Saturday, April 01, 2006

INSTANT YANG v. 15: WHAT'S IN A NAME?...GOLDEN GIRLS AND BOYS…BROKEBACK MORPHIN'...A LAST SALUTE

I've been doing Asian Pop now for about a year now, and in that time I've written a few columns that have unexpectedly touched a nerve, unleashing a welcome torrent of reader mail. (Which is always welcome--even the posts that criticize, dismiss, or correct. It’s better than suffering through "Is this mike on?" syndrome, anyway.) This week's column looks like it may hit a feedback record, and understandably so, given its subject: The nature of names.

ASIAN POP: BY ANY OTHER NAME
In her hilarious and insightful documentary THE GRACE LEE PROJECT, filmmaker Lee went on a quest to connect with some of the tens of thousands of other women who share her moniker—prompting Jeff Yang to muse on the nature of naming and identity, and to seek out some of his namesakes as well

People of all backgrounds have now emailed me to talk about how they got their names, how they’ve been confused with people with similar names, and how their namesakes have gotten them in and out of trouble…dozens, within the first day of the column’s posting.

"I have a very unsual last name (Lozar, rhymes with 'crozier') and a fairly uncommon first name (Paula), so I figured that the odds of running into someone else with the same name were about a zillion to one," wrote one reader. "A few years ago I discovered that there IS another Paula Lozar somewhere in the Midwest…they pronounce their name [like] 'Tsar,' but it’s still pretty spooky."

Meanwhile, Peri Drucker wrote in to say she does have a "unique name (at least according to Zabasearch)" but is "a little jealous of anyone who has such an easy way to find a connection to someone else!"

Maybe she wouldn't be envious if she'd heard another reader's story as "one of at least 18 David Lims in the Bay Area alone, last time I checked. The most infamous 'David Lim' I never met was some gentleman who opened credit accounts like you or I drink water." It took an unlisted number to stop the three-times-a-week calls from angry creditors who thought he was Bad David.

My favorite anecdote so far, however, is also one that I personally empathize with. "Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco had its perks and not so perky moments…I have an uncommon and I guess unusual Chinese surname: Man. That wasn't a sigh of displeasure, but my last name….And my first name? Karen…[and] I have an older sister named Karena and a younger sister named Katrina--don't know what my folks were thinking. I experienced my share of taunts and jokes for kids at school (hey Man, what's up Man, Karen Wo-Man, or the emphasized Karen MAN)…as I got older I've been asked if I'm part German (Thomas Mann) and was once mistakenly identified as Irish Catholic by a coworker in another office during a conference call." Man! And I mean that in the "Oh, wow!" sense, Karen.

I'm sure many, many more name stories will come my way, or at least I hope they do, and I’ll gladly share the best of them with y'all. I also kinda hope the Secret Sharer meme goes viral--those of you who’ve encountered and corresponded with your namesakes, let me know how it went. And of course, if you're in the Bay Area, try to check out THE GRACE LEE PROJECT on February 11 at 7:40pm at the Coppola Theater at San Francisco State University, as a part of this year's San Francisco Korean American Film Festival. You'll be glad you did. Plus, if you have any Grace Lees in your life, have them add their data to the Statistically Average Grace Lee!

Elsewhere in the entertainment world, full props to Sandra Oh, for adding a SAG Best Actress Award to her Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress (Emmy in 2006, we bet), and to Daniel Dae Kim, Yujin Kim, and Naveen Andrews of Lost for doing the same. If this bumper harvest of awards doesn't get more producers thinking Asians can represent on the teevee, I don't know what will. Meanwhile, Ang Lee is continuing his own juggernaut conquest of the awards landscape. He'll get his best director Oscar this year, mark my words. More importantly, though, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has clearly taken that cultural quantum leap into iconography--becoming fodder for editorial cartoonists, talk-show monologues, and satirical remixes of all kinds.

My favorite find in that category: A growing series of Brokeback Mash-Ups, in which the hidden gayness in popular movies is revealed through creative re-edits of their trailers. (Or the not-so-hidden gayness, in the case of BROKEBACK SQUADRON, a mash-up of TOP GUN.) The best of the lot so far is BROKEBACK TO THE FUTURE, which blends trailers from all three BACK TO THE FUTURE flicks to expose a more...intimate side of Doc Brown and Marty's relationship. Given that potential for accidental incest is one of the running jokes in BttF, this might actually make the movie more family friendly, not less…

BROKEBACK SQUADRON

BROKEBACK TO THE FUTURE

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN's soaring mountain landscape, eye-friendly cast, repeatable cue-lines (“I shore do wish I could find a way to quit you”), and instantly recognizable swelling orchestral theme have allowed it to escape the confines of genre to invde the mainstream of popular consciousness. It’s the gay Star Wars.

Then again...maybe Star Wars is the gay Star Wars?:

GAY STAR WARS

I want to sign off with one last memento mori—brought to my attention by the always-alert David L. Kim: Last December 29 saw the passing away of Colonel Young Oak Kim, a true hero in every sense of the word, at the age of 86 from complications related to cancer.

Born in Los Angeles to immigrant Korean parents, he was one of the few non-Japanese American members of the fighting 100th Infantry Battalion, and fought for our nation with a fervor and bravery that led to his being decorated with over 20 medals, including a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, three Purple Hearts, a French Legion of Honor and Italian Military Valor Cross

After World War II, he lent his courage and passion to the fight for recognition of his comrades at arms, as well as their civilian families who were unjustly incarcerated during the war--it was due to his advocacy that the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles was made possible. He also helped to found the Go For Broke Educational Foundation, which preserves the legacy of Japanese American WWII vets, the Korean American Museum, and more recently, was one of the founding fathers of the Committee for the Centennial of Korean Immigration to the United States, helping to make the celebration of Korean America’s 100th birthday possible.

A solemn salute for a great man.

That's it for this week. See you in two--when, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ll be looking at love and romance, Asian-style…

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