“They were funky China men from funky Chinatown,” a lyric from the famous 1970s song “Kung Fu Fighting,” is a relatively accurate description of how most Americans viewed Asians until the internet age. Asians have traditionally been prevented from pursuing any major roles in film, music, and other forms of media due to preconceived notions of Asian Americans as “others.” However, the creation of Youtube and other forms of social media have allowed Asian Americans to pursue their passions in areas where they have traditionally been underrepresented and expand their presence in the general American consciousness.
Grace Wang’s A Love Song to Youtube describes the ability of new media to expand the visibility of Asian Americans.Wang describes how numerous Asian American singer/songwriters were able to gain commercial success and integrate themselves into a music industry that has never had a place for them. In addition to traditional monetary success through ad revenue, these artists have connected with mainstream celebrities in a way many never thought possible.Jeremy Lin (NBA player) stars in one of Kevin Wu video’s, as well as Ryan Higa’s. To think two teenagers making grainy videos would one day have an NBA player featured in their videos showcases the rapid transformation new media is having on the ability of Asian Americans to pursue their creative passion and find success.
These artists also frequently collaborate with each other, as evidenced by the comedy song hit “Nice Guys,” created by Ryan Higa and Kevin Wu. The ability of Asians to connect and form an “ethnic” coalition through a nontraditional source has resulted in them gaining even more recognition, both within the US and abroad. As more Asian Americans utilize new media forms to gain success, these coalitions will be particularly important for Asians in their quest to gain recognition in more traditional forms of media as well.
Uploaded: The Asian American movement explores the newfound ability of Asian Americans to both explore their creative desires and connect with one another. Youtube comedy icon Kevin Jumba, Youtube filmmaker Freddie Wong, and Youtube choreographer Mike Song all explain their humble beginnings with just a few views on their videos that rapidly turned into multiple viral videos that gained them intense followings worldwide. Traditional media still has limited roles for Asian Americans, but Youtube and other forms of new media are allowing Asians to gain higher levels of recognition and providing a new definition of success that will also allow these avenues into traditional media to develop. Mike even explains how during his dance lessons, he’s had people say how “lucky he is to be Asian, all the cool kids are Asian,” which shocked him but also emphasized the power Youtube has had in bringing Asians to prominence in the American consciousness as well as empowering future Asians to pursue careers in music, film, etc.
One key limitation Youtube and other forms of new media have in empowering Asians to gain further prominence are the intensely high production values most videos now have. Compare David Choi’s original video to PostModernJukebox’s (a cover group) recent video. AJ Rafael explains that people “spend a shit load of money” to make their Youtube videos high quality in an effort to gain new viewers. This limits Asians without access to economic resources from gaining the same type of success as David Choi, Ryan Higa, or any of the original Youtube stars. The threshold for gaining commercial success has also risen as the sheer number of producers has grown, crowding the field and making it much more difficult to have that viral hit video.
Regardless of the impact new media sources will have on Asian Americans in the future, it’s clear that Youtube and other social media has enabled Asian Americans to gain greater prominence in the American conscious, form a community through non-physical means, and shown Asians can be empowered to explore their creative passions. Digital media enabled numerous Asian Americans to gain commercial success, and it will hopefully continue to enable future generations to follow their dreams of working in forms of media that traditionally have prevented Asians from succeeding.