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Undercover Asian

Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Undercover Asian
    Book Description:

    In this first book-length study of media images of multiracial Asian Americans, Leilani Nishime traces the codes that alternatively enable and prevent audiences from recognizing the multiracial status of Asian Americans. Nishime's perceptive readings of popular media--movies, television shows, magazine articles, and artwork--indicate how and why the viewing public often fails to identify multiracial Asian Americans. Using actor Keanu Reeves, the Matrix trilogy, and golfer Tiger Woods as examples, Nishime suggests that this failure is tied to gender, sexuality, and post-racial politics. Also considering alternative images such as reality TV star Kimora Lee Simmons, the television show Battlestar Galactica, and the artwork of Kip Fulbeck, this incisive study offers nuanced interpretations that open the door to a new and productive understanding of race in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09534-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE. Why Are You? Multiracial Asian Americans and the Question of Visibility
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Multiracial Asian Americans and the Myth of the Mulatto Millennium
    (pp. 1-18)

    In tracing the history and continued significance of multiracial representations, this book challenges a dominant U.S. cultural narrative. That narrative imagines multiracial people as symbols of the declining significance of race.¹ In order to promise a race-free future, we must perceive multiracial people as an unprecedented social development. Much of the popular, political, and academic discourse positions multiracial people at the fulcrum of shifting racial demographics. The oft-cited 1993Timecover story, which showcased a woman computer-morphed from photographs of people of different races, was, after all, titled “The New Face of America.”²

    In the years following theTimecover,...


    • CHAPTER 2 Queer Keanu: The Politics of Bad Acting in the Era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
      (pp. 21-40)

      Early in Keanu Reeves’s career,Vanity Fairpublished an article titled “Kabuki Keanu,” but the short blurb accompanying the image offered little insight or information about either Reeves or his career. The magazine clearly meant to showcase the startling image that covered almost the entire page.

      The black and white photo shows Reeves in white pancake makeup and dark lipstick and blush, using both hands to pile his hair on the top of his head. The accompanying paragraph does not refer directly to Reeves’s ethnicity but starts with the line, “Face it: the Japanese have brought only a cosmetic change...

    • CHAPTER 3 Tiger Woods and the Perils of Colorblind Celebrity
      (pp. 41-62)

      For many, Tiger Woods—undoubtedly the single most famous multiracial African/Asian American in the world—symbolizes multiraciality. He is both the singular and prototypical multiracial Asian. The narrative of his celebrity (before the scandal of his extramarital affairs) depended on his difference from everyone else, melding a worshipful admiration of his exceptional athleticism with his racial exceptionalism. Yet as contradictory as it may seem, it is this very discourse of exceptionalism thattypifiesso much of our public conversation about multiracial people. Rather than seeing Woods as a particular case with little to say about race generally, we can paradoxically...

    • CHAPTER 4 Aliens: The Interracial Family in Battlestar Galactica
      (pp. 63-82)

      As the last two chapters have shown, the spectacle of multiracial celebrity provides a prominent site for audiences to explore and often willfully ignore the histories and meanings of race in the United States. However, fictional narratives focused primarily on multiracial people are few and far between in story-driven visual culture such as television and film. When multiracial characters appear, they are often peripheral to the plot or are the surprise twist at the end of the movie, as inDevil in the Blue DressandThe Human Stain. They appear even less frequently on the small screen. While multiracial...


    • CHAPTER 5 The Matrix Trilogy and Multiraciality at the End of Time
      (pp. 85-106)

      This book opened with Keanu Reeves as a symbol par excellence of the flexibility of Asian racialization in visual culture, a flexibility that enables mainstream media narratives to represent racial categories as irrelevant while still punishing those who would not adhere to racial hierarchies. The three case studies analyzed in the first half of this book all document the role of visual representations in racialization despite the continued disavowal of meaningful racial distinctions on the part of media producers and consumers alike. Reeves again takes center stage in this chapter, but this time his appearance marks a shift in the...

    • CHAPTER 6 Camp Kimora
      (pp. 107-132)

      A vivid example of both the appeal and the challenges of multiracial visibility within commercial culture occurred in the first season of Kimora Lee Simmons’s reality television showLife in the Fab Lane. In the words of the promotional ads, Simmons, who is African American and Asian American, is “a model, mogul, and mother.” The former wife of hip-hop legend Russell Simmons and a celebrity famous for being famous, her success as a clothing designer capitalizes on her hypervisibility. In an early episode, the audience learns that Simmons has been negotiating with Mattel to create a Barbie doll in her...

    • CHAPTER 7 Seeing Multiracial
      (pp. 133-160)

      In 2006, Kip Fulbeck published a book of photographs titledPart Asian, 100% Hapa.¹ The images were taken from his larger art piece titledThe Hapa Project, for which Fulbeck traveled across the country photographing and speaking to people who self-identified as multiracial Asian/Pacific Americans.² It has since become one of the most widely viewed examples of visual culture expressly committed to depicting multiracial Asian Americans. As of 2011, the exhibit had traveled from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to New York, North Carolina, Chicago, and Portland, and Fulbeck has spoken about his work on CNN and...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 161-194)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-238)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-242)