Curatorial Statement: Materialism, Materialism, Materialism (the Anti-Capitalist Kind, of Course)

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Throughout the quarter, I feel like I have been introduced to so many new artists, songs, and approaches to musical that are considered to be “Asian American music”. In the course of analyzing all of this content that tackles the big question of what constitutes Asian American music, and what this means for the music industry (or Asian Americans) in general, something has emerged as a very clear theme not only through the writings that I have posted on this blog, but also just throughout the course and its curriculum in general. This theme is something that I have explored for a long time but also feel that is not given enough attention in Asian-American political discourse. That theme is none other than understanding the materialist roots of different issues and topics pertaining to Asian-American music. I’ve found that the roots behind the topics we have explored are very material and can be traced back to socio-economic conditions that shape not only our identities but our expressions and our representation.

In my own personal experience, Asian-American discourse has revolved largely around this concept of identity, or what it means to be Asian-American and where we fit in this multicultural puzzle known as the United States of America. It seems to me like oftentimes we end up talking about topics that are important, but talked about in a way that does not dig deeper into the issues and their structural causes. For example, anti-blackness among Asian-Americans, especially among Korean-Americans and the Korean-pop/Hallyu industry has been something I have seen endless amounts of discourse in Asian-American spaces, but in my own experience I feel that those who participate in those spaces don’t take enough time to really understand the root material/structural causes that enabled this anti-black phenomenon to happen. Sure, people will talk about how ethnically homogenous Koreans are as a people, or the model minority myth, but oftentimes I don’t see enough light being shed WHY these things are so prevalent. The readings that this course provided me, as well as my own understandings of capitalism (which are heavily based on Marxist theory) have helped me explore these very important topics in ways that can help me understand where these problems come from. In order to fix a problem, it’s not only important to recognize that there is a problem, but also find and uproot the very causes. While we, as Asian Americans, might not be able to solve these problems in the immediate future because of how complex the root causes are, by making these kinds of analyses and examinations we can finally discuss how we can meaningfully dismantle these kinds of oppressive and reactionary tendencies. Going back to the K-Pop example, we can criticize Hallyu culture for being xenophobic but as long as we don’t understand the global system of capitalism and how it affects racial politics in an ethnically homogenous country like Korea (which has also been mistreated at the hands of various imperialist powers and their compradors), these criticisms are meaningless. As I had pointed out earlier in my second blog post, K-Pop stars have often faced criticisms for their racist displays onstage and their cultural appropriation, but as long as K-Pop continues to be maintained by a large paying fanbase and consumerist culture created by capitalism, they will never be held truly accountable to their actions.

Material roots has also been something that I had explored also when writing about Fred Ho. Ho’s works on kreolization, jazz’s revolutionary potential, and the genre’s connection to Asian-America were some of the works we had explored in this course, and they had not only reaffirmed my feelings on Asian-American discourse that I had observed, but had also expanded upon them, combining my own views and understandings of capitalism with concepts that I had never before explored, like kreolization or Asian-American jazz. Ho not only explained that a lot of Eurocentrism and the culture that emerged from Europe was the result of the ruling classes violently suppressing the cultural expressions of the working and peasant classes, but that also race was the result of an emerging yet incredibly horrific and violent capitalist-imperialist system that was being imposed on the world by European bourgeoisie. He also saw that the struggles of Asian-American musicians to make it big on stage mainly came from economic and political problems. It was not only hard to be a musician, but because Asian-Americans did not have economic and political power of any significant amounts in the United States, it just made things even harder.

However, by understanding these root causes of race, kreolization, and the dissemination of Eurocentrism and European culture, I feel that Fred Ho is also able to provide a very material solution to the plight of oppressed peoples in America, including Asian-Americans. As he understood it, Asian-Americans, in order for their voices and talents to be seen and appreciated by the rest of society, need political and economic power that enables them to put out music and other cultural expressions. He also saw that even though the forced kreolization of African-Americans was the result of a white supremacist capitalist world order, oppressed peoples can also resist by means of a real form of kreolization where they can mingle freely and create a culture of resistance against the dominating powers of American society.

With the two blog posts covered, this leaves me with my piece on Asian-American love. While I did not really dive into Marxism or class struggle, I still think that the theme of materialism is prevalent in this work even, as Asian-American love is a very material thing involving very material acts (use your imagination) and producing very material results (well, if the lovers aren’t taking precautions before engaging in their little private moments). The absence of Asian-American love in media, one can easily argue, is yet another sign of how poorly Asian-Americans and their experiences are represented in wider society. However, if we are to do something about that, we need to, as I said earlier, explore where this lack of representation came from, and that was something that the readings in this course had offered. By reading Fred Ho’s work on Asian-American love, Mina Yang’s writing on Asian-American hip-hop dancers and how they have been portrayed on the media, as well as watching The Crumples, I was able to get a good picture of a root cause of this problem, which is the emasculation of Asian-American men throughout their existences. But also through watching The Crumples, I was able to take a glimpse into what Asian-American love can actually look like when represented in a way that realistically captures the experience and doesn’t fall to stereotypes. That movie is a material way we can look into how Asian-American love can be portrayed.

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