Asian Americans on the Internet - Where Else?
By Jennifer Kim
Remember Sting’s 1980s plaintive wail “I want my, I want my MTV” on the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing?” It was a high-pitched call at the dawning of a new media – music videos.
I sing a version of that refrain when I’m exploring the latest media frontier, the Internet, and happen to chance upon realistic portrayals of Asian Americans.
“I want my, I want my Asian Americaaaannnn TeeeVeee!” And here it is, on Web 2.0 (the next generation of the Web), where everyday throngs of Asian Americans post pictures, blogs, videos, songs and whatever else you can squeeze into a pixel or an mp3.
In fact, user-generated content sites, such as YouTube, MySpace and Flickr, have seemingly grown into the living breathing hubs of Asian Americans, more so than any other ethnic groups. Jeff Yang, a consumer strategist interpreting emerging Asian and Asian American trends for Iconoculture who also writes the “Asian Pop” column at SFGate.com, cites Xanga, a popular blogging community, as an example of this trend. “By some accounts, over 50 percent of randomly selected Xanga users are Asian American. Xanga may be an exceptional case, but the fact is, Asian Americans are overrepresented in just about every corner of the next-generation Internet, from Facebook to MySpace.”
A 2001 Pew Internet and American Life Project study, “Asian Americans on the Internet: the Young and the Connected,” found that 75 percent of English-speaking Asian American adults have used the Internet. That’s more than 5 million Asian Americans. The study also reported that Asian Americans are the Net’s most active and experienced users, meaning they’ve logged more Web hours. By comparison, 58 percent of white adults, 43 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of English-speaking Hispanics are online.
Take a look at YouTube.com, which has more than 6 million unique visitors per day and holds more than 40 million videos for users to share. An April 3, 2006, New York Times article about YouTube’s phenomenal growth noted the heavy Asian and Asian American activity on the site. “Anime clips and trailers, weird work like ‘Korean Madness,’ and the much-emulated comic stylings of ‘two chinese boys,’… are the bread and butter of YouTube,” says the article. “One Chinese-American contributor seems to have discovered a reservoir of humor that he and others might draw on for years to come. This is ‘Crazy Asian Mother,’ which has the subtitle, ‘how asian parents really act when childrens get b+.’”
As of this writing, the three-and-a-half-minute “Crazy Asian Mother” clip made by “blingchachink” has more than 1,394,728 views and YouTube “honors” of being No. 13 in the Top Favorites category. Considering that YouTubers add 35,000 videos a day, that’s a significant accomplishment. More significant, however, is that this little video is attracting a wide audience and helping to humanize Asian Americans in the media, that is, if you consider your computer a mass media portal.
Relating to “blingchachink’s” plight, a fellow YouTuber, a white female, has made her own spoof of his spoof, playing both the roles of the crazy Asian mother and the son. The video is made more out of homage than mockery.
Other clicks in YouTube categories such as Comedy and People turn up performances by Asian American comedians including Amy Anderson, children lip-syncing as in “I Can’t Sleep (no wonder)” from Waliku, Maui, and slice-of-life moments such as Asian American tots taking their first steps.
The Living Web, as some describe the new Internet landscape, is delivering real life Asian American moments; it’s self-representation and self-distribution.
Yang believes this user-generated content revolution could be a reaction to the lack of Asian American representation in mainstream media.
“So we aren't on top 40 radio, we're hardly present on TV, movies mostly incorporate us as cannon fodder and comic sidekicks ... on the Internet, we can be superstars of our own creation. The very fact that we're excluded from old media is making us a driving force behind its inevitable replacement,” Yang says.
And when you grow up with the tools in your house, as many Asian American kids have, it’s no wonder then that Asian Americans are also often the creators of the next generation of Web sites and applications. Yang notes that YouTube and exciting startups such as Rapleaf, Riya and Renkoo all have Asian Americans at the helm. Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, is half Asian. And let’s not forget Jerry Yang, one of the co-founders of Yahoo! (Am I starting to sound like an Adam Sandler song?).
It looks like Asian Americans are finally getting and controlling some spotlight. But how wide and how broad is the audience? Is it all just Asian Americans preaching to the choir? The Internet has the ability to connect across the world but it can also subdivide into minutiae, creating Internet versions of Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Little Indias, etc. Mainstream sites such as YouTube, however, offer diversity with their sorting categories that put Asian Americans alongside others.
And Yang, who was publisher and founder of aMagazine, a seminal publication for Asian Americans in the 1990s, is hopeful for the future. “My feeling is that the next generation of Asian Americans is not only going to be more informed and more vocal than ours, but also more equipped for the realities of global culture.”