Hierarchy of Culture

The film, Better Luck Tomorrow, as a cultural production, encompasses many different elements of the hierarchy of culture. Instead of belonging to one tier of the hierarchy, there are many aspects of the film that reveal its grassroots identity as well as its appeal to mass and “high” culture, showcasing the film’s diverse nature. The film also focuses on Asian American male masculinity and how the characters defend their manhood.

The movie was produced in 2002 by Justin Lin. It is about a group of Asian American teenagers who become bored with their lives and end up getting involved with crime and eventually murder. The main character, Ben, is a stereotypical overachieving Asian-American student who excels in school and stresses about getting into an Ivy League University. He has a close group of friends that showcase the different stereotypical ideals of Asian Americans.

The film can be considered a Grassroots cultural production, which is the lowest tier on the hierarchy, due to its unique nature. The film is an alternative to dominant media content due to its Asian American cast and production crew. The majority of the cast is Asian American males and has Asian American producers and an Asian American director. In 2002 and even today, it is very unlikely for a movie or film to have a majority Asian American cast. In today’s culture, it is more likely for a production to have one Asian American character portraying the stereotypical Asian roles. The film is also an independent film and is a way for the Asian minority group to tell their own stories by mocking mass culture through the representation of stereotypes. Instead of using stereotypes to appeal to a wider audience, stereotypes are used in Grassroots culture in order to depict the underlying issues that Asian Americans face.

The film can also be categorized as mass culture, which is a tier higher on the cultural hierarchy, due to the appeal to its audience. Mass culture productions are also produced for profit and convey dominant ideologies. In this case, it is the stereotypical portrayal of Asian American males. There are a variety of stereotypes portrayed through the different characters. For example, Ben is considered the smart and studious nerd while Han can be seen as the gangster through his role as the older cousin. Stephanie, the only female in the group, is depicted as an intelligent female but then transitions into a prostitute representation, becoming sexualized when she catches the interest of Ben. These stereotypical depictions are the norm for Asian American characters, especially in American-produced films. The film can also be seen as mass culture because it is directed by Justin Lin, who has become a well-known director after his work with the film. He is responsible for three movies from the Fast & Furious series, which is an extremely successful series that has garnered worldwide recognition. The film was acquired by MTV Films, with much of the funding provided by MC Hammer, further emphasizing its for-profit intentions.

The film can also be seen as “high” aesthetic culture, which is the top of the cultural hierarchy, due to the analysis beyond the actual film. The film gains institutional recognition because it is studied and analyzed in University level classrooms. For example, I have also watched and analyzed the film in another class while attending the University of Maryland. The film has had a great impact on Asian American studies, enabling students to critique and analyze the film from an analytical standpoint. There are many different elements in the film, which is why it is so popular to study and analyze, especially for Asian Americans. The film focuses on manhood and masculinity, evident through the characters and the interactions between them. More specifically, it emphasizes straitjacket sexuality and the idea of being macho versus being lack with the idea that males get hurt when someone insults their manhood. This is evident through the character, Virgil, who acts recklessly in order to defend his manhood. For example, when the group goes to Las Vegas, they hire a prostitute and the group proceeds to have sex with her. Virgil is a virgin and when it is his turn with the prostitute, he pulls out a gun and scares her away. After the incident, Han criticizes Virgil for his actions, which triggers Virgil to point the gun at Han. Virgil uses the gun as a tool to defend and strengthen his masculinity since he is incapable of being masculine and dominant without it. The film’s emphasis on gender and sexuality as well as the stereotypical norms makes it a popular film for Asian American studies.


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