Thursday, January 06, 2005

Details Magazine: The Gay or Asian Debate Applied to Poetry and "Invisible" Racisms

"The April issue of [Details] magazine - which features fur-clad singer Nick Lachey on its cover - instructs readers how to discern whether a model is a homosexual or an Asian male.
The full-page feature, titled "Gay or Asian?" is loaded with double entendres that poke fun at stereotypes of Asians and gays." http://www.nydailynews.com/04-05-2004/news/gossip/story/180761p-156837c.html

For those not in the know, the Details "Gay or Asian" ad produced widespread outrage in the Asian-American community, the LGBT community, and the Asian-American LGBT community. It was featured in a Saturday Night Live skit and became popular knowledge among Asian-American students. The primary justification for the outrage was that it furthered ridiculous, outrageous, racist stereotypes of Asians, gays, and Asian gays. The primary defense was that it was satire.

Personally, I didn't find the ad funny. But go read the ad. I'd say that it does wallow in stereotypes, but it is not outrageous in light of other, more "invisible" racisms. I'm making this post, because I don't think that the protests against the ad was necessarily directed against the ad itself but against a larger phenomenon in American society, which relates to American poetry.

(Before we go into poetry, though, I'd like to note that I find Fox's O.C. more outrageous and racist than the Details ad. As someone who went to high school in the O.C., I know for a fact that Orange County is full of Hispanics and Asian-Americans, who constitute the majority of the population. It is a racially and ethnically diverse metropolis. It's not just rich, white kids. I'm objective enough to say that I can understand the O.C.'s popularity because I have watched it and will concede that it is well-produced in a soap-operaesque way. But at least the Details ad is honest with its racism; the O.C. is not. But my anger is not directed at the O.C. either but against the even larger phenomenon of near-total invisibility of Asian-Americans in media, entertainment, and poetry.)

Part of the many reasons for this blog is to affirmatively counter the invisibility of Asian-American poetry in the academic poetry landscape, in sense (2) "poetry about Asian-Americans." In a claim that I want to later elaborate upon, I would say that the emergence and prominence of Asian-Americans in the Spoken Word scene is, in part, a reaction against the almost complete foreclosure of poetry that vividly makes prominent questions of racial/ethnic identity by institutions and publications, which I have referred to as "the large enchilladas of power."

Remember, though, that the exclusion of this type of poetry is NOT necessarily racist. It is not the exclusion itself; power, in itself, is not bad. It is the unjustified exclusion that is racist. I would love to read a book of poetry criticism that identifies exactly how such "political poetry" is of inferior literary quality and hence not worthy of publication. But I understand the reluctance to engage in such critique: critics would fear they would be called racists. It is an anti-intellectual reluctance, one that I'm guilty of as well at this point, but I'm hoping that eventually that both Asian-Americans and non-Asian-Americans will be willing to engage in an honest discussion of the merits of particular poems that more bluntly wrestle with "Asian-Americanness."

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