Can we try being proud of each other?
I have a friend with very strong opinions on art who’s been on my mind a lot lately. In fact, I have many friends with very strong opinions on art, and I have many strong opinions on art, too. The particular friend I’m thinking of is Asian American, and for better or worse, their opinions have made me think a lot about the strong opinions of other Asian American peers.
I’ve noticed a common thread in these strong opinions. They’re not kind. Half the time, they criticize lost political opportunity or missed social marks. The other half of the time, they roll their eyes at the “corniness” of the art. In other words, they disdain imperfection and sentimentalism.
This all makes me feel like a fucking cliché sometimes. Stoic perfectionists who don’t want to talk about their feelings? Wow, are we Asians or what. Give me a break. And yet, I absolutely roll my eyes. Regularly.
So this friend with the strong opinions…they criticized Everything Everywhere All At Once as being so great BUT for the sentimentalism of the mother-daughter relationship. I’m not giving much away by saying the emotional denouement hinges on practical realities of most immigrant American families but more personally, I thought, “Jesus can’t we have anything? Let us have this one fucking thing.”
[p.s. Yes, I feel a little bad that I’m talking about a person who can’t respond, on my blog. It’s ok though. I’ve had more direct discussions with them about feckless erudition. We’re all art yuppies, I’m afraid. Arguing is the only way we know we’re being honest.]
Conveniently, there’s a minor subtext in the movie that encapsulates the ambiguities of negative criticism. Joy, the Americanized daughter, explains to her white girlfriend Becky that minor insults masquerading as life advice are her immigrant Asian mother’s way of expressing affection. Like, if mom criticizes your haircut or tells you to watch your weight, it just means she’s paying attention.
On a good day I tell myself that when my friends diss something generally considered good, it’s their immigrant mom reptile brain instinct to say “you’re fat” instead of “I see you.” But the more my Asian American friends disdain our own pop culture, the more despondent I feel, lately. Working in Philadelphia where our ranks are thinner than Los Angeles (where I grew up) or New York (where I cut my teeth), I’m reminded every single day that non-Asians can’t tell between us and a feckin elbow. Would that we could afford to be sophistic about culture. I still get calls requesting appraisals of Ming vases. How am I explaining to that guy the meaning of representational subterfuge?
I get to a point sometimes when I just want to quit my work and be left alone to make my own corny art. But I am over-trained, bigger than this, and can’t afford not to be an advocate anymore. So let’s try something else. It’s ok if you have strong opinions. You’re entitled to your own opinion and all that. It gives you strength of character. Can we try one other sentiment, though? Can we add another color to our palate of reactions to pop culture?
How about pride? How about you let me be proud of you, and you can be proud of me? How about we be bigger than this. Let’s be fat.