MIGOS - CHINATOWN
Crystal Leww: Chinatowns in media have become part of a fantasy, places where postmodern narratives and identities get negotiated to the point where they don’t exist in any real form anymore. They exist as places of intrigue and fascination, as places of danger and foreignness, as places where directors and artists can create an unknown without having to leave the borders of the United States. Migos drop a ton of references in this, very few which actually have anything to do with China. Pacquiao, karate, and Motorola are all Asian, but none are Chinese. The ad-lib “ching-chong” is the most nonsense non-Chinese phrase ever, but it’s canonical; it’s something that everyone recognizes isn’t actually Chinese. His girl “Kitana” draws her name from a character from the Mortal Kombat series, created by two white dude video game designers. They most likely projected their own fantasies of what a hypersexual Asian assassin woman can be. Interracial relationships in the Chinatown aren’t meaningful. They are not meant to prove anything about a post-racial world or a multicultural society. They are merely a stylistic tool that exist to stamp out any useful discourse or critical thinking about hybridity and replace them with fleeting images and fantasies of the exotic. Migos, most likely unintentionally, have created the perfect distillation of Asian American identity in mainstream media in that there is nothing meaty or nuanced to think about when it comes to Asian identity in America. “Chinatown” is a reflection of the dominant cultural norm rather than a break from it.
This is probably my personal favorite piece of writing that I’ve done all year.
Chinatowns as a physical space for the actual negotiation of Asian American identity by Asian Americans are disappearing. I can’t speak to the Californian Chinatowns, but New York’s Manhattan one is crawling with tourists and “regular” New Yorkers, Flushing is also becoming decentralized, Chicago is basically just a bunch of Tony Hu restaurants, and Dallas and Houston don’t have “Chinatowns” so much as Chinese shopping centers. In Europe, London’s is too clean and obviously for tourist purposes. (For some perspective, I saw a pretty busy restaurant that seemed proper called Wan Chai Corner. Wan Chai is the area in Hong Kong where older white men pick up young Asian women, particularly strippers, or where study abroad college students go to dance on top of a bar during Ladies Nights on Wednesdays.) Chinese people don’t actually live in these places anymore; if they go to them, it’s for fleeting purposes like to shop for spices or to eat a meal. They’ve become places of spectacle for tourists, people who would like to view what China might be like without having to buy a ticket to Beijing or Shanghai or live with the reality that China is actually becoming quite modernized.
Chinese Americans, as part of the rapidly rising and highly educated middle class, live scattered about cities or in suburbs of cities. This is especially true of Chinese populations in Dallas and Houston where many moved there to take engineering or tech jobs. At the same time that the Chinatowns are disappearing and Chinese Americans are diminishing the view that they are communist spies or Triad mobsters, a new narrative has emerged in the American mainstream which describes them as “model minorities” in order to value qualities that a system of whiteness prefers, and reinforce structures of power that have allowed whiteness to remain dominant in American society. It’s a disgusting attempt to continue to devalue people of color and to split them along black/white lines. It also completely washes out and simplifies identity issues that Asian Americans grapple with in their hybrid status as non-Chinese and non-American either.
So it’s perplexing and intriguing how Hollywood and media has dealt with the transition. On one hand, Chinatowns are such a great setting for the dangerous, the exotic, and the unknown. They are highly suitable for stylistic settings. And yet, it doesn’t fit in with a new narrative that is emerging and essential for the continuation of whiteness that paints Asian Americans as the “model minority group”.
To tie this into an album that I quite like and my favorite piece of music writing in a very long time, this is exactly why artists like M.I.A. are so essential. There need to be counter-examples to show what diasporic life is really like, to show that identity cannot be reduced to simple binaries, to show that a “scattershot” identity is only complicated if you prefer to view it with the most simple framework that is blindly ignoring nuance or reality. I grapple with whether or not I will ever be considered “normal” on a daily basis. M.I.A. makes me want to try to embrace that rather than fear it.
Reject simplicity. Think a little bit more.
(If anyone wants to read more about Chinatowns in media, Gina Marchetti’s final chapter from Romance and the “Yellow Peril” is really good and helped inform some of the thoughts that ended up in my final blurb. Best type of dude Daniel also wrote a very good blurb and referenced Gideon Lewis-Kraus. I can’t speak to it, but Daniel’s blurb turned out pretty good so educate yrself, hahhhhhhn.)
i missed my chance to blurb this but i never ever would have been able to get anywhere near crystal’s level
Bến Ngọc Lâm, Long Bien, Hanoi
Fujica ST605n + SMC Takumar 50/1.4 + Kodak SC 200
The version has been taken on 35mm film camera, however kept inside the film chamber until last weekend. I’m fairly happy with the processing though. Higher dynamic range of the vintage camera helps the tone well illustrated without HDR bracketting procedure like I did on my digital work.
I also had a HDR version, which merged from my 5D mark II’s raw files