Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Response to Underground Films

Today in class, I was really surprised to see such adverse reactions to this week's films. An argument that came up numerous times today was that both films were performative rather than provide commentary on the Asian American experience. While I would agree the films may have been a little difficult to watch due to their lack of a conventional narrative structure, I liked the fact that the films were so over-the-top. I don't see why performativity and commentary have to be mutually exclusive. I felt like these films were no different from Better Luck Tomorrow, Mississippi Masala, Wedding Banquet, etc in that complicated my notions of what it means to be Asian American by complicating (and perhaps destroying) the model minority figure. I really enjoyed Terminal U.S.A. in particular, in that it presented us with such extreme forms of Asian stereotypes (the studious brother, the cheerleader sister, the Japanese punk, etc) they could only be interpreted as artifice. Last semester I took a class on the films of Andy Warhol and within the class we read an article where Warhol says something the the effect that he enjoys using drag queens within his films because they are "more real". By looking at them you know exactly what they are: they are not pretending to be a woman, but simply a man who dresses like a woman. This is the same type of strange logic which lead Warhol to embrace camp, especially with his use of bad actors because simply they are "more real" in that you know that they are acting. I think this could be applied to Terminal U.S.A. the performances within the film are so terrible that they come off as fictional constructions, which in turn can be read that these stereotypes of Asian Americans are also merely social constructions. This is why I feel like the film is no different from all of the other films we have seen in this class which challenge notions of Asian American identity. Similar to the other films these underground films can also be read as a refusal of the model minority identity, they just do so in a different matter.

No comments: