4.26.2007

one ragin' asian analyzes another ragin' asian

i can't tell if that title is in bad taste....anyways, you know, i always find it better to wait for a couple of weeks before commenting on any issues. this gives you time to see how people react and in my mind, that's where the real good stuff for analysis comes from. so while this may seem untimely, i assure you, my opinion is better informed than any of those that came out the day after the virginia tech massacre.

before i give you my two cents on the virginia tech thing, i'd like to share a little bit about a presentation that i attended yesterday at school. this is gonna take a while, but it will make sense once i get into my point about the shootings.

troy duster, a well known sociologist came to ucsb and gave a talk on his research on the relationship between science and race. it was really good. no i mean it was really really good. he started off by talking about race-based strategies for dealing with some diseases. for example, it is common knowledge that african americans are at higher risk for a number of diseases such as sickle cell, diabetes, and heart disease. in 2005, the FDA approved the first race-targeted drug, bidil, a drug that has been shown to reduce heart disease in african americans. he said that this is indicative of an orientation towards the cause of the problem being inside the body. that is, there is something about the genetic makeup of african-americans that supposedly makes them for susceptible to heart disease, therefore, the answer is to correct what is inside. to him this sounded suspiciously like other rationales for racism, the idea that there is something inherently different about people of different races that causes them to act the way they do. so he did some digging, and found that drug companies are pouring a lot of money is being poured into research for a race specific drug for diabetes. he then found that of all the industrial nations, that germany has the highest incidence rate of diabetes and nigeria has the lowest rate. as duster nicely summed up, "i rest my case."

for those of you who are slow, he was basically saying that race-based orientation towards curing some diseases is a bunch of hooey. if race was the key factor in the incidence of this disease, then germany, which has one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in the world would have no diabetes, and nigeria, where there are tons of people with much similar genetic makeup to african americans, would be teeming with diabetics. he went on to show how another study showed that within individual countries, the rural or traditional areas had almost no incidence of diabetes while urban areas always had rates of at least ten percent. yet science ignores all of this evidence and proceeds merrily along its more profitable way.

his overall point, was, why, when basically all evidence we have point to external factors in the rates of almost any disease, do we sink so much money into internal cures? specifically ones that target race, when any good scientist would say that the genetic makeup of different races has not been demonstrated to affect probability of getting a disease. think of all the money we have sunk into medical research with almost no real tangible results. heart disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS...we're no closer to curing them then we were twenty years ago. meanwhile, we have pinpointed all of the social factors that go into causing these diseases. and still very little money goes into ameliorating the environmental and social causes of these disease. what makes this even goofier is that we actually have much more control over things like the environment and social conditions, yet we still look to a decidedly unobjective and decidedly more expensive science to solve our problems (for an especially good account of these issues play out in the world of cancer research, i will refer you to an article by barbara ehrenriech about her research on and experiences with breast cancer treatment). of course, this all is due to the fact that the internal research is more closely to what we define as "science", and the external is not. which obviously means that reliance on science to cure social problems and medical problems is a risky proposition, even by science's own standards.

anyways, there's been a lot of interesting takes on the fact that the shooter at virginia tech was korean. i.e. pop licks has keyed on to the fact that the press seemed keep calling cho a "korean national" despite the fact that he was basically raised an american. however, what i've sen the most of is pieces written by asians or koreans worrying about the coming backlash towards them. i.e. this editorial in the LA times by Ed Chang, professor of ethnic studies at UC-Riverside. i've also received several email forwards on the subject. but what really put it all together for me was reading an article in the crappy UCSB student newspaper, the daily nexus. again, it was a story on the fear of backlash towards the asian student population, and a quote from this story actually sums up all of these types of responses well:
The reactions Asians are having toward the shootings is that Cho was mentally ill, but non-Asians might bring into account Cho’s nationality.
and another quote
Altough Cho had a long history of mental illness when he commited his crime, members of the Asian-American community fear that the focus on his nationality - rather then his mental illness - will cause a public backlash against Asian Americans.
so after all that buildup, here is my point. i think that it is ok to spend a good amount of discussion about how his race and ethnicity played into cho's decision to kill these people. i liken the attempt by some asian groups to shift the focus to mental illness to the overall focus on solving medical problems on internal causes. was cho probably a little chemically imbalanced? of course he was, but there are plenty of chemically unbalanced kids in colleges and none of them went apeshit with guns. where i see race coming into play is cho's extreme sense of alienation. and from my own experience and the experience of many other asian males, and many other asian females, and many other people of color, i can say with great confidence that race plays a big factor in this alienation. and with that in mind, my question is why has it taken this long for something like this to happen?

so the external conditions, him being an alienated asian kid, combined with an internal condition, he being cuckoo, along with a host of other factors, i.e. he had a gun, he had a video camera, etc. all resulted in the single worst shooting spree in US history. which brings up another point that duster brought up. even within science, research for complex interactions are not well funded. what people want out of science are simple answers. this even carries over into my own training as a quantitative social scientist. in statistics, the goal is always the most parsimonious model (the model with the fewest variables). granted, the mainstream news media and their type of dumbed down/made to fit between commercials type of analysis only exacerbates the problem. but it seems clear to me at least, that the virginia tech massacre is the result of an extremely complex interaction between social, biological, and historical factors.

obviously, i agree with most of the asian critics who say we should not attribute this to race. to say that he did this because koreans are crazy is abundantly racist and stupid. and i understand that the threat of backlash towards the korean and the asian community is a real one.

however, to call for people not to talk about race, as if talking about race only involves racist talk, is the color blind discourse, which as i've gone over before, is racist itself. we can talk about race, and how racism may have contributed to cho's sense of isolation, can't we? to pretend that he wasn't korean, and that his experience as a korean american did not somehow play a role, is to bury one's head in the sand. i, and many others believe that in this country race plays a profound role in both determining and generating who you are. so i don't think it is at all inappropriate to bring up the question of race. while i understand where most of these asians that i have been reading are coming, i think that they are overreacting to say that people should not focus on race. because most likely, race probably played an important role.

4.19.2007

quick hits grab bag

howdy kids, sorry about that last post. i was in a pissy mood and i hate that i don't have more time to devote to this here blog. anyways, i've got more to post about the virginia tech thing, but i thought that i'd try to cleanse the palette with something i should try to do more regularly, let's everybody grab a spoon and let's dig into a big steaming bowl of quick hits!

1) the ncaa bans text messaging in recruiting. it's nice to see that the folks with the NCAA are keeping up with the times. i'm glad they they closed this loophole as i'm sure all of the coaches were exploiting this loophole. i just wish someone would ask a coach about violating the spirit of the recruiting rules. cuz like i said, if they were all doing it, which they were, then all of the coaches are a bunch of big douchebags. next up for the NCAA, cracking down on coaches passing notes to recruits in class.

2) more jurisprudence! the supreme court, after turning back the clock on women's reproductive rights, is now taking time to review a case where a private school sent letters to prospective grade schoolers. the local high school athletic association ruled this as illegal recruiting and fined and sanctioned the school. the school argued that their freedom of speech was being violated. what a bunch of, say it with me folks, douchebags. on a strange note, the court seems to be leaning towards ruling against the private school, with the support of the white house. so it's ok to force women to have babies but it's not ok for private schools to poach public school football talent. i don't understand.

3) our long national nightmare has ended. farewell ethnic/gender ambiguous indian songstress. good luck with your drag queen career. actually the funny thing is that the joke is on us, because as soon as all this is done, sanjaya is going to be riiii-ech biiii-etch!

4) this just in, the supreme court can't stop, it won't stop. it has recently ruled on when the state of michigan will hold it's girls' volleyball season. the genesis of the case was that the michigan high school sports association changed the girls' volleyball season to winter to match up with other states. their rationale was it would assist with athletes who are being recruited into college. some schools sued under title IX saying that moving the season would result in fewer girls playing volleyball since many other women's sports were being played at the same time. i have nothing to say except this is one of those rare cases where local interests and the true spirit of sports won out over college and financial interests. i tell you, ever since sandy o' connor retired, i just don't know what to expect from that wacky supreme court.

5) bono and the edge to write music for spiderman the musical?! ummm...let's just say that i'm not real happy about this.
am i buggin' you?

Ok campers, that's all i got for now. i'm headed to vegas this weekend. when i get back, i promise, we're gonna break down the virginia tech thing in great great detail. that is, if i don't win the wheel of fortune jackpot in vegas, in which case, see you a-holes in hell!

4.16.2007

not going anywhere

i got to be honest with you guys...i got pretty close to shutting this thing down. i just get tired of feeling guilty for not having the time to comment on every relevant sports or pop culture thing. to be honest, a lot of what i write is much better written by other popular mainstream blogs, but this whole viriginia tech thing may buy you o faithful blog reader just a little more time with me.

so i'm watching cnn today, and like everyone else, i'm trying to figure out what the FUCK is going on in blacksburg. they bring on some experts to provide some commentary and context to what is going on and one of the experts is a gun control advocate. now just to be clear, i'm all for reducing the number of guns to people. if that takes laws, then i say pass em, and let's put gun companies out of business. anyways, the anchor asks the gun control guy this question: "would stricter gun laws saved lives today?" are you effin kidding me? how is this question helpful in understanding what happened today. i am instantly infuriated. but then the gun control guy, without hesitation says, "i think it's clear that is the case." i now want to unload an uzi into the anchor and gun control guy.

call me crazy, but i think that gun control is not the problem here. shouldn't the question be, how did we as a modernized civil society, allow one guy to get to the point where he thought his only option was to go in and kill as many people as he could as fast as he could. again, i'm not saying that guns didn't have anything to do with anything, but the whole logic behind saying that a different gun law would have prevented this seems so obtuse to me.

i don't know how well i'm communicating my point, but what i'm trying to say is that we watch the news and when something like this happens, it should give us all pause and make us really reflect about where the hell did we go wrong and how do we make it so that we can get better. but all i see is pointing fingers and things getting worse. and worst of all, i see the reaction and the measures taken to be the exact opposite of fruitful dialog or action.

take don imus for example. isn't it transparent that don imus' firing had nothing to do with showing people that such racist attitudes won't be tolerated and more with networks not wanting to lose advertising dollars? i mean shouldn't we still be boycotting these outlets for letting imus say much worse up to this point. what about howard stern, who uses the n-word all the time...where are the calls for boycotts against xm or sirius? why don't these people go after rush limbaugh or bill o'reilly who have also said much worse. and why didn't these people work with imus, who in my opinion seemed genuinely contrite and went so far as to go and talk to the rutgers women's basketball team and apologize in person. again, i happy that imus got fired, he needed to, but saying that finally getting him off the air is a sign of progress is ignorant. it is the opposite. the fact that he got fired a week after he made the comments means that no one really cares what anyone thinks, as long as money is still rolling in.

it just seems to me that reaction to the media events or horrible things like the tragedy in blacksburg has nothing to do with really trying to change things. i know this sounds like a rant, but i think it's been a bad few weeks for the media and for the country. i was already in a bad mood about how the imus situation was playing out in both real life and in the media, and then i saw that cnn clip today and i felt like i had to write something. stuff like the tragedy at virginia tech should shock us and make us feel bad about the world, and want to work to change it. but that is not what i see. i see people pretending to be shocked and pretending to feel bad, but in reality, all they are really doing over and over again are asking, "what about me?" and as long as people ask that question, this blog will be here to call these d-bags out on it.

4.06.2007

sanjaya roundup

hello blog denizens. i apolgize for the lack of posts recently, between the end of another academic quarter, spring break, and the beginning of another academic quarter, i've been a little busy. and of course, lazy. i've finally advanced to candidacy in my PhD program, so don't forget to vote for me, now that i'm a candidate. that's such a bad joke, but i've been shoe-horning it in whenever i can. i also had a birthday, so thanks to all who participated in the festivities, which is basically no one. anyways, i contemplated ending this blog madness once and for all by taking an indefinite hiatus. not that anyone really reads this blog, but sometimes i get tired of feeling guilty for not commenting on the interesting sports and pop culture news from a sociological perspective. but there's a certain off-tune south-asian crazily-coiffed subject out there that needs commenting on.

by now, it is basically impossible to read any thing pop culture related without reading about how sanjaya malakar, the worst american idol finalist in years, has taken the country by storm. and much has been written trying to explain sanjaya-mania in terms of a broader cultural zeitgeist. how does someone sooooooo very bad at singing become a pop culture phenomenon? i'll summarize other people's arguments and then present another viewpoint.

1) alex blagg at best week ever ponders the revolutionary power of sanjaya:
...we sincerely HATE Idol, and thus want to see it fail. Sanjaya winning the competition - an unlikely scenario that inches closer and closer towards probability by the minute - would be the arrow through Idol’s Achilles Heel, destroying the legitimacy and relevance of the competition - the lynchpins on which the whole show is held together - by exploiting its democratic nature to expose it’s inherent fraudulence. If Sanjaya can win (even though he doesn’t deserve to), just because a bunch of people who don’t sincerely care about the outcome of the competition think it would be funny if he did, why should anyone bother caring about who else has won, or will win in the future?
this echoes a sentiment that my former pop life (most popular pop culture talk radio show in santa barbara area in the early aughts) co-host JP related last weekend. basically, american idol has been a complete pop culture juggernaut for the last six years. it has laid waste to two mediums, television and music, destroying anything in its path. and this is the slingshot that can bring it down. if sanjaya wins, the show becomes meaningless as an arbiter of american tastes. and while i'm hopeful that this is the case, i'm not sure i'm entirely convinced that america will come to its senses and stop watching idol. let's not forget, sometimes idol can be really entertaining television. i've never bought an album by one of the american idol contestants (and lord knows that there are enough of them out there), but i still watch cuz 1) it's fun to watch people fail and 2) who doesn't like to hear really good singers sing...and there have been plenty of legitimately talented singers on the show.

2) oliver wang at pop licks, not surprisingly, explores the race angle, and what it means to asians and the perception of asians in pop culture:
When Paul Kim became a finalist on this season's American Idol, it set off a light bulb for a NY Times writer to probe the question of why Asian Americans are missing from the pop music field. That story became "Trying to Crack the Hot 100" which appeared at the beginning of March (you can read it here). Several days later, WYNC's Soundcheck followed up with their own take on the story: "When East Doesn't Meet West". Once again, Paul Kim was the "hook."

What is striking about both stories is that by the time they ran/aired, Paul Kim was already voted off Idol and this actually served to "prove" the point of both stories - Asian Americans can't get a break. Without debating that claim - it's true enough - what I found striking...and a little perturbing...is that neither made mention of the fact that even though Kim was gone, there were still two other Asian Americans amongst the finalists: AJ (who is mixed Filipino/Chinese/etc.) and of course...the South Asian wunderkind Sanjaya...for whom "flexibility" would be an understatement in the many ways his racial "passing" allows him to occupy multiple social spaces at once.
again, while i agree with the overall gist that people simplify race and it affects the kind of pop culture that is produced, i don't necessarily think that you can classify sanjaya as asian. while i know that as a person of indian descent, that technically makes him an asian, i don't think that when most people hear the word "asian" they think of someone who looks like sanjaya. they think of someone who looks like me, or like jackie chan. perhaps it is a failing using a continental label like "asian", but i find it curious that i should find some solidarity with sanjaya when his ethnic experience is not nearly the same as a vietnamese person as it would be with a korean or chinese person. after all, it's not like canadians and mexicans all identify under the label "north-american".

3) ann powers in the la times considers sanjaya's popularity in terms of his similarities to other teen idols, particularly in how sanjaya is actually a gigantic wuss.
Tween and teen stars appeal to girls just beginning to explore their sexuality; their fantasies gravitate toward the familiar. Familiar is female. Sanjaya's awkward stance and undaunted prettiness are sweetly girlish; where the other male contestants lamely swagger, he poses and smiles.
as much as i have professed to hating ann powers, i find that in my old age, i like her writing more and more, and i think she has a point here. little girls prefer non-threatening males. it is only later on in life that they seem to be attracted to macho a-holes. however, to equate sanjaya to andy gibb and pete wentz seems like a stretch. to say that his ethnicity doesn't affect how people perceive him is something that predictably, i don't think is possible.

4) zach braff weighs in on sanjaya, in a way that only gigantic d-bags like zach braff can. it makes me not want to have anything to do with sanjaya.

i wanted to propose one more viewpoint that is endorsed by my roommate and fellow blogger, erik love. he thinks that all this talk about sanjaya's social significance is completely contrived by the producers of american idol. he thinks that the producers realize how polarizing someone like sanjaya can be, and that the controversy can only increase attention to the show, which has taken a slight dip in ratings. sanjaya is the train wreck that we can't take our eyes off of, but in the big picture, there's no way that they'll let sanjaya win. even if he gets more votes, when it comes down to determining who will go on to represent american idol in record contracts and future shows, the better singer will advance so that the producers can say, "see, american idol does work and the more talented person beat the sideshow". this makes a certain amount of sense as well. after all, there have been many reports in seasons past of voting irregularities. and like all game shows or reality-type shows, we know that everything we see is very produced. while we know that people actually do solve puzzles and win money, you know that someone controls the wheel on wheel of fortune and when someone wins too much money, they just happen to spin "bankrupt". same goes for idol.

as much as i want to believe that something like idol will implode upon itself, i have to admit that erik's scenario makes the most sense. which scenario is more likely? scenario 1 - the producers of idol are manipulating the public and generating ratings for their show via the spectacle of sanjaya. or scenario 2 - ironic hipsters who hate idol will get off of their collective apathetic asses and vote for sanjaya en masse and cause the normal idol watching demographic to question the authenticity of pop culture institutions like american idol. yeah, if i were in vegas, i'd definitely bet on scenario 1.