Sunday, December 05, 2004


When the Angry Asian Man calls the Hollywood Reporter for only including one person "of color" in their top 35 entertainment execs under 35, he is doing a necessary piece of analysis. When he draws his readers' attention to James E. Herr's letter to Variety pointing out the same phenomena in their list of top women in Hollywood, he is pointing out another good piece of analysis. But then when he talks about the PBS series They Made American, he goes a little too far for me:

Sort of on a related note, They Made America is a PBS series based on a book chronicling 64 pioneers, entrepreneurs and innovators that helped shape America as we know it. And wouldn't ya know it? There are only 5 people of color. Yeah. And none of them are Asian American. (Are you beginning to see a pattern here?)

At this point, the Angry Asian starts trying to re-write history instead of simply pointing out signs of possible latent discrimination in the entertainment industry. Let's say that Chinese state television came out with a series called They Made China (I chuckle just thinking about it), and I saw that out of the people profiled, not a single one was Caucasian, "of color", or any other non-Chinese minority. Would I be justified in criticizing CCTV for this? No, for two reasons (reasons which I hope would have analogs in defending PBS's list):

  1. First, unless the list were considerably long, you could probably make a good case for not including any Caucasian people in the list of influential Chinese. Casting aside any discussion of what "influential" means (Stalin certainly played a large role in shaping the 20th century China), on a superficial level we would probably find that ethnic Chinese simply dominate their own history. Bringing this over to the USA, I think that ethnic Europeans dominated much of early US history. This, for sure, is another lengthy debate already in progress, but on a superficial level it may be that simple.
  2. Second, the melting-pot type of nationalist mythology which the USA currently finds to be in its own self-interest is not the same as the mythology that China would have its own citizens be socialized with. For many centuries, the idea of a strong (ethnic) center leading tributary (ethnic) satellites has held together a relatively stable China. In this respect, all we could criticize PBS for, as an important tool of socialization, is for being outdated; the 21st century America is better served by an ideology of diversity. (Intersting to note, then, that the Angry Asian Man can be seen as a missionary of this next brand of American nationalism.)

On the other hand, I find the second point that I made above to be remarkably relativistic. I may even find myself rejecting it seconds after I hit the "Publish" button...


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