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Is Orientalism Still Real?

Written By: richardkhang on March 8, 2009 1 Comment

Those who have taken taken Asian American Studies 20A with Professor Choy should recall learning about a particular concept called Orientalism. Orientalism, as Professor Choy defines it, “is a system of thought that constructs the image of the Orient in opposition to the west in terms of backward vs. forward, uncivilized vs. civilized, feminine vs. masculine, and static vs. dynamic.” It is related to popular culture because it creates stereotypes about how Asians should act such as Anna May Wong and her role in movies as the Dragon Lady. In cinema, Asians were frequently portrayed as evil and cunning in contrast to the whites who were good and virtuous.

Many individuals would cringe at the fact that a concept such as Orientalism existed within the American society. When looking at present times, they would then feel a sense of relief. However, is this sense of relief legitimate? The way I look at it, Orientalism, like a virus, has evolved. The “consciousness of Orientalism” realized that it had been unveiled. Thus, changing its form into something more subtle. With regards to popular culture, Asians are still depicted in a less positive way. Asians may not still be depicted as cunning and evil. However, they are shown in ways such as being “nerdy,” ignored due to “social awkwardness,” and “stand-offish.”

Furthering the idea of “Orientalism” as a virus is the transformation that the image that Asian male sexuality had undergone. At first, Asian men were depicted as sexual characters. However, it now very rare to see Asian men depicted in such a way within the American media. When considering the fact that neither trait holds a positive connotation, it is as if their image underwent no transformation at all. When carefully looking at what happened to the image of Asians, it may seem like one particular set of popularized Asian traits were traded for another. There is one problem: the traded did not do anything significantly good for the image of Asians.

So has the American society taken a step froward, away from the idea of Orientalism? For me, it is hard to even think that the American society, in the terms of the idea of Orientalism, has remained stagnant. I think the fact that many people have come to accept the fact that our society has progressed away from such an idea proves that it has really taken one step back, but what can I say? I’m just an Asian.

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One Response to “Is Orientalism Still Real?”

  1. lenny bruce on: 8 March 2009 at 6:24 am

    There obviously has been significant changes in the asian stereotype in america since the 1930’s. However, there is a huge gulf in the depictions of Asian females and Males. To such extent that there are asian activists trying to empower asian male identity by making XXX movies starring asian males. Whereas asian females do not carry any such stigmata and in some ways are viewed as the epitome of “female” sexuality which is supported by stats on mixed marriages. It is easy to infer that these stereotypes are drive by our white male dominated society, and that subgroups fetishes.

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