...not a neutral exercise.
April 16, 2014 3:28 AM   Subscribe

"Why Do Chinese People Have Slanted Eyes?" By Amanda Lee Koe (Text essay, possibly nsfw)
posted by zarq (23 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Asian and Pacific Islanders of Los Angeles County v. Miley Cyrus

That complaint exerpt is probably the dumbest thing I'll read today. I sincerely hope the lawyers involved are sanctioned.
posted by jpe at 4:14 AM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gerald Durrell, naturalist and zookeeper, wrote in one of his books that he used to enjoy spending weekend afternoons hanging out in the reptile house just for the pleasure of hearing the outlandish nonsense that visitors would opine on all aspects of reptilian anatomy, behavior, diet etc. This seemed like that, except reptiles are blissfully unaware of those comments, and don't pay financially and physically to get "fixed." So, you know, it's hard to "enjoy" the stories.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:17 AM on April 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

jpe, a judge dismissed the suit.
posted by zarq at 4:25 AM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This piece would have been stronger without the italicized place settings before every vignette. Making us work for it a little would have maximized the impact.
posted by redsparkler at 8:00 AM on April 16, 2014

Is anyone else getting really tired of this strange stylistic idea that articles are easier to read if they're just separate vignettes instead of a fully cohesive piece? Lately it seems like this is the default way to write an article, as if it's incredibly innovative: "let's let the reader draw the links themselves!"

They're more like short stories this way, albeit short stories stuck with a stylistic laziness. Are writing segues so difficult? Or is it just that the authors think that I don't have time to read them and thus wants to hone the number of words down to the bone. All I know is that these constant jump cuts are giving me whiplash.
posted by wyndham at 8:15 AM on April 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Eh, the style is fine for the impressionistic narrative Koe is creating here. Vignettes have a long history in journalism. If you don't like it I guess you can take it up with Hemingway, Dos Passos, Didion....
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:56 AM on April 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I take your point re: their history, it just seems to me lately that it is really the flavour du jour. I have read three articles linked from the blue in the last three days that utilize it.
posted by wyndham at 9:36 AM on April 16, 2014

These are great, thank you.

(i thought the lawsuit was fictional but apparently I'm wrong!)
posted by divabat at 9:44 AM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Um....what the heck was that piece? That was not what I was expecting at all.

The only one I really got was the poor girl who'd had the surgery and her reasons for doing it. Ouch (literally).
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:57 PM on April 16, 2014

It's an examination, in vignettes, of various assumptions people make about Asians and in this case specifically Chinese women. It shows people expressing stereotypes and unconscious racism (including telling an Asian woman she is exotic without understanding that in doing so they are othering and insulting her). It also notes mainstream, Caucasian/Western standards of beauty (a Bedouin has "beautiful big eyes" while a Chinese person has "slanted" eyes) and various ways Asian women may try to achieve acceptance and reach those standards in both Western and their own societies.

Ms. Koe is a Singaporean author.

I can see now that it's not for everyone. But I hope some folks got something out of it the way I did.
posted by zarq at 3:25 PM on April 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

Yeah, it might take some actual immersion in the culture to really grok the context.

Growing up in Malaysia my eyes were oftenthe source of envy because they were big, double-eyelidded, and closer to the Bedouin ideal mentioned in the story. (it got so annoying that at one point I cut my eyelashes off in protest.) Looking even the slightest bit Caucasian can make a difference in employability, especially for jobs that are more public-facing. You can get eyelid stickers now, but surgery is still popular.
posted by divabat at 3:51 PM on April 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Even in Malaysia? I didn't realize it was so pernicious and widespread. :(
posted by zarq at 4:10 PM on April 16, 2014

Thank you, jpe. I was hoping I wasn't the only one.

I am unlike many metafilterites in that I don't have much sympathy for the progressive grievance-industrial complex.
posted by Alaska Jack at 8:55 PM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I liked the article. I'm a member of an Asian (Malaysian Chinese) family, so maybe that's why I got something or of it. I liked the use of the style in the article.
posted by arcticseal at 2:02 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought it was beautifully done. And sad.
posted by stray at 3:02 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by mlis at 3:49 PM on April 18, 2014

My wife also contemplated getting her eyelids done, but I dissuaded her as why would she want to go through that much pain for purely cosmetic reasons. This is a reminder to me that there is a lot of factors in making that kind of decision and maybe I'm not aware of all of them (even if I was, I might not be in a position to understand the reasoning).
posted by arcticseal at 3:52 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I hope some folks got something out of it the way I did.

Yes -- I did! Thank you for this, zarq.

(And were it not for the MeTa I would have missed this, so thanks to divabat as well, though I'm saddened it went that way.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:15 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ditto and ditto to Westringia F. I skipped this link at work and forgot to come back to it later. It's a beautiful piece, and I'm glad I read it, and I'm sorry it ended up in MeTa.

I love the idea of combining themes of the actual physical eye with the abstract ideas of perspective and relativity, of viewpoint, and I think the author did so in a really unique way. Who's looking, who's being looked at, who's the assumed audience, who's the actual audience?
posted by jaguar at 7:51 PM on April 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

I also think the vignette form reinforces the idea of shifting perspectives -- as a reader, you don't get the chance to get comfy with who's the narrator and who's the audience, since it changes every few paragraphs and forces you to think about it again and again.
posted by jaguar at 8:35 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love how it ends - the image is so evocative and powerful.

"Look at this work. Counter Acts, by the Filipino artist Poklong Anading. It is a black-and-white lightbox showing a group of people holding up circular mirrors to cover their faces, which in turn reflect the bright sunlight in which they have been photographed. And I chose to open the exhibition with it.

Of course, because the subjects are holding up mirrors, neither viewer nor subject can see one another—in place of their faces are light flares. This thing about objectification: the artist restores autonomy. This thing about perspective: the artist reminds us that we can never really look at anyone from the viewpoint at which they see us. This thing about clarity: the artist blinds us, and in so doing, he all but annihilates gaze."

I love how it brings in the inherent instability of our limited perspectives, and how we can be blinded by our own assumptions and expectations. The use of a mirror in that in-between place between two people, as a way of disrupting gaze form both directions, is inspired.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:32 AM on April 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I like the collage of pieces. I like the discomfort it conveys so effectively. I like how it makes me feel some sense of immersion in an experience different from mine. I feel it conveys a subjective experience of being slapped with this stuff randomly and unexpectedly when you are going about your daily business. I think that offers some hope of empathy for how awful this kind of prejudice can be to endure.
posted by Michele in California at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read the two links a few days ago and thought I'd comment, even though I feel hesitant.

There's a lot that I learned while reading the articles and most every line in the vignette reflected upon my experience as an Asian woman born and has grown up in the US. I couldn't read the section about the lawsuit, though. It's too weird, because ignoring racist things, no matter how microaggressive (to add to that, no matter how small or well-meaning/not aggressive) such a strong habit for me. On the other hand, I'm big on complaining. I've been trying to change it, but challenging people in an effective way is difficult. And I'm usually not mentally up for it. Thus I default to quashing my feelings in the name of safety or settling with an eyeroll toward the idiocy of friends and company. Even though I cannot bring myself to actually read it, there's a very small part of me that's grateful that someone(s) around here decided to push back.

As for eyelid surgery, I learned about the very specific complications that can happen through it. I had no idea. When it comes to gambling some discomfort in exchange for a "better" look and higher income, I definitely can see why it's done. I used to very much disagree with most kinds of body modification but over the years I've learned to be more sensitive about my lack of perspective. This piece is yet another one that I'll remember when I think of body mod/plastic surgery.

While I liked the section about the model the most, I felt that the most engaging one is the last portion about curating. For all the obvious reasons, but also because of the bit about curating being "not a neutral exercise." That being the title for the post is actually why I decided to click through and read it. Often people will tell me or accuse me of 'having an agenda' as if they themselves don't have one. Yo, just because a ton of people you socialize with and encounter on most days will agree with you that I have an agenda, doesn't mean that you're without an agenda yourself.

The interview with the author herself was a good read. As someone who loves stories and will craft stories in her spare milliseconds, I thought it wonderful that there's people out there forcibly making spaces for pushing the limits further on fiction, to explore more and get voices out there. Amanda Lee Koe's sensitivity to the general English scene is evident, especially in her response to the final question.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by one teak forest at 1:03 AM on April 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

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