospect Hill Foundation and FutureFirst Fellow with Beyond the Bomb. Between her schoolwork and her artist residency with WombWork Productions, she is also an administrative partner for Women Cross DMZ.

Reynaldo Reyes-Arroyo is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying peace, war and defense. He was previously FutureFirst Fellow with Beyond the Bomb and is currently a Senator with Dialectical and Philanthropic Societies at UNC-Chapel Hill. His current research project analyzes emerging weapon systems through the prism of just war theory.


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