A Platform of Agency: YouTube and Asian-American

YouTube successfully provides Asian-Americans with a platform to success. This intimate, yet powerful medium, grants a global audience to any member of the audience to express themselves with copious agency, provided they don’t violate YouTube’s content restrictions, which for the most part are precautions on explicit content and copyright infringement.  This unlimited opportunity of the freedom to create content is resonant with universal dreams of stardom, a stairway to the heavens only reserved for the elite few who can make it, or be constructed into a medium to be sold to the masses by an impenetrable industry, until now.

This platform has given Asian-Americans the voice to propagate their identities and views across the world and within context to music it can be a powerful tool for deconstruct existing notions of foreign in the individual. Both David Choi and Aj Rafeal create likeable, dignified and the most important, relatable characters in their music videos, giving off this charisma that makes them seem to be just like the audience, with the same emotional turmoil and experiences that the audience can interpret into their own past. By doing this, they are removed from being the Asian on screen attempting to forge a place in a polarizing white/black dominated industry to that of the representative of the individual and the experience of life. They make themselves as relatable stars through universal lyrics and themes that can move any person with or without Asian heritage, such as loss and love. Not only this, but both stars use additional content to further mould themselves as ordinary individuals by giving vlog-style videos and covers of other songs in their private rooms or homes. The YouTube effect is what makes them become de-celebritized for lack of a better term, giving ‘grainy imagery, imperfect vocals and out of sync audio’ [Grace Wang p102] as the method of content to appeal to the heart of YouTube and its intention as a medium to spread individuals content on a global platform. It is this personal touch that has not just exploded their careers as artists, but is what gives them the opportunity to link together the Asian with the familiar, and thus decrease the distance from being labelled as foreign.

http://youtu.be/zgselUm89YA [Aj Rafeal – We Could Happen]

By also shying away from a focus of Asian-ness, the stars craft a schematic to break beyond the stereotypes expected from them in their videos. In fact, Choi utilises stereotypes of Asians to parody their existence to add appeal to the public viewing his content. In ‘Thinking About You’, Choi dresses up as other men who seem to win the heart of a girl in an attempt to win her himself, failing each time until he is himself and she swoons his way on a beach with his instrument. A lovely concept of two individuals destined to be together that can be shown as universal in being true to yourself is the only way of gaining your desires if they are supposed to be, perhaps, but simultaneous to the emotional message, the outfits Choi uses can be seen to be parodying constructs of Asian-Americans. With the business suit and dress signifying expectations that Asians work hard and fit the model minority construct, or the photographer implying the touristic, otherness is always on show, Choi mocks how these concepts are both real in examples of the competition for the girl, but equally how ridiculous it is for him to forge himself as these when they do not represent him or his life.

http://youtu.be/XJoi-xf7rjs [David Choi – Thinking About You]

choi 1 choi 2 choi 3

Both Rafeal and Choi use a faceless figure in their tales of loss, which opposes the assumption of castration in Asian males as given the ‘victor’ is not shown, there is no connotation to race to be certain of, thereby, making the feelings more evident as an experience of life, as opposed to being because of their Asian-ness. Not only this, but by having them once be in a position of desirability from a woman they loved, they are also augmenting the concept of Asian men to be undesirable, giving them agency to write about loss of love and relatability to the audience, as opposed to being excluded because of their heritage.

http://youtu.be/jUMe_1oL8tg [Aj Rafeal – Juice Box]

http://youtu.be/qDTKAHk_T5k [David Choi – That Girl]

Through this course, we have seen evidence of Asian-Americans taking advantage of their expectations, from using their appearance as a signifier to providing authenticity in food, their intellect for working behind the eyes of the law and surpassing stereotypes of lack in Better Luck Tomorrow, and in more contemporary times, the re-characterizing of the Asian individual through the lens of the normal. That is to say the Asian-American has been normalized and shown to be more assimilated to the nature of society than to be a concern of foreign contamination, Fresh Off the Boat, however from primary texts such as the comedy performance of Margaret Cho amongst others, the concept of the foreign is still evident in mainstream culture and society with many highlights towards the expectations of Asian women in her comedy, which reunites with Choi in that the stereotypes are parodied for humorous effect and are discarded as ridiculous constructs that ill-manneredly portray the authentic Asian-American.

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