Saturday, September 23, 2006

Survivor: Cook Islands - 13x02 "Dire Straights and Dead Weight"

To continue some the thoughts I made in my PopMatters article:

Unsurprisingly, Cook Islands reflects how American society broadly turns its minorities (racial or otherwise) into Others -- i.e. the Puka tribe is Asian (note the singular), as opposed to a diverse group of Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos. More pointedly, the Asian tribe demonstrates how the American minorities have internalized their Otherness -- defined by the dominant ideological culture -- and thus they accept and identify themselves as Other. When Cao Boi asked, "What do you call a Vietnamese guy with three dogs?" Alas, we'll never find out because Jenny told Cao Boi to cut with the Asian jokes (second time in two episodes, for those of you keeping count). Why would Jenny, who is Filipino, object to a joke about the Vietnamese? In all probability, her reaction represents how most American-born Asians view themselves and how they view everyone else descended from the Asian continent -- they're Asian as opposed to Filipino or Vietnamese or Chinese. (To be fair, I'm the same way -- I'm bothered by Western caricatures of Japanese, for instance, even though I'm Chinese.) In American history, a more extreme example of this internalized Otherness is black Americans. They're simply called "black," with little to distinguish someone with Cameroonian ancestry from someone with Ghanaian ancestry (for instance), since the slave trade sought to destroy such distinctions.

Going back to the Asian tribe and specifically Jenny: her reaction shows how people -- especially American-born minorities -- are vulnerable to being defined by mainstream culture (see also Althusser's ideological state apparatus). A Chinese-American child is born, and mainstream cultural ideology says, "You're Asian," and the kid grows up thinking, "I'm Asian." In other words, he falls into a role predefined by mainstream culture.

Update: My point in the context of Cook Islands: Jenny has been brought up thinking "Asian, Asian, Asian," so when she heard Cao Boi's joke, she didn't hear "Vietnamese," she heard "Asian" and took offense.

Not that I mean to suggest that Cao Boi is necessarily critiquing how Asian-Americans lose their own cultural distinctions, since we've already heard him use the catchall "Asian" term on more than one occasion.

Indie rating: Swans - "Helpless Child"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I posted a poll to see how people feel about Survivors Cook Island.  Not a big fan of the theme, and just wanted to know how everyone else feels.

Here is the link: