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Don't Ask Don't Tell (#110 of 11)

Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

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Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture
Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

In 2003, The New York Times published an article entitled “Generation E.A.” which discussed the emergent role of multiracial people in advertising campaigns and concluded by suggesting that they’re an emerging racial category and a stepping-stone key to a race-free future. According to Leilani Nishime, such a notion has become dominant among popular media outlets, which awaits an “inevitable end to race.” For Nishime, these inclinations aren’t only misguided, but a constituent for racial oppression, since “color blindness is not the opposite of racial hierarchies; it is its enabling fiction.” These concerns form the bulk of Nishime’s focus in Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture, an exciting new addition to the canon of critical race studies, which marks the first book-length examination of media images of multiracial Asian Americans.

Nishime’s scope extends across cinema, reality TV, episodic TV drama, advertising campaigns, sports figures, and art installations to offer a comprehensive sense of the representational landscape. Thus, she devotes two chapters to Keanu Reeves, both as a celebrity persona in the 1990s and for his role as Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Within media discussions of both Reeves’s ethnicity and sexuality, Nishime finds that “writers often revert to the queer rhetoric of closeting instead of summoning the racially inflected language of passing to describe Reeves racially.” Nishime overlaps her inquiry with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which took effect in 1994. As such, pressure from media outlets put on Reeves to answer questions concerning both his sexuality and ethnicity became a site of confusion, since underlying institutional norms encourage mixed-race people to “pass” as white, while insisting, with DADT, that sexuality be kept closeted. Nishime does a fantastic job of dethreading the rhetorical complexities inherent to these issues, while concluding with a different, and more important, set of concerns: “Instead of asking whether [Reeves] is embracing or rejecting Asian-ness or queerness or femininity, we can ask what we mean by accommodation and what we can understand as resistance when we are limited by the binary choice either to claim or reject these identities.”

Music Video: The Noice’s “Paparazzi”

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Music Video: The Noice’s “Paparazzi”
Music Video: The Noice’s “Paparazzi”

With Gaga taking some time off from video-making to petition for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (it failed to pass the Senate today. Why do Republicans—and Blanche Lincoln—hate our troops so much?), what better time than now for fans, drag queens, and cineastes to pay tribute or create their own versions of past Gaga hits? That’s exactly what NYC-based creative team The Noice has done with their take on last year’s “Paparazzi”: