Bao Phi

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. Read more about Bao Phi.

Seeing the yellow side of "Moon"

Posted by: Bao Phi under Politics Updated: February 22, 2010 - 3:15 PM

*Note:  I will attempt to make this blog entry as spoiler-free as possible*

 

As someone who ‘outed’ himself as a sci-fi geek in my last entry, I guess I can tell you I finally got the opportunity to see Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and directed by Duncan Jones.  It was, for the most part, a fantastic experience: here was a well-written and well-made sci-fi film about characters and ideas!  Mostly concerned with the day-to-day life of a lone worker on a mining station on the dark side of the moon, it was thought-provoking and fascinating to watch.


And yet, I was surprised to find a familiar unsettled feeling seep into me as I noted the word “Sarang” written in both Romanized script and Korean characters all over the moon station’s walls (evidently the director was dating a Korean woman, and also thought since Korean had an advanced robotics program, it was believable that Korea would be invested in this future tech).

 

Without giving too much away, I was disappointed that this otherwise excellent film was marred by a very familiar racism – this neo-yellow peril in which the anxiety of white men foreseeing a future where Asian countries rise as superpowers to oppress them manifest.  This is not, of course, a racism that the filmmakers of Moon created, they’re just reinforcing it.  Yellow peril, like all forms of racism, has a long and storied tradition in this country, and it morphs with time.  The new Ming the Merciless is a generic Asian man in a power suit, like the nameless boss of the corporation that oversees Sam Rockwell’s hapless lonely worker on the moon base.

 

There is this idea that Asian cultures are fantastically intelligent, great imitators, and technologically advanced, but lack soul.  This racist belief is more widespread than you think.  Doubt it?  Just watch the Winter Olympics and count how many times the white Western commentators point out that an Asian athlete is technically flawless but lacks passion, personality, ‘pizzazz’, or any number of words that signify soul or heart.

 

In Moon, Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell works for a Korean-based company that mines Helium-3, for the most part working by himself and a computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).  Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but Sam slowly unravels the mysteries of the moon station, and there’s this idea that this Korean based company is in possession of some fantastic technology – and what they’re doing with it suggests that they are heartless.  It takes the soul of a lone (white) man to create change.

 

The film is not anti-technology, but it is definitely anti-corporate.  So I don’t think the filmmakers can believably claim that the film is not political.  But if the film can see class, specifically white working class anxieties about globalization, then why can’t they see the racism against Asian men imbedded in their message?

 

Doubtless, many white men are tired of being seen as the villain, and are thankful that racist stereotypes and colonization allow Asian men to be the face of evil.    Yellow peril, in the past and in this film, represents this anxiety, this fear that white working class men will actually be the oppressed ones in the future, at the mercy of their cold, intelligent Asian male overlords.  Even a thought-provoking and critical work such as the comic series Y: the Last Man contains elements of this.  No surprise to us Asians who pay attention.

 

I’ve heard many white men who complain that they have lived in Asia and therefore know what it’s like to be an oppressed minority.  They usually say this right before they tell stories of how they were living at an economic class far above what they would enjoy in their homeland, how they had more dating opportunities than they did where they came from.  They say this as if they’re so privileged that they can’t see their own privileges gained from being white in another country.  They don’t see how, because of colonization and the power and allure of American money and culture, they are seen and prized as symbols of progress, liberation, and wealth to many Asians, counter to Asian men who are seen as representations of cold science, centuries of patriarchy, and the repression of individual over the collective.  They either don’t see it, or enjoy it too much.

 

Does this mean that Asians can’t be oppressive?  Unfortunately, no.  Colonialism and certain brands of nationalism have devastated the lives of people all over the world, regardless of race.  What is fascinating is this idea that class trumps race when it comes to white people and Asian people, without any understanding of colonization and how deep it goes. 

 

I hear some of your sighs, dear readers, though I doubt that those of you who have already made it up in your head that I am playing the race card or making something out of nothing have made it this far in my little essay.  Consider this – of all the critical praised lavished on this humble and perhaps commercially underappreciated film, did any of the reviewers, whether professional or hipster, mainstream or alternative – even mention race and Asian people in their reviews?  So then should I, on my own blog, then be defensive and justify why I think race matters, as it concerns Asian people?  Should I just be the good Asian friend to you and say, it’s not a big deal?  I’m Asian and I say it’s not racist, so it’s okay? 

 

There are plenty of other essays out there about Moon that pretend, as the majority of press in America does, that racism and yellow peril don’t matter.  Take your pick.

 

But for those of us who dare question the things we love, even when it’d be easier not to?  Thanks as usual for your time.  I also want to thank people who have been so gracious with their time and energy, sending me emails re: critiques and  cross-posting my entries.  I have been learning and thinking a lot and thank you for the correspondence – geeks of color onward!

 

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