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Time Magazine named "You" person of the year. For the Asian and Asian American communities though, YouTube put the emphasis on "Us." APA looks at the video clips that defined the year in self-portraiture and self reflection.
Once the little site that could, YouTube became a reliable go-to resource for all things pop culture in 2006, facilitating the rise of quite a few questionable insta-celebrities. VH1 even produced a show called "Web Junk 20" featuring 20 fascinating web clips per episode, with running commentary from current host and SNL alum Jim Breuer. Rather than Cowell-izing any celebrity hopefuls, YouTube proceeded to help all of us use up our allotted fifteen minutes of fame. For the first time in publication history, Time Magazine placed a mirror on the cover of their annual Person of the Year issue to acknowledge the impact we've made on each other exactly for the proliferation of user-dependent sites like YouTube and Wikipedia.
Some are funny; some are serious; some are creepy; some are just plain ridiculous. You may love them or hate them, but what sets web clips apart from all other media is its potentially democratizing effect. With the advent of web clips, the troublesome intermediary of mainstream media is cut out, essentially revolutionizing how we express and understand ourselves. Particularly for Asians and Asian Americans, web clips have shown different facets of the community, composing a wider range than what the mainstream is used to seeing from Asians and Asian Americans. In a few clicks, the average user can see that Asians and Asian-Americans can be funny, serious, creepy, or ridiculous -- effectively producing, rather than arguing for, representation.
Here, YouTube shows how the Internet has paved roads across nationalities and provided access to otherwise unknown pockets of unique cultural developments. Hip-hop enthusiasts often debate the concept of authenticity and who or what defines it. Young Qingdao rapper Sha Zhou shows the versatility and malleability of hip-hop as a form of expression by interpreting what he has learned from American rappers through a use of Qingdao-isms in his lyrics and delivery. While admitting to listening to Backstreet Boys does diminish his credibility somewhat, at least he adheres to the first rule of hip-hop: to keep it real. He reminds us why hip-hop can be an antidote for all things stagnant.
Who says eccentricity is a Japanese characteristic? Unlike Lost in Translation, this clip shows that Japanese humor isn't completely, well, lost in translation. The oft-violent humor of these comedians places them in a classroom setting where the aim is to avoid laughing as it invariably leads to a serious thrashing from unidentified men wielding long wooden sticks. The pinnacle of this clip is when the countdown on the video begins -- the deceptively innocent befuddlement of the featured English "teacher" and his innovative solution to his linguistic roadblock are too much for anyone to bear. Brazilian imitations are evidence that "Gaki no Tsukai" has made the world that much smaller.
With some 5,172,504 views and counting, this clip proves translations are not needed to understand the hilarity of two teenage girls imitating the sometimes-exaggerated motions and facial expressions of a female pop duo. One small step for funny Korean girls, one giant leap away from stereotypes of Asian females as passive, quiet, and unengaging.
This clip of two Chinese boys lip-synching to the Backstreet Boys's "That Way" is my first foray into YouTube. It became one of those e-mail forwards that repeated unto itself as friends and friends of friends were compelled to share it. It even caught the attention of Slate writer Sam Anderson. What puts the proverbial cherry on top is the third guy sitting with his back against them, innocuously typing away at his computer.
Directed by UC San Diego students, this clip spread quickly amongst young Asian Americans. Whether you agree/disagree, love/hate it, few have watched it without some strong reaction, demonstrating its efficacy in pushing the sociopolitical buttons that may have grown rusty from lack of use. For a long time, the issue of interethnic dating, particularly the frequently bemoaned Caucasian male-Asian female couple, has experienced cycles of discovery and neglect -- popping in and out of Asian-American discourse as each generation comes up with said observation. Thankfully, it's now unwrapped for all to discuss.
The performances are rather egregious. But, like its aforementioned brethren in crime, it has generated a lot of comments about the allegedly Asian parental definition of success.
The interesting thing about this clip of a little boy quizzed presumably by his father is not his cuteness or impressive memory, but the heated comments it has generated. Viewers argue back and forth over why he should or should not know the capitals, based on ideas of Americanness, international politics, and even whether he is suffering from abuse. If you watch the clip, however, there is no sign of abuse; in fact, his father commends him for a job well done in the end. As arguable as it is, in the end, rote memorization is not a form of abuse, just a different way of learning.
This is a Eric Byler-directed commercial featuring Lost star Daniel Dae Kim, who urges Virginia's Asian American community to throw their support behind Democratic congressional candidate Jim Webb. In pre-YouTube days, those of us who live outside of Virginia state borders would not have been able to see Kim advocate against Steve Allen. Now, for the first time, the community extends from East to West Coast.
[Note: Contains graphic and offensive language which may not be suitable for children.]
The clip is a testament to the immediacy of YouTube. Shortly after reaching the public, the footage made the so-called Bus Uncle into an overnight media sensation. In addition to a large YouTube following, he even has a Wikipedia entry, personifying the very impact of the user-driven sites recognized by Time.
For more information: see EastWestNorthSouth blog
For budding filmmakers, YouTube renders distribution issues a little less daunting. For viewers, it means access to voices previously muted by corporate agendas. Karen Lum's short film conveys the progressive, slam-poetic culture of the Bay Area. It shows Asian Americans practicing a different and, ultimately, more powerful form of activism: rhythmically speaking your mind on sociocultural issues in an intimate authentic-to-yourself way. Whoever decried this generation of apathy has never heard an Asian-American slam poet deftly deride in stylish staccato spurts.
Bobby Lee of Mad TV fame and Sung Kang perform an off-the-top spoof of Korean soap operas that nicely displays two interesting trends in the community: 1) a bridge between Asians and Asian-Americans; and 2) the universal elements in humor. As shown in some of the other clips above, there is an increasing accessibility of seemingly unrelateable cultures. The spoof works because of the purposely ridiculous subtitles, Bobby and Sung's American accents, and evidently some hilariously nonsensical Korean. For anyone who is a big fan of Korean soap operas, this may come across as a tad offensive. Many comments from K-drama fans, however, seem to indicate that there is some truth to the spoof. The age-old adage does point out that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- even if it is from a comedian who puts Elvis's bouffant to shame.
Kinda creepy, kinda hilarious -- the viewer responses have ranged from one extreme to the other. As he entertains screen legend Rajnikanth and company though, the dancer mesmerizes you along the way with the precision and enthusiasm he shows in breaking things down at flicks of the on/off switch. Contrary to initial reactions, he is not a child. His dance is the dance of an adult fully aware of his dazzle. For that, the Youtube community has fully embraced him with users generating their own remixes:
No matter if you find it on this side of creepy or on this side of hilarious, one realization is universal: rhythm knows no ethnic lines.
Date Posted: 1/12/2007