Friday, May 14, 2010


The class was awesome. I will miss it.

I wish you all a beautiful summer and a most stupendous life!

Have fun, Steve and friends!

Tiff the "Scriff"

Orientalism in The Joy Luck Club

In this paper, we’ll be looking at the ways the movie, The Joy Luck Club, perpetuates the old tenets of Orientalism. At first, one might think many Asians worldwide would embrace this movie, finally one of the few films that represents the Asian American population and culture, but under a closer lens, you’ll soon discover how Amy Tan in her novel and subsequent screenplay panders to the white audience, taking on an obsequious, ass-kissing stance. Perhaps Tan bows down to white Americans simply to be on the best-seller list, but by making a quick buck, she only makes a fool of herself, discoloring and besmirching the Chinese race, so often confused with other Asian races.

Before getting to the text, a most insidious blunder is mixing Japanese, Malay, and Vietnamese actors in with Chinese and Chinese-American actors. This perpetuates the horrible and erroneous notion that all Asians are the same and look alike. China has always been a country to stand on its own with an identity like no other. To do justice to the Chinese race would be to first and foremost use only Chinese actors—there are so many to choose from, thousands willing to fit the part. I don’t understand why production would ever need to outsource. This is not Memoirs of a Geisha.

Now let’s examine the text and the Orientalist implications simmering under the surface. Number one, even though the movie flip-flops between 1960’s-1980’s San Francisco/Oakland and 1920’s-1950’s China, the backdrop of China is shrouded in mist and clouds, bespeckled with dirt roads, sharp, tall mountains, and swirling with shabby-looking peasants. China has this supernatural, ancient, cob-webbed aura—a mystical, inscrutable, backwards land that one might like to explore and colonize. Even at the end of the movie when June reunites with her two long forgotten twin sisters, China still looks like a country in shambles with no technology or modern advancements, exemplified by the fact that June arrives by boat. It appears that Shanghai didn’t have an airport in the late 1980’s.

It is this separation of East and West that is most deplorable. The East is portrayed as a land of oppression, antiquity, savagery, superstition, ignorance, and misogyny. If a Chinese woman is fortunate, she’ll be able to leave this land of bitter misery and burden and filtrate through the golden gates of America—the land of promise, opportunity, prosperity, good fortune, and enlightenment.

In Suyuan’s thematic story to June, she speaks of a duck that becomes a swan and is “too beautiful to eat.” What an outrage! Here, Tan is reaffirming the stereotype that Asians love to eat birds along with dogs, as if small pets are always on the Chinese menu. This is a cheap shot, its only foundation being the kind of racist and imperialist bullshit Tan should rally against.

Suyuan’s story goes on to say, “[In America] nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there, nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there, she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow.” This implicates that in China, women are valued only by the tyrants they marry, are undeserving of respect, have no education or knowledge of the most essential language, English, and must always swallow their emotions, suffering greatly in silence and sorrow. This perpetuates the stereotype that a beautiful Chinese woman must always suffer in humility, obscurity, worthlessness, and submission.

There is a huge cultural and linguistic chasm between the mothers and daughters. The mother is the so-called “(m)other.” The four mothers—Suyuan, Lindo, Ying-Ying, and An-Mei—represent the East while the four daughters—June, Waverly, Lena, and Rose—represent the West. The daughters are ashamed of and/or baffled by their mothers, because they think that just because they are American and their mothers originate from a country on the other side of the world, they are not on the same page. In the end, though, to finish on a happy note, the daughters come to understand and respect their mothers. But throughout the movie, we see plenty of tension.

When Suyuan tries to make nine-year-old June play the piano, June pipes, “I’m not your slave. This isn’t China!” Adult June narrates, “There were so many things about my mother I never understood.” Waverly is extremely critical of her mother’s hair, prepping for her wedding. Waverly tells the hairdresser, dismissing her mother’s presence, “God forbid she’d pay to have anything professionally done.” Her mother eventually begs the question, “Why does my daughter think she’s translating English for me?” Bitter Rose tells her mother, “I like being tragic, Ma. I learned it from you.”

Number two, and probably the most egregious blunder in the text is the misrepresentation of Chinese men (as opposed to white men) and Chinese women. In the movie, all the Chinese male characters are undesirable in some way. Chinese men are portrayed as sexist, cruel, effeminate, weak, and shameless. Wu Tsing rapes An-Mei’s mother and takes her as Fourth Wife, perpetuating the myth that Chinese men are horny, dirty, and take many concubines. When young An-Mei is sleeping with her mother, Wu Tsing comes to have sex and suggests that An-Mei watch her mother and him get it on, showing that Chinese men have no regard for children. Lin Xiao is referred to as “the bad man in China” who wildly cheats on and abuses beautiful Ying-Ying, at one point throwing her to the floor. Harold, Lena’s husband, is viewed as a calculative cheapskate who splits the household expenses, but pays himself 7 ½ times more than Lena in his firm. June’s father is the asexual, Uncle Tom character, who is willing to please and bow down to anything or anyone. Old Chong, June’s piano teacher, is literally a buffoon, a hearing-impaired, brain-impaired moron who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow. Tyan-yu, Lindo’s first husband, is a comical, boorish, fat boy who plays with germy critters. Most subtle but noteworthy is the Chinese man on the roadside who ignores dysenteric Suyuan’s pleas for help as she struggles to escape war-torn China, depicting Chinese men as uncaring, heartless, and uncharitable. The last example is the mockery of old feeble Chinese men at Suyuan’s last Chinese New Year party—sleeping at the dining table with their mouths open as if they were dead or trying to catch flies.

The two white men are great and wonderful in the movie and redeem themselves for any transgressions they might have unwittingly made. Rich, Waverly’s husband, is the blond, handsome, affable, wealthy, good-natured man whose only flaws are his inability to use chopsticks efficiently and his unawareness of Chinese etiquette. He buys Waverly a beautiful fur coat and is considered by her, “the love of my life, who treated me like I was perfect.” Ted, Rose’s husband, is this stunningly gorgeous successful well-bred heir, who courageously defends Rose in front of his racist mother, tries to reconcile the marriage by imploring Rose to have an opinion and fight for herself, who is not to blame for cheating on Rose (it’s all her fault), and who in the end reconciles his marriage with Rose as the good guy.

The Chinese/Chinese-American women are portrayed unjustly too. All four mothers and four daughters are or were at some time China dolls. The majority of the women are portrayed as disturbed, insecure, weak, indecisive, and submissive. If they are not sweet and meek, they are Dragon Ladies like Huang Tai Tai, Second Wife, and Waverly. All this does is romanticize the East and pander to sexually perverse American men who have Asian fetishes. Few men who faun over foreign, exotic women want them strong and assertive. What does Oliver Stone have to say about this?

June, the main character, is too inconvincingly sweet, agreeable, and passive. We don’t see any passion, resistance, or fight in her, not even when her mother takes Waverly’s side and embarrasses her at the dinner table. Not to mention that she and Auntie Lindo don’t have the backbone to tell June’s twin sisters their mother is dead. We see more spunk in June as a nine-year-old than as a thirty-something-year-old woman, as if growing up Chinese female depletes the spirit. Lena can’t stand up to Harold without her mother’s relentless prompting and inference. Rose has no voice and can’t make decisions in her marriage to Ted until she hears her mother’s epic story. Ying-Ying is a shell of a woman after enduring an abusive husband and the drowning of her son. An-Mei’s mother doesn’t stand up for herself after she was raped—she just accepts her fate and ultimately kills herself, allegedly to give her daughter a stronger spirit, but in practical terms, to escape the hardships of living.

The third display of Orientalism in this text is the depiction of Chinese people as being more narrow-minded and racist than white America, when in reality, the Chinese are some of the least antagonistic, most embracing, tolerant people. Ironically enough, the Chinese can at times be harsher and more judgmental of each other, imploding within the race, because they’ve been brainwashed by the West that they’re physically less attractive, less important, less marketable, less educated, less likable, and more barbaric, superstitious, and ignorant.

Because of racism, Orientalist ideals, and the constant brainwashing by the media of what is beautiful and alluring, many young Asian-American women look down on themselves and develop self-esteem issues and identity crises while Asian men battle society’s castration and emasculation and feelings of sexual inadequacy. Because of Orientalism and books and movies like these, Asians are at odds with themselves and try their hardest to escape their roots.

Treacherous one step further, Tan downplays white racism towards Asians. For example, Ted stands up to his racist mother at a family regale, stating, “This is the first time in my life I am ashamed of you . . . I’m sorry, Mom, you made a fuckin’ asshole out of yourself in front of the woman I love.” Honestly, when has this scene ever played out in real life? No white male is going to put his exotic girlfriend before his mother, the woman that gave birth to him and reared him from day one.

Tan is showing that white Americans are very liberal and will more than often stand up for what is right, even if it means sacrificing. Whites judge people by character rather than by race or ethnicity. In Tan’s view, whites are open-minded, scrupulous people whereas Asians are staunch discriminators. Even more dreadful and bogus is the display of anti-Semitism by Auntie Lindo. At the mahjong table, she tells June, “Jewish mahjong not the same thing, entirely different. Now Chinese mahjong very tricky . . . And if nobody play well, then the game is just like Jewish mahjong. No strategy. You American girls—Chinese, Jewish, what’s the difference?” This is appalling. Lindo is obviously slighting both the Jewish and Chinese-American demographic. She says this humorously, but she said it which means she thought it which means she believes it.

Lindo is repeatedly quite the racist bozo. She is very prejudiced towards Rich, insulting his expensive fur coat gift to Waverly and commenting to her daughter that he has “so many spots on his face,” as if that determines a man’s worth. Even at the dinner table, she has this uppity air about her, at one time sarcastically commenting, “He has good appetite,” when he takes too much shrimp. If Tan is not showing how obsequious Chinese people are, then she is underscoring how close-minded and prejudiced they are.

The final atrocious display of Chinese racism is the subliminal message the movie leaves you with—that Chinese moms tell their daughters to only marry Chinese or white men. We never see any hookups between a Chinese person and a dark-complexioned person. This white/Asian pairing is becoming very cliché. Tan is just furthering the fallacy that Asian women go gaga over white men or settle for Chinese men to appease their tyrannical, bigoted mothers.

The fourth adherence to Orientalism in the movie is that Chinese mothers don’t care about the welfare of their children (mostly daughters). Lindo’s mother sells her to a rich family when she is only four. Waverly marries a Chinese man and has a beautiful daughter with him simply to gratify her mother. Ying-Ying drowns her baby son to get even with her husband. An-Mei’s grandmother rejects An-Mei’s mother, not believing she was raped. An-Mei’s mother kills herself, not considering that her daughter will grow up motherless and at the mercy of Wu Tsing and Second Wife. Rose gets pregnant to hold on to her marriage. Suyuan abandons her baby twin girls on the roadside in pandemonious China to save herself, knowing baby girls are unworthy of saving. And Suyuan and Lindo both want to succeed vicariously through their daughter’s achievements, pushing the poor girls against their will, one to play the piano, the other to excel in chess.

The fifth display of Orientalism in the movie is that Asian women have to die or be in tremendous pain in order to contribute something to themselves and/or society. An-Mei’s mother cuts her arm and puts her blood in a soup bowl as an act of beseeching her dying mother’s forgiveness. An-Mei’s mother commits suicide by swallowing opium-filled rice balls with the delusion that through dying, she will give her daughter a stronger spirit. Suyuan dies so that June can take her place (at the mahjong table, the East corner where things begin) and for the first time, assume an identity and gain a sense of purpose.

All throughout the movie, these poor China Dolls are suffering and conquering their pain. They never seem happy, always conflicted. It is only in the end, when Tan wraps things up at the two-hour mark that past wrongs are forgotten, all is well, and life is beautiful for the mothers and daughters of the Joy Luck Club.

The sixth and last point of contention is that Tan perpetuates the myth that Asians are superstitious and idiosyncratic. Lindo is able to fool the whole household that she must escape this travesty of a marriage and get a plane ticket out. She tells them about the rage of the ancestors, the cycle of destruction, and the three signs. Huang Tai Tai, the matriarch of the household, falls for this, and castigates the Matchmaker, who in turn replies, “Mistakes happen in heaven.” Because of the ignorance of old school Chinese matrons, Lindo becomes a free woman. Ying-Ying states that she is waiting in the shadows like a tiger, ready to cut her daughter’s spirit loose. In believing this, she helps Lena escape a dysfunctional marriage as if all problems can be mended via mythical stories. At An-Mei’s mother’s funeral, An-Mei convinces Second Wife that her mother’s ghost will come back to settle scores, to which Second Wife’s hair turns white and Wu Tsing honors An-Mei and her brother as his First children. And of course, the movie keeps revisiting June’s story about the duck and the single swan feather as if her mother’s coming to America is based on a mythical story, as if all life events can be written with a keen imagination.

This blending of fact, fiction, and superstition compromises the integrity and cogency of Tan’s words. The history and stories become surreal in places. Worst of all, the Chinese-American experience and notions of China become surreal to the point that Orientalism can find its way in. A true China is far more complex and not always a pretty picture, but if one were to be a Chinese writer equipped to represent her Chinese heritage, she should base it on more than just assumptions, myths, and the whimsical. She must be true to the billions of Chinese and Asian people she gives voice to, the beautiful people who depend on her for the ultimate expression and overdue reverence.

Works Cited

Clifford, Nick. “H-Asia: ‘Orientalism’ Thread.” AOL. On-line. 2-11 March 1996. 14 May 2010.

Hayot, Eric. “Critical Dreams: Orientalism, Modernism, and the Meaning of Pound’s
China.” AOL. On-line. Winter 1999. 14 May 2010.

Henrickson, Shu-Huei. “The Joy Luck Club (Criticism).” AOL. On-line. 14 May 2010.

The Joy Luck Club. Dir. Wayne Wang. Perf. Ming-Na Wen, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren
Tom, and Rosalind Chao. Hollywood Pictures, 1993.

Martinez-Robles, David. “The Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism,
Culturalism, and Historiographical Criticism.” AOL. On-line. May 2008. 14 May 2010.

Tseng, Ada, Rowena Aquino, Ana La’O, and Cathryn Chen. “Joy Luck Club Revisited.”
AOL. On-line. 14 May 2010.

Wong, Al. “Why The Joy Luck Club Sucks.” AOL. On-line. 28 Jan. 1997. 14 May 2010.

Yu, Su-lin. “Narrating Chinese m/others: new orientalism in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck
Club.” AOL. On-line. Jan. 2008. 14 May 2010.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Cousin in Shanghai--the Quintessential China Doll

The face of innocence and purity.

The face of mystery and intrigue.

The face of seduction.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Psychoanalytic Reading of Aimee Liu's Solitaire--Redo of Midterm Paper

Solitaire, America’s first memoir of anorexia nervosa, was written by Aimee Liu at the age of twenty-five. Beautiful, ambitious, and extremely bright, she fought a war within her teenage self that at times made her feel alone and solitary. Only by owning her identity apart from her attachment to codependent boyfriend, Ken, and shedding the ideals of society and her ideal self, does she slowly regain her womanly physique and health. Let us start from the beginning when this monster of a disease took hold of nine-year-old Aimee.
The fear of fat began at a party when Aimee’s grandmother says to her, “My, you’re a chubby little girl, aren’t you?” (23). Anorexia often begins with a careless comment about a girl’s weight that buries itself within her unconscious and becomes the mantra she feeds off of for the rest of her life.
Being told you’re fat by someone who supposedly loves you is a devastating blow to a budding girl’s ego. A tall pubescent teenager at 130 pounds seems healthy, but Aimee feels like an obese monstrosity that must be erased or undone. She is unhappy with everything about herself which morphs into a hatred of her body. She wants to be somebody else, and that “somebody” is thin.
So often when we hate ourselves, we do something about it, either by killing ourselves or by killing something within ourselves. By killing the very thing we despise within ourselves, we give birth to what we love, relishing this very potential of perfection within our bodies, the essence of beauty.
There is so much excess in pain that denial, starvation, and abstinence are the way out of excess, depravity, and decadence. That to be less than what we are is to be more, because this society has taught us that in some respects, less is more.
Anorexia is about regaining an identity that was always shaky to begin with. When Aimee entered high school and lost connection and intimacy with her brother, Scott, she needed to fill the void and replace it with a fascination with food and thinness. But an equal contributor was that she was afraid of becoming a woman. Eleven-year-old Aimee states, “I . . . detest myself. My body is developing faster than the other girls. I am curvaceous and tall and, though not obese, am still my grandmother’s chubby little miss. Just before Christmas I have my first period. I’ve been dreading this since fifth grade . . .” (33).
Menstruation is a horrible affair. It is a duty and responsibility that a young woman is not ready to take on, the whole idea of being fertile and a sex object. It makes a girl realize that all she has to sell in this world is her sexuality and beauty, and if she feels less than beautiful, why be sexual at all? Because fertility is a mark of competence, strength, and maturity, a floundering young girl is not ready to cross over and will do anything to rid herself of breasts, curves, and her period. A young girl is afraid of herself which is why she can never envision herself growing into a bigger monstrosity, her mother. Aimee even fears that if she eats, “I would probably look and function just like my mother” (80).
A girl fears desperately to become her mother, because she sees her mother as washed-up, old, terribly unattractive, and jealous of younger, lither, more beautiful women such as herself. Mothers are the ugly threat in a young woman’s life, a reminder that we all get old, fat, bitter, decrepit, and overbearing. So often anorexia is about the struggle between mother and daughter, the mother cooking and trying to feed her daughter and the daughter making every attempt to disobey her mother’s wishes. In the end, the daughter wins, because anorexia is stronger than anyone or anything.
Aimee says about her mother, “I want to surpass her, not follow her lead. Losing weight is the one task I can perform better than she. For years she has talked about reducing, struggled with diets and exercise, but has never had much success. When I began losing, of course, I wasn’t out to compete with her, but I must confess, it’s kind of exhilarating to manage something she’s failed. Now she pretends to worry about me, tries to convince me that I’m destroying my looks, but I know she’s just saying that because she’s jealous. I don’t care, I enjoy being thin. This is the one time I won’t let her control me” (80).
Aimee feels that her mother is trying to take away her only power, her most accessible identity, the thing that separates her from her mother. Aimee’s father is always in the background, floating in the distance, a mere money-making machine, as if his absent role and love for her is replaced by her anorexia.
Aimee needs a father to adore and faun over, to feel secure with and protected by. Unfortunately, she lacks that security. So her next choice is to find something all her own that will love and protect her from the world and shield her from the threat of her mother. Her father is anorexia and her mother is the very monster that wants to tear her from the grip of this disease. Anorexia has become the staunch dominant paternal force in Aimee’s life and she will stop at nothing to defend this twisted father figure. She will not let her jealous mother break them apart. Anorexia is the only thing Aimee loves desperately, the only love in her life, and she’ll be damned if her mother comes between them.
Later on in the novel, Aimee meets her codependent boyfriend, Ken, the third phallic symbol in her life (the first shortly being her father and the second being anorexia). In college, she and Ken do everything together. Aimee states, “The setup seems too good to be true. Ken and I are like children together, intimate pals unwilling to let each other out of sight. We attend classes together . . . We study side by side at the library, read one another to sleep at night, and exchange moral support . . . Three times a day we troop to the dining hall for our version of meals” (193).
Instead of starving herself to death, Aimee now maintains a Spartan and odd diet regimen. She eats on funny terms, but at least she eats. She eats, because she has found her second power, the first romantic love of her life. So often anorexics become anorexic, because they have no passions or pastimes or people in their lives to cling to. They use anorexia as a substitute for all the integral things they lack. Now that Aimee has Ken to cling to, her prowess and phallus, she no longer needs her anorexia so staunchly and feverishly.
The ultimate leap Aimee makes is when she sheds herself of Ken. She doesn’t need an exterior penis to complete her, she has internalized her own penis and is strong and steady by herself. She no longer resents her mother or craves the wrong kind of attention. She can give to herself what she’s been searching for her whole life—her virility, empowerment, know-how, and the confidence in herself that she can right her own wrongs. She does not need to starve in order to feel powerful nor does she need men to feel loved. She is her own machine, she can be her own player in the game of Solitaire, she needs no one but herself and the strength that has brought her thus far.
In her breakup speech to Ken, Aimee states, “Ken, can’t you see how sick this relationship is? . . . The way we’re living, doting, depending on each other . . . God, we’re practically sucking each other’s blood. Before you came along I blinded myself to the world around me by dwelling on food, modeling, my weight, anything profoundly superficial. And now I’m blinding myself by living through you . . .” (206).
An anorexic’s recovery centers on realization, enlightenment, and self-empowerment. Aimee had the courage to turn her life around and go on to graduate from Yale, write a number of books, marry and birth two sons, and do great things. She eventually realized how much she loved her mother, how she tormented her poor mother, and apologized for that. She went on to accept her father. She accepted sex and her sexuality and truly fell in love with herself for the first time. She needed no one but herself, realizing that though we are social creatures who need love and affection, we begin and end with ourselves, players in the game of Solitaire.

Work Cited
Liu, Aimee. Solitaire. New York: Harper, 1979.

Review of Group Presentation

My group is the Elephant Man group and we'll be presenting tomorrow, the last class meeting. My group members are Cathy, Dylan, and Larry.

I am so fortunate to have these people in my group. They are all very kind, generous, smart, and gifted. We all got along so well, and everyone was so open to what the other had to say, whether it was viable information or not.

We got together four times, three times at school and once at Cathy's house. At school, we discussed the logistics of our presentation and at Cathy's, we sealed the deal.

At first, we agreed on having a gimmick like past presentations. But we soon settled on just focusing on the texts and getting serious about the work and theory rather than deviating from the essence.

We had a collection of movies to sort through to parallel with The Elephant Man. We were even thinking of showing a snippet of The Twilight Zone's episode, "Eye of the Beholder," which is the one where the woman wakes from surgery and screams because she does not look like the pig-faced people.

The idea behind this was to beg the question, "What is the standard of beauty? And who is the 'other'?" but we agreed that we were veering off course with that clip.

We finally settled on showing the parallels between Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange and David Lynch's The Elephant Man. We will be juxtaposing three scenes of Clockwork Orange with three scenes of The Elephant Man. After showing each pair of contrasting scenes, we will ask the class to write their visceral responses, and will in turn discuss the material.

We are crossing our fingers that all goes well. But what counts the most is that all four of us really had a blast together. The camaraderie was amazing. We were always in agreement and willing to try new approaches. And in enjoying our time together, we learned quite a bit. So, to be strictly honest, this presentation has been a wonderful experience, probably one of the highlights for me of this entire class. And I can only hope for such harmony in future group presentations.

The Elephant Man

This movie was of course very depressing. It is about being an outcast, the "other," a deformity that every cunning, evil person tries to capitalize on.

In a way, I feel a little like the Elephant Man. I have been the "other" in many ways and have had to tell many people that I'm worth more than they think.

I love the part in the movie where John (Joseph Carey) Merrick says, "I am not an animal! I am a human being!" This is where he speaks up for himself and becomes his own master. So often, people who cannot defend themselves become the so-called animals, beasts, in society.

I relate this "other" concept to everybody. Just think how if you were bullied in middle school and high school, you became the "other." Just think how painful it is, now magnify that a thousandfold and you are the Elephant Man.

I was very moved and saddened by this blatant exploitation of such a human being. To me, the Elephant Man, a creature who craved acceptance and love, was innocent and kind, and therefore very beautiful and admirable. He stood for anyone who ever felt like the odd ball out. I was so moved by John Hurt's performance that the floodgates wouldn't stop.

My heart goes out to Joseph Carey Merrick, though he's long gone. He will always be that symbol of the "outsider." The lonely downtrodden will always find solace in this notable person, and if Joseph Merrick should be remembered for anything, it should be that he made the rest of the world feel not so alone. We are all sometimes the Elephant Man. We may look normal on the outside, but inside, we're just as disfigured and just as lovely to unravel and discover.