Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Villagers Strike Back
So, I was talking to Emery (my brother) about the difference between shitty asian fusion and the new modern Asian places we like. Its been going on for a while, but for the first time, I'm seeing good ones. For every shitty place doing tempura super orgasm volcano dragon eel surprise hand rolls, there's a Kyo-ya, Basta Pasta, or Bonchon. But, I don't see this as fusion and that's what people need to understand. Food is cultural and just like any movement, things have to evolve. Some evolve out of struggle and some are just random unexpected mutations.
If I have to break it down in simple lowest common denominator terms: 80s - consumerism, 90s - grunge/hip hop backlash-struggle stories, late 90s - puffy suits/boy bands/.com boom/more consumerism.. Early 2000s you see the hipster - someone who consumes identity and culture (its been done before, but now in a more literal ironic bullshit way). Everyone hates the hipsters and hipsters don't even know they're hipsters, but one thing I do know is that the hipster is dead (Can you really argue? your culture is so formulaic that people have sold it as KESHA LOL. Its like when Asian fusion was so bad subway came with the teriyaki sub). I feel we're in the midst of a turn with the economic crash. This period to me is about "The Villagers Strike Back". Very Edward Said-like... I know.
The 10s will be about second-generation immigrants or the gentrified turning the tables outside the ivory tower. Just look at the things that made waves the last few years: MIA, Obama, Asian Street Food (ramen, banh mi, pork buns), Slumdog Millionaire. For once, instead of being victims of appropriation, we will become the appropriators. The villagers strike back. We have now either grown up in America or consumed "Americana" as 3rd party viewers who are not totally accepted, not totally alienated. We weren't full participants and as spectators we have a different view.
Minority artists are now showing people how America looks to us. If one song sums it up, its Nas and Lauren Hill - If I ruled the world. We're finally getting to paint that picture and I feel its because of the recession. People are seeing the failures of corporate America, the false dreams that B-School, Law School, or any school for that matter sells us. Its all a ruse. Our parents worked their asses off to help us pay for colleges/grad schools that led us astray. They want us to think the Ivory tower is the only way. You have to go to college, then it became you have to go to grad school, you know what, I wish I just read more books in HS and saved my money as a bus boy instead of chasing Jordans that my mom wouldn't get me as a kid. Small business is what can turn the culture of this country around.
A lot of us have been doing this for a minute subconsciously and just out of necessity. A lot of the things I cook came out of an organic American experience. Cheeto fried chicken happened because I didn't have sweet potato starch and wanted to make Taiwanese fried chicken, so I used cheeto crumbs. Its authentic localized/modern Taiwanese food. My dad started making ketchup fried rice. Then I saw Korean people were doing it too. Its not some wack fusion attempt that some gwai lo who went back packing in Asia cooked up. The food comes out of a REAL experience. I'm sure in 3 years, it will be played out but I will never be bored of it because its my story. Others will probably see and consume it as a fad or write it off as just the new trendy thing, but take a look and let it sink in. There's something real going on right now.
We're as post-modern as the hipster, but without the self-referential bullshit and pessimism about where our culture is going. Hipsters make fun of the way their culture works, yet secretly continue to engage in it. Whereas, us second-generation immigrants take pride in our shit. Yes, Chinese culture has its flaws (AKA the belief you're dog shit if you're not a doctor/lawyer/stock trader) yet we want to evolve the culture rather than make fun of it and pretend it's not where we came from. We don't deny our roots, we use them to grow. We poke fun at FOBs, but those FOBs are our parents. They are a part of us. There's a reason being called a twinkie or an oreo is an insult. Post-modernism was supposed to bring an objective point of view so people could see the flaws and make improvements, not become a tactic for people to deny responsibility and try to look edgy/hip by being above all of it. Hipsters are cutting their own legs off and trying to replace them with peglegs from other cultures. That's where this need for cultural voyeurism comes from. They're trying to deforest our culture to build legs for themselves, and it's not gonna work. Now we're the ones building it on our own roots.
(This was my first post I wrote in collab with Emery!)