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If Asians in Asia bring about apocalypse or head up the new world order, Asian Americans will suffer the worst.
April 11, 2011 4:43 PM   Subscribe

The Yellow Plague: Asians and Asian Americans in Post-Apocalyptic and Zombie Fictions
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (35 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
For the curious, the article seems to begin somewhere in the twelfth paragraph.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:51 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Treating China and North Korea as interchangeable for the purposes of making a (admittedly not all that great sounding already) Red Dawn is about the stupidest thing ever. Yeah, sure, North Korea is going to invade America, how are they going to afford the gas to get there even?
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know, but Homefront is a video game written by the same guy as Red Dawn that's about the North Koreans invading America so it's easy to assume that John Milius took the Red Dawn remake he was writing (about China invading) and reworked it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:02 PM on April 11, 2011


is an award-winning spoken word artist

That's a red flag right there.

His dismissal of Glenn in The Walking Dead is pretty irritating. World War Z spends a large chunk of time aboard a Chinese nuclear sub, and two of the more gripping stories feature Japanese characters, one of whom is an absolute Zen badass. Lame.
posted by Scoo at 5:07 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Homefront review - it sounds vile for many reasons.
posted by Artw at 5:08 PM on April 11, 2011


"so that we can gentrify all the neighborhoods, force McDonalds to serve kimchee"
Hey, that doesn't sound so bad.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:12 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


one of whom is an absolute Zen badass Mr. Miyagi stand in stereotype

FTFY.

I was good with WWZ until we got to the magical blind Japanese master.
posted by yeloson at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


His dismissal of Glenn in The Walking Dead is pretty irritating.

He doesn't dismiss Glenn. He's just saying that if Glenn is his favorite Asian-American man in western post-apocalyptic fiction, it may be in part because he has so little competition. The only real criticism leveled against The Walking Dead here w/r/t its treatment of Asians is that Glenn's the only Asian (to my recollection) who has ever appeared in the series. Given that The Walking Dead is coming up on its fourteenth volume, that's kinda remarkable.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:27 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's that remarkable. We're talking about a disease/event with a huge mortality rate, and the bulk of the story takes place in the southeastern US, which isn't known for its huge Asian-American population. (I grew up in Arkansas--out of my graduating class of several hundred, we had maybe five kids of Asian descent.)

If anything, I'd be expecting to see a lot more black characters in The Walking Dead.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:48 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's pretty remarkable by the time the book reaches the NOVA area. As of Vol. 13, The Walking Dead takes place more or less in my yard, and communities don't come a lot more racially diverse than this one.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2011


"so that we can gentrify all the neighborhoods, force McDonalds to serve kimchee"

Hey, that doesn't sound so bad.


Hamburgers are one of the finest food known to man, and look what McD's has done to them. Can you imagine what McDonald's kimchee would be like?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:54 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's funny that he mostly dismisses Homefront (though to be fair, that game deserves a whole lot of dismissing for its barely-there narrative) but then talks about Glenn as one of the few interesting Asian American apocalypse survivors, if only because he's not a horribly obvious Asian stereotype. One of your companions throughout the game is a Korean-American, and he actually struck me as a very similar character to Glenn (though I've only seen a few episodes of the TV show, and none of the graphic novels). He even wears similar clothing.

Hopper Lee doesn't make Homefront suddenly good, but he's one of the game's few narrative high points. If only because he's not a horrifically obvious Asian stereotype.
posted by chrominance at 6:59 PM on April 11, 2011


McDonald's Kimchi burger
posted by ofthestrait at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also:

two of the more gripping stories feature Japanese characters, one of whom is an absolute Zen badass. Lame.

I thought it would be obvious that "absolute Zen badass" is an Asian stereotype, but I guess not.
posted by chrominance at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Treating China and North Korea as interchangeable for the purposes of making a (admittedly not all that great sounding already) Red Dawn is about the stupidest thing ever. Yeah, sure, North Korea is going to invade America, how are they going to afford the gas to get there even?

North Korea has exactly the same chance of invading America as China does, which is interestingly the exact same chance as the Soviet Union did in the 80's. Or Cuba.

That is to say, none.

There is something peculiar about the American psyche which enjoys movies about being the underdogs while simultaneously being the most powerful country on the planet.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:26 PM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Mainly it was changed to North Korea to keep from offending the Chinese, who it is a bad idea for video game companies to offend.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:38 PM on April 11, 2011


I was good with WWZ until we got to the magical blind Japanese master.

I was good with WWZ until the part about the Chinese government covering up a massive zombie outbreak (AKA the beginning of the book) and starting a war with Taiwan. They couldn't even cover up SARS FFS, and that was only a few thousand people.

Basically the entire book is ridiculous, even for zombie fiction, and nothing like the "realistic" image that it tries to portray.
posted by yifes at 8:08 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


one of whom is an absolute Zen badass Mr. Miyagi stand in stereotype

That's not really fair. There's also the story of the shut-in Japanese kid who has to fight his way down from the top of an apartment building, alone, after everyone he knows is long gone and probably dead. It's been a few years since I read it, but I remember him as by far one of the more emotionally gripping characters, and those scenes as some of the most nail-biting scenes I've ever read in zombie fiction. That an article about Asians in zombie fiction - one that appears to have read World War Z - could just plain ignore that character is bizarre.
posted by mediareport at 8:08 PM on April 11, 2011


Can you imagine what McDonald's kimchee would be like?

Something I'd want to put back in the ground?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:36 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If anything, I'd be expecting to see a lot more black characters in The Walking Dead.

Which has been my problem with most mainstream zombie/ghoul/shambling undead stuff in general. We're talking a genre that basically grew out of objectifying the black as literally inhuman. It could have gone another way, notably after the prominent casting of Duane Jones as the freakin' hero of Night of the Living Dead. Instead, they've just gotten whiter and whiter over the years.

I haven't been paying as much attention to the robust cinematic achievements of zombie movies in the past few years, but I found it notable that the only prominently visible black zombies in Zombieland were in the opening credits. (No Asians that I noticed, either) And they shot this thing primarily in Georgia, and not in lily-white parts either. What's the world coming to when a black man can't even play a zombie?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:24 PM on April 11, 2011


We're talking a genre that basically grew out of objectifying the black as literally inhuman.

Hmm. I'd dispute that a little - modern zombie stuff pretty much emerged out of Matheson's I Am Legend and Romero's Night of the Living Dead, rather than traditionalist voodoo zombie flicks like I Walked With a Zombie. Night of the Living Dead is of course fairly interesting race-wise.
posted by Artw at 9:57 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not really fair. There's also the story of the shut-in Japanese kid who has to fight his way down from the top of an apartment building, alone, after everyone he knows is long gone and probably dead.

Oh come on. That story basically had two phases: "I'm an otaku who eats the lunch my mom slides under the bedroom door after I've had a good wank at the computer to hentai," and "holy shit I unlocked the innate ability all Asians have to use a sword like a goddamned badass."

Don't get me wrong, I really liked World War Z. I even liked the otaku story—it's among the small collection of stories from the book I remember vividly. But the payoff of the story is how one stereotypical Asian transforms himself into another stereotype by necessity.
posted by chrominance at 5:40 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I try to explain the lack of people of color in the Walking Dead by the fact that the zombie outbreak will spread fastest in the cities, killing off a disproportionate amount of non-whites first. It would be easier to stay alive in the country, which is really, really, really overwhelming full of white people. A zombie outbreak that kills 99% of the county would leave a 1% that is almost entirely white with a sprinkle of Indians living on reservations.

There's no way the producers of the show would use that explanation. I'm sure the answer is really the result of typical Hollywood casting bias, but watching Star Trek my whole life has trained me to try to come up with explanations for things in my fantasy TV that the writers fail to address.
posted by riruro at 8:15 AM on April 12, 2011


In the wake of the AMC series (which I haven't bothered to watch, figuring I can get it from Netflix later), I started the comic. Now I'm nearly halfway through the first Walking Dead compendium volume and I'm not too motivated to continue, I confess. I mean, it's obviously an impressively conceived work and Kirkman very effectively imagines the kinds of terror and stress people might face in such a world. And in the abstract it all seems like a thing well done. But so far it's so relentlessly grim that I keep putting it down to look for some cheering news from Japan.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2011


one of whom is an absolute Zen badass Mr. Miyagi stand in stereotype

FTFY.

I was good with WWZ until we got to the magical blind Japanese master.


Mr. MIYAGI?

It was a ZATOICHI homage, ffs.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:27 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should have made him dutch...

/NotRutgerHauerist
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on April 12, 2011


"holy shit I unlocked the innate ability all Asians have to use a sword like a goddamned badass."

I haven't read the comic at all, but in the part of Japan where I worked it wasn't at all unusual for kids to take kendo at school as part of PE so I'm not sure it's necessary to rule out that some kid knows how to use a sword as an Asian stereotype. Unless he's an Asian American kid, cuz I haven't seen any kendo at all in North America.
posted by Hoopo at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2011


It was a ZATOICHI homage, ffs.

Zatoichi's badassery doesn't come from being asian. Japan has a lot of magical master types, but it's not their ethnicity that makes them so.

America's magical master types, usually are.
posted by yeloson at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2011


I haven't read the comic at all, but in the part of Japan where I worked it wasn't at all unusual for kids to take kendo at school as part of PE so I'm not sure it's necessary to rule out that some kid knows how to use a sword as an Asian stereotype

It is. The story they're referring to isn't from the comic, it's from a book called World War Z. chrominance sums it up nicely above.

It really is just one stereotype turning into another, and it's odd that someone would bring it up in this discussion because it's a good example of what the linked critique is talking about. The linked article talks about how Asians are stereotyped as being highly intelligent but socially/emotionally inept, and indeed, this kid starts out as being super-smart but a social freak. But luckily, All Asians Know Martial Arts, so he turns out okay after he hooks up with another Asian stereotype.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:05 PM on April 12, 2011


One of my pet peeves is when a member of minority X (or self-perceived minority X) views work Y and notes it features someone of minority X who is a less than perfect character, obviously the creators view everyone from minority X to be the same.
So creators of work Y have this all or nothing catch22, either don't feature a minority at all or feature at least three of them to demonstrate that most of minority X are good people. Falsification bias, etc.
This movie has 20 characters, one of them is black, and he's also angry, therefore it is implying that all black men are angry! Ugh. There is racism in hollywood, and in mainstream fiction, but it's not this. One example does not make a rule. Just because you have on "stereotypical" character does not neccesarily mean the authors subscribe to that stereotype.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 1:26 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The story they're referring to isn't from the comic, it's from a book called World War Z

whoops. I actually own the Zombie Survival Guide and was interested in that book, but never got around to buying it.

The linked article talks about how Asians are stereotyped as being highly intelligent but socially/emotionally inept, and indeed, this kid starts out as being super-smart but a social freak. But luckily, All Asians Know Martial Arts, so he turns out okay after he hooks up with another Asian stereotype.

I didn't see the part where he talked about the intelligent yet socially inept stereotype, but I know this is a common stereotype. My understanding based on the description up thread is that this particular story in World War Z takes place in Japan. Like anywhere else there are some socially awkward people that exist there, and I would have to assume that's in contrast to the many normal Japanese people who aren't shut-ins and got eaten by zombies. If I were writing a character that somehow was spared from the zombie apocalypse this would be a pretty good backstory--he's someone who never leaves the house or makes contact with people and therefore he was able to avoid the zombie plague. The fact he's a shut-in and has to undergo this transformation to survive makes the story and the character more interesting. It's not much of a narrative if he's a normal joe and nothing changes and he hides scared under a desk until zombies get him. The whole point of this kind of fiction is to show the kinds of changes the survivors have to undergo to survive in a post-apocalypse reality.

Again I haven't read the story, but I was offering up a bit of trivia to explain why a kid might know how to use a sword (I can't say why he had an actual sword at his disposal though instead of those wooden things they use in kendo), and the article doesn't seem to take too much issue with World War Z except to say it's not great that the outbreak started in Asia. Fair enough point.

The Ada Wong thing though, jeez. Taking issue with characters in Resident Evil games is low-hanging fruit. They're all cheap stereotypes, and it's not exactly flattering that all the white people solve problems with guns and brute force.
posted by Hoopo at 10:00 AM on April 13, 2011


modern zombie stuff pretty much emerged out of Matheson's I Am Legend and Romero's Night of the Living Dead

Pretty much, although I'd also argue that it's substantially older than that. The modern zombie is basically just a ghoul with a more exotic name. Ravening undead with a taste for human flesh? If there's not a 10-foot stack of dusty History of Religion theses tracing the modern "zombie" back through a few centuries of specifically European folklore, I'd be quite surprised. The real threat with a Haitian zombie isn't the shambling dead man, it's the sorceror who controls him.

It would be easier to stay alive in the country, which is really, really, really overwhelming full of white people.

Yes and no? Main advantage to a rural setting would be lower population density, so I could see a somewhat higher survival rate there (fewer potential zombies). On the other hand, hardly anybody is a subsistence farmer in the US anymore, so they'd be nearly as likely to starve as anybody in the cities. Possibly more so, since neighbors who could help you out with your zombie siege or your harvest would be literally few and far between, and worried about leaving their bunker.

Moreover, while a lot of midwestern and plains state rural areas are overwhelmingly white, the same is not true of the American South. That said, I could definitely see something like a Katrina situation happening all over again -- the rich have their bunkers and the poor get abandoned to the zombies.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:31 PM on April 13, 2011


Looks like the WWZ movie came back to life, is now presumably stumbling around eating brains.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on April 13, 2011


If there's not a 10-foot stack of dusty History of Religion theses tracing the modern "zombie" back through a few centuries of specifically European folklore, I'd be quite surprised.

Well, there's Revelations, of course and various ghost and ghouls and whatnot, and yer Frankenstein of course, but I think the Zombie plague goes back as far as Matheson and no further, and his vampires are different enough from the Romero zombies we know and love that I think it's afir to say that the modern zombie mostly emerged from the cinema of the 60s - It's a reletavivly unusual monster type that way.
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on April 13, 2011


I think the Zombie plague goes back as far as Matheson and no further

I think you're probably right on that one -- we could probably track down some prior art, but I think the concept of the undead as plague is a very 20th century thing. They aren't stopped by circles, or buckwheat groats, or any of the other things that put limits on vampires and werewolves and the ilk.

They are a very natural, rather than supernatural, phenomenon. Like TB, or the spanish influenza, or the clap.

Which, of course, means that they are not a voodoo zombies, just something that shares the same name. A little bit of salt'll do away with a voudou zombi.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2011


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