Where Is the Asian Body? The Problem of Erasure in Western Visual Culture
- Erasure of Asian bodies in Western media is a common occurrence even as our clothing, cultures, and aesthetics are used to entertain these audiences.
- Erasure of Asians in the West is a learned and reinforced idea.
- Erasure of Asians in the West stems from anti-Asian racism.
- Erasure of Asians in the West is a continuation of perpetual foreigner rhetoric.
- Erasure of Asians in Western media is deliberate.
- We see ourselves in your butchered pronunciations, that semi-hidden sign in the background, the robe you dare to call a “kimono,” that fun fact you use to prove that you are “cultured.”
- We see ourselves in the media you imported from our ancestral countries like the “exotic” goods your ancestors probably displayed for clout. We see how you put your white faces all over our ideas. Our stolen ideas.
- We see ourselves. We see you.
- Do you see yourself?
Asians have suffered from erasure and poor representation in western media, which at its core a visual problem as well as a sociopolitical one. Since humans are inherently visual creatures and receive a lot of information from the media and entertainment they consume, the lack of visibility and humanization given to Asians on-screen very well affect how people perceive Asians off-screen. This poor representation is not a new phenomenon; racist portrayals of Asians and the use of Asian clothing and objects for clout is in fact a continuation of deeply ingrained traditions in the West. My paper reveals the different issues of Asian stereotypes and erasure and the history that allows these incidents to keep happening. Though the term “Asian” includes many ethnicities, this paper will mainly focus on East Asian appropriation and representation in Western media.
For my visual component, I photoshopped the faces of Asian actors onto characters that are either whitewashed or use Asian/Asian cultures for character development. Some of these edits use the faces of the actors who auditioned for the roles, but were rejected. This project is to demonstrate that the misrepresentation and erasure of Asians on western screens is a manufactured problem. If I can find 25 different Asian actors for 25 different photoshopped images, then the rhetoric of there being a lack of Asian actors is an invalid excuse. The continuation of racist stereotyping, whitewashing and cultural appropriation only reveals how deeply entrenched western visual culture is in those subject matters.