Link Lineup – May 2021

Somehow this is both short (only like 5 links this month) and very long (because I had a lot to say about them), but I will return for a BTS + Butter focused one before the end of the month so there will be more links… and more thoughts on them!

Breaking the silence: Exploring the Austen family’s complex entanglements with slavery

If we are asked to determine whether the Austen family was pro-slavery or anti-slavery, then the best answer to that question is both. We can’t take up one half of the facts and ignore the other. We ought to continue to engage directly with these matters as they arise in her writings and to investigate them further in the cataclysmic times in which she wrote. To respond to today’s conversations about Austen and race with dead silence is to join the rest of the Bertram cousins. Scrutinizing the past in these ways ought to prompt a reckoning in fandoms and readerships, as well as better museum labels.

My friend Amanda-Rae Prescott wrote an article about Sanditon that was… not necessarily well received by the Totally Not Racist (But Actually Deeply Racist) Fandom Karens there.  I bring that up because the repeat complaints to her article claimed that she was playing the race card, trying to insert political correctness into everything, and that she was actually demanding historical inaccuracy from the future seasons of Sanditon. The thing about historical accuracy though, is that history is written first and foremost by the people who survived it.

What histories are written about the lives of Black and brown people who lived in the time of Bridgerton, Sanditon, and Poldark? What primary sources are accessible to authors who want to learn more about what these places actually looked like and how people like me could have been treated? Demands for historical accuracy – and raging against supposed inaccuracies – is a demand for silencing and for a privileged white past that wasn’t as uncomplicated as people think. As Looser points out in her piece for TLS about the Austen family’s views on slavery… it’s complicated. Because there’s no real way to average something like this and erasing either side does people like me, and like Amanda-Rae, a huge disservice.

Black Criticism Is Always Good — Especially When Black Art Isn’t

Sure, it’s a little self-serving to devote an entire column to the importance of my own profession but the world of culture criticism is still overwhelmingly white and I’m tired of seeing Black critics deemed traitors to our race just for daring to think critically about the work we’ve just experienced. Plus, it’s not just bad Black projects that need to be critiqued by Black writers (and no, Michael Che, a fair yet mediocre review by a Black critic doesn’t mean that a publication is hiding behind that critic’s Blackness; it means your shit is mediocre). The good stuff needs critique too.

Obviously, I love criticism. I read it often and I do it on my own time because it matters. It’s a valuable form of engagement with media and the world around us, and I want more of it. In this installment of her column “What’s Good”, Kathleen Newman-Bremang talks about how necessary critique is especially for Black projects both good and bad. It’s just such a great piece and it reminds me of how one of the things that bothers me is the point of view that critique of things marginalized people create is always seen as a betrayal.

Think of how badly people react to my work covering issues in fandom antiblackness over the years: that’s because to them, it’s a betrayal of fandom. Because I’m airing dirty laundry and refusing to accept or spread the narrative that fandom is uniformly good, that it’s a utopia. Criticism is necessary to keep interesting new thoughts flowing through a space. Criticism also is not solely negative, and good criticism is never done with the intent of hurting or hating. If you are predisposed to take criticism as hate, a betrayal, etc… that is solely a you problem, and you need to grow the hell up.

Listening to “Ma City”

According to Adam Bradley, author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, “rappers created a self-fulfilling prophecy: by taking pride in where they were from, they gave where they’re from a reason to be proud.” In his book, the literary critic and English literature professor describes how rappers from Brooklyn and Queensbridge “usually start by telling you where they’re from.” He writes that this “also drew from a deeper, more sustaining source: the desire to have pride in one’s community, even if—especially if—that community was denigrated by outsiders.” SUGA similarly starts by rapping self-deprecatingly in “Ma City” (“Honestly, there’s not much about Daegu to brag about”), but this actually leads him to put more emphasis on the pride he has for his hometown (“There’s nothing to brag about, so I can’t help but feel proud, right?”). Korea’s situation isn’t exactly the same as the one Bradley describes in the US, which he says reflects “deep-seated rivalries across and among New York’s boroughs.” But according to the 2015 Culture & Arts Yearbook published by Arts Council Korea, the distribution of cultural art activities held by region as of 2014, including performances and exhibitions, when Seoul is fixed at a baseline of 600, was only 149.2 for Gyeonggi, 106.4 for Busan, 63.7 for Daegu and 47.1 for Gwangju. And herein lies the basis for the members of BTS to have left their hometowns for Seoul in search of their dreams. Compared to other areas, Seoul has vastly more opportunity to pursue cultural and artistic work. SUGA’s lyrics, “My birth in itself is Daegu’s pride,” serve both to express his confidence in his skills as a rapper as well as to let the world outside Daegu know where his identity is rooted.

A) I need the Weverse editors to break up segmenets into smaller paragraphs because while yes, I wanted to quote this entire thing from the jump… I didn’t want to do it as a giant block of text.

B) One of my favorite things to think about across uh… two years of my very long project on hip hop and pop out of Korea (and how hip hop concepts and cultures are being framed/viewed as transnational and universal) is how… you can see this sort of thing in action. Like the author, Hyunkyung Lim points out, it’s not a 1:1 thing. It can’t be. However, the community pride and the references to where they grew up in Korea ties back into hip hop history and signaling authenticity via pride in their “hood”. I have more to say about this and I will say it soon because I have a piece in progress about BTS’s rapline’s trajectory, authenticity to self in hip hop, and a bunch of other stuff related to their Rolling Stone interviews and some other content I’ve been orbiting for a hot minute.

C) “Ma City” is also great as a song with a deep context that sees j-hope referencing his hometown and the events of the Gwangju Uprising (there’s a link to more information in the article itself). This article looks at this context but also talks about how a song like “Ma City” and a group like BTS have influenced so many people to think about Korean history and culture in a way they may not have before.

Saweetie, Rihanna, and the Memeification of Domestic Violence

Similarly, people find humor in videos of Black women being brutalized because Black girls and women have not historically been viewed and treated as victims, even when they are. 

I can’t get over how many people turned Megan Thee Stallion being shot into a joke. Or how many people, when I was younger, mocked Rihanna’s pain. Historically, Black women are the least respected people in US culture and when bad things happen to us – in this case, domestic violence – the world laughs rather than cries. The fact is that if you are a Black woman or femme and you are assaulted, it will be turned into a joke. And that is not okay.

Hollywood Movies Continue To Perpetuate Harmful Asian Stereotypes

Only 13% of the API characters “had a full spectrum of relationships” in their films, where “audiences know about their family, friends and romantic interests.” Recent examples include Destiny (Constance Wu) in “Hustlers,” Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) in “Jumanji: The Next Level,” Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) in “Yesterday” and Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) in “Parasite.”

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is particularly alarming in a time when Asian Americans are facing a surge in racist violence because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The characters often amplified insidious tropes, like the ways Asian Americans are seen as “perpetual foreigners,” reinforced by movies in which characters speak with exaggerated Asian accents or are portrayed as not understanding English. Many of the films in the study contained Asian women who were hypersexualized. The study also found that 58% of the Asian male characters had no romantic partners on screen, perpetuating another long standing trope in pop culture: the emasculation of Asian men.

Representation really freaking matters. In 2021, it’s really late for people to start realizing that media (prose, comics, TV shows, news, and films at least) shape how we think of the people around us. With a steady increase in anti-Asian racism across the past four years that have been happening worldwide, it’s important to talk about how media fuels hatred and violence. Fiction – whether its literal “this is not real” media like what we watch on Primetime with our families or lies in online/print news taken as fact – holds the very real power to harm marginalized people and here, we’re seeing that poor representations of Asians and Pacific Islanders in media… contributes to dehumanizing harm at multiple levels.

Media studies may be hit or miss because, at times the focus is a bit navel-gazey and non-intersectional, but we have decades of study showing that negative representation of marginalized groups contributes heavily to negative treatment of those groups by the people who consume that content. It’s time to lean on these companies even harder about what they’re putting out about marginalized people.

What links caught your eye this May?


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