Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chan is Missing, Indo-Chic, and Savages

The movie Chan is Missing, as many have pointed out, is not about the search of a single man, but rather, a search for identity. In examining the movie, I confess to agreeing with much of the Peter X. Fengs’s ideas in “Being Chinese American, Becoming Asian American: Chan is Missing.” Feng’s example of the doughnut is the most striking theory for this movie and does answer most if not all of the “mysteries” in the movie. Furthermore, using the metaphor of looking into the puddle, I believe it is not who Chan is but who he becomes for each character. I agree with Feng that through the puddle, Chan becomes the Other for each character. I would like to take this theory further. Combining it with Simone de Beauvoir’s Other, Chan-as-the-Other assumes all of the qualities the characters do not like about the Chinese in America (Chinese-without-hyphen-American? Chinese-with-hypen-American?). The Self (such as the cook) projects unwanted qualities onto the Other so that the Self is able to claim power. Furthermore, the movie seems as if Chan represents many characteristics of many stereotypes and therefore, Chan does not really exist (except this theory proves problematic since physical money has been exchanged and returned by the end of the film). Perhaps, film critic (and legend?) Roger Ebert puts it best when he said

What's important is that everyone has a different idea of Chan, filtered through his own consciousness. And we realize (for ourselves, because the film is never obvious about this point) that Chinese-Americans, more than many other ethnic groups in this country, are seen by the rest of us through a whole series of filters and fictions.

Nevertheless, I had problems with Ebert’s statement that the film is showing Chinatown as it really is. Chan is Missing is not really about the authenticity of Chinatown but a verisimilitude in order to talk about identity.

I also had problems with Feng’s discussion of the hyphen. Does the hyphen hinder rather than progress? Perhaps as a counter to Feng’s negative view of hyphen, there is Gustavo Perez Firmat’s embrace as noted in the chapter “The-Desi-Chain” from Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way. They hyphen provides a chance for positionality (though I disagree in his claim of the 1.5). There is also Gloria Anzaldua’s essay “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness”. Though she talks about the mestiza, if one were to view the mestiza as a hyphen, then the statement “because the future depends on the breaking down of paradigms, it depends on the straddling of two or more cultures” the hyphen presents new opportunities.

I found Sunaina Maira’s essay “Indo-Chic: Late Capitalist Orientalism and Imperial Culture” to be really engaging and I found myself agreeing with almost all the ideas that Maira developed. Maira’s discussion of the aspect of “coolness”, that is “chic”, was well thought out but perhaps more importantly, Maira investigating the problem of taking part of the “exploitation” such as with the Mehndi Night at Smith College. Lastly Maira’s view of pop culture would facilitate much discussion in class: “Popular culture is a site where anxieties about borders and difference have always been negotiated, but it is also a site where the tensions of empire are enacted and normalized” (240).

In a final note, I was continually shocked by the poems, stories, and essays in the “Savages” part of Screaming Monkeys especially the two on Wen Ho Lee (one by Lee and the other by the judge presiding on the case) and the murderer of Versace and the differences between national media and Filipino media.

-Christopher Huynh

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