Thursday, February 08, 2007

INSTANT YANG V. 37: LIST CLEANUP; HOT OR NOT?; IT PAYS TO LOOK GOOD

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! Or rather, happy day after Thanksgiving--otherwise known as Black Friday, the “official” beginning of the winter shopping season. That’s what the retailers want you to think, anyway; your mileage may vary. (Though a cursory trip to the mall today did, in fact, confirm the busy presence of lords a leapin', ladies dancin', and PARTRIDGES 50% OFF, WITH FREE PEAR TREE!)

And now, a small reminder: If you don’t want to be on this list, *unsubscribing is easy*--scroll down towards the bottom of this message and look for a link that says, natch, unsubscribe. If you’re on this list, as I’ve noted before, it’s because you’ve either subscribed to the list yourself; are a friend/acquaintance/contact whom I want to keep in touch with, and hope the feeling’s mutual; or, and this is the ringer, your email was sent to asianpopculture@gmail.com, either directly, or as part of someone’s cc: list. Why did I add the last rule to my “newsletter add” script?

Because the emails arriving at this address are usually responding to one of my SFGate columns, or are part of a mass email broadcasting a press release or other communication. And it’s easier for me to address/respond to many of these things via my newsletter than via individual replies to such emails.

That said, I do try to keep up with the hundreds of emails I get to this address each day, and am trying to prioritize those from addresses that are in the Instant Yang database. So if you don’t know me personally and need to/want to get my attention now or in the future, being on this list is a kind of “filter” that lets me know that you’re someone I should be paying attention to. But if you opt out, you’re out; you go on a list that should prevent you from being auto-added again.

I’m repeating all this because my ISP has received a few complaints from people who have accused me of spamming (which I honestly am not trying to do--I don’t “harvest” emails to add to this list from other sources, for instance). But I suspect that I may be forced to shut this list down or find another way to manage it if this continues. So, if you don’t want to be on this list, please, please, please just unsubscribe, and don’t take the whole newsletter down with you in a fit of pique. In this season of thanksgiving, I thank you in advance for that.

And now some actual content. This week’s SFGate column was occasioned by the release of the annual "Sexiest Man Alive" issue of People magazine, which included the usual suspects (e.g. George Clooney, who was dubbed the year's most delicious living dude for the second time, joining Brad Pitt and Richard Gere as the only such double dippers).

ASIAN POP: DO YA THINK WE’RE SEXY?

By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, November 22, 2006

As George Clooney celebrates his second time around as People's "Sexiest Man Alive," Jeff Yang looks at the status of Asian men in American culture. From Gedde Watanabe in "16 Candles" to Daniel Dae Kim in "Lost," it seems like the image of the Asian male has come a long way, baby. Or ... has it?

Here's the thing: In 21 years of crowning kings of schwing, there's been just one nonwhite honoree: Denzel Washington. Is this something that should bug us? Or is this even a question we need to be asking at this point in our collective cultural lives?

One of my brethren at the Asian poppa blog Rice Daddies, Daddy in a Strange Land, shared his opinion to me that even raising the discussion essentially buys into the troubling notion that worth is related to attractiveness: "I'm not naive and I'm not living in a cave somewhere, I know that that's the real world, but as an anti-racist, feminist father of color married to a woman of color and raising a daughter of color, I have to ask, are we asking the right questions, challenging the right definitions?"

Which I certainly agree with. But as much as I want to reframe attractiveness according to a different set of criteria (like, it wouldn't suck if "slightly chubby 38-year-old men with glasses, goofy hair, and mediocre fashion sense" became the new gold standard for masculinity), we deal with this kind of thing every day.

There are real implications—as Ingrid Olson of the University of Pennsylvania found in a gloom-inducing experiment earlier this year, attractive people get associated with positive traits that lead to better treatment. And this was born out in a study by a team from Harvard and Wesleyan: good-looking people are perceived to be more productive and better hires. (Why top-tier liberal arts colleges are spending so much time and money researching hotness is a whole 'nother question...)

Which explains in part why, consciously or not, we pride in having our boys, girls, and babies dubbed cute by others—there are real utilitarian consequences to cuteness. My son is billions of times cuter than I am (or was at his age), and I light up every time I hear someone compliment him on his cute-osity. People can come up to me and say, "Dude, you reek, but your son is gorgeous," and I'll flash a huge grin and thank them (and credit Hudson's mom with the hottie genes, of course).

Is it icky to think this way? Kind of. I mean, it's bad enough that I'm feeling all of those cliche, suffocating Asian parent academic agenda items starting to float into my forebrain—Is he hitting all of his developmental milestones? When should we start him on violin? SATs—study now, or wait until he's four?—but I also find myself wanting him to be the suave, athletic, toe-curlingly good-looking guy that I never was, or aspired to be.

And yeah, I hope we get to a point in our reality where attractiveness isn't just a set of washboard abs or a sculpted set of cheekbones. (Thus, my campaign to push Masi Oka to the top of People's "hottest Heroes castmember" poll (little victories still count for something.)

But the reality of what physical appeal means in our society is still out there. Which means there is meaning, however shallow it seems, in getting society to recognize our particular looks, features, and distinguishing characteristics as part of its benchmark for beauty.

And that’s it for this week. Enjoy the seasonal torrent of crass commercialism!

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