Thursday, April 27, 2006

INSTANT YANG v. 21: JUST DESSERTS; HOW KAAVYA VISWANATHAN GOT A BOOK CONTRACT, GOT SLOPPY, AND GOT CAUGHT; IS "ii" THE NEW "i"?

There are certain benefits to being a cultural critic, and one of them is getting paid to watch, listen to, and eat stuff. This week's column falls into the "eat stuff" category:

ASIAN POP: Dessert Storm

By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate

Sago and mango a-go-go, oh my! Ever since the bubble-tea bubble popped a few years ago, fanatical dessertistas have been looking for the next big Asian sweet-treat phenomenon. In this week's Asian Pop, Jeff Yang looks at why Asian dessert fads have been few and far between--and considers some contenders for the boba crown.

Fun column to research, as you might guess! SF-based readers, I urge you to check out Creations in Richmond District--you won't be disappointed; NYC peeps, try the dan tat at Egg Custard King--it'll make you happy. And all you lucky residents of New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Boston, and soon enough, San Francisco...check out the Bearded One, posthaste. (I still maintain that they should have called the chain "Puff Daddy." Guess they didn't want Sean Combs to bring the legal pain...)

***

And now, I wanted to just say a few words about Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who went from celebrated teen author to pariah seemingly overnight. Not that plenty of words haven't been said about her already. But most of them haven't been particularly nice, and even the nice ones (Rachel Pine's "Is Kaavya Viswanathan an Innocent Bystander?" from comes to mind) aren't particularly empathetic.

Empathy? For someone clearly caught red-handed as a plagiarist? Well, yeah. A little. Read between the lines:

"Ms. Viswanathan began writing the novel while still at the Bergen County Academy at Hackensack. She’s the only child of her Indian-born parents, Viswanathan Rajaraman, a neurosurgeon, and Mary Sundaram, a gynecologist.

'Everybody in my family, including my parents, won science prizes,' Ms. Viswanathan said. 'I was the one with the writing gene--and I've no idea where that came from. My parents are still in a state of shock. When I've gone home on some weekends, they look at me working at my computer and surely wonder, 'Who is that strange person?''"

(That's from the New York Sun--pre-Megan McCafferty revelations. Via the esteemed folks at Sepia Mutiny, because the Sun only gives it up for subscribers.)

And then there's the fact that her parents hired a "college preparation consultant" named Katherine Cohen to help Kaavya with her application essays--at the cost of some $15,000 for TWO FRICKIN' YEARS of private counseling.

Viswanathan claims that her parents "never pressured her" and that she adores them. I think she's lying about the former and telling the truth about the latter. Which is probably the reason she's lying about the former: She's taking this whole thing on her own. Doesn't want the blame to land on anyone else, least of all her beloved parents. I'd feel the same way.

But high expectations cause pressure in their own right, and Kaavya's parents--both physicians, science prize winners, who saw their little girl embrace scribbling over scalpels..."Kaavya, what kind of a career is writing? After we've sacrificed so much for you, prepared you so well, raised you in such a good environment...?"

If you're an Asian American, you can finish that conversation on your own.

I'm not excusing plagiarism. I'm not saying I fully believe Viswanathan's claim to have inadvertently channeled her writerly idol McCafferty, either. I do think that somewhere, consciously or unconsciously, Kaavya saw the opportunity to finally impress her parents, to prove to them that she could be a success without having to wear a white coat and stethoscope...and as the stakes got higher, and her parents smiles grew brighter, and the demands got harsher, she slipped and fell.

Consciously or unconsciously.

Anyway, people have been coming out of the woodwork now and piling on, and it's going to suck for her for a long time. Myself, I kind of hope this doesn't end her career before it should even have started. I hope she learns a lesson, but that the lesson isn't "I never should have tried." I hope she can make amends somehow, and pick up the pieces, and lower people's expectations to something reasonable for a sophomore at college and first-time novelist. We'll see.

***

On a lighter note, for all you game boys and game girls out there... BREAKING NEWS! Nintendo just announced the official branding for their next-gen gaming platform, which has been going by the snazzy codename "Revolution" since its original announcement. The spankin' new name they’ve chosen:

"Wii."

Pronounced "wee." Or "oui," for Francophones.

Now the question everyone seems to be asking is: Wyy?

Given that Intel recently unveiled "Viiv" as the name for their hot new Media Center platform, maybe the double-i thing is tech's new brandwagon. It does sort of one-up the whole iThing naming paradigm (double the "i"...double the diigiital grooviiness!). So is "ii" the next biig thiing?

Or is this actually a sign that Nintendo is secretly planning to pull an Apple and make the Big Switch from IBM's PowerPC chips? Maybe Nintendo's even in the midst of pulling of a shocking merger! Prep yourselves, guys, because the tech world could be on the verge of getting rocked by a new, bunny-suited plumber-pimping giant: Niinteldo!

Or not!

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