It's been a tough week for Philly-based chef Tyler Akin. Bon Appetit did a profile on him with a video tutorial…www.yomyomf.com
Recently, there’s been some uproar about Bon Appetit’s Video on Pho, and I’ve been reading divisive comments from both camps. Some people feel like it shouldn’t be an issue at all, while others are trying to clarify why they’re upset.
The article by YOMYOMF already made some great points. As some other comments have noted, it’s the presentation that elicits the subtle and deep subtexts between Asians and their representation in American media.
I hope I can break this down in a way so that others may see why some people may take offense. While I believe that there are certainly larger issues in our world and country that deserve our whole hearted attention ( and the divide between races and social injustices in our country’s education and prison system, the displacement of Syrians and their refugee crisis, overfishing oceans beyond sustainability, and our larger impact as a species on this planet), I think it’s important to look at this video as part of the larger context of Asian American representation in American culture, and not unfairly dismiss it as sensitive people up in arms about something largely unimportant.
- PRESENTATION — The original post was titled — ”PSA: How to Eat Pho.” The YOMYOMF article by itself made a great point, as some other FB comments have, that while the publisher is certainly guilty of the clickbait tactics it used, it’s also guilty of dismissing the subtle and deep subtexts that such a title can elicit to a portion of its audience (whether or not Asians were part of it’s intended audience further complicates the issue).
If Asians were part of it’s intended audience, the question incited would be — why are they being addressed by an “outsider” on their ignorance of the “right way to eat pho”? A different title, like the article suggested, could have sidestepped this subtext.
If Asians weren’t an intended part of it’s audience, that begs another discussion entirely.
2. DELIVERY — I have no problem watching Anthony Bourdain’s series No Reservation, especially when he travels to Asia and educates me on the rich cultural history of a particular dish, or region. In one episode, he actually confesses his love for the Japanese art of Flower arrangement and juxtaposes it against the art of food preparation. So why is that acceptable to me as an Asian American?
In Bourdain’s series, an ethnic food is often represented by a person from the culture/race that the food originated from. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that an Indian person can’t make great Chinese food, or vice versa. Sometimes that does happen. But there’s an understanding that somehow that chef has challenged all the preconceived notions of racial/cultural boundaries, and have broken them by winning approval even from locals, that the food they deliver does not acknowledge the social complexities of race, and even possibly represents the “spirit” of the dish in its truest manner. But this sort of challenge is not just limited to chefs and regional cooking, but defines the difficulties of assimilation by trial, no matter which country or race defines you.
In short, the show never tells the audience they are doing it wrong. The difference in contexts here is the success of the chef rather than our failure as an audience.
The hole that this show digs itself in, is that if you are going to show the “correct way” of doing something, especially as an outsider, you better be able to overcome the challenge of racial and cultural subtext. To put it plainly, the approval has to be won so that the “outsider” can become the “insider”, and represent it faithfully.
The response to the video demonstrates that not enough people are convinced he can accurately represent the culture as an “insider”. Which brings us to my next point. If he’s not an insider, why is he a representative?
3. REPRESENTATION — OR THE LACK THEREOF
This is the chief element that I think causes the most variance among people’s opinions on the matter.
There is a growing movement of Asian-Americans, myself included, who are hoping for more representation in the media and recognize that the current landscape of American entertainment does not portray or represent the differences in cultural lifestyles, beliefs, or challenges that all Asians as a whole faces in this country.
Part of the cause can be attributed to the lack of roles in the entertainment industry for Asian-Americans. And when there are available roles, this happens:
The irony is that Asian-Americans also have to fight the interests of foreign Asian investors, who deem Caucasian talent more likely to sell box office records. So in an era when opportunities for Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry are displaced as an opportunity for White Americans, any similar scenario can be perceived as intentional, even if it wasn’t.
But I think that becomes the point. That if it’s unintentional for long enough, it’s fair to say that it becomes intentional. That because we’ve ignored it for too long, sooner or later it becomes a sensitive topic. A combination of neglect and the stereotype of Asian “invisibility” are likely compound ingredients that have given rise to an increasing resentment.
Married couples can probably attest that even in personal relationships between two people, that resentment often accumulates that way. Why not a whole community?
I think that the disruptive vocality you see on your Facebook feed, social network, and other news sites, hints at the unrest people feel about this issue.
I will absolutely agree that there are many social injustices that other races are more likely to face; that are more imperative to resolve. Our country has made steady progress, and Asians can take a backseat, like we always have. But if we can talk about the glass ceilings for women, Africans, and others, why is it taboo for Asians to speak out?