Shortly after the November 8, 2016 election, the media was looking for explanations of how Donald Trump could have won the electoral college when most projections had predicted a Hillary Clinton win. At that time, even though some journalists had already covered the Russians hacking the DNC in order to influence the election through a slow and carefully timed release of one-sided damaging PR, the stories about Russia’s role in the election were not getting the most air time or the front-page headlines.
One explanation was the proliferation of what some journalists were calling “fake news” that were essentially total hoaxes or entire fictions usually based on zero facts, like Pope Francis supposedly endorsing Trump or Hillary Clinton supposedly running a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint.
Even though the outrage over “fake news” (you could also call it propaganda, lies, or hoaxes) is justified, I immediately saw people on the left start to back away from the term. “Be careful,” they said. “It’s dangerous. You start using the term ‘fake news,’ and then it will be co-opted.”
They were right, in one sense, of course—Trump’s mobs did start co-opting the term “fake news” to mean “news I don’t like” instead of “news that isn’t news and is in fact wholly made-up fiction.”
In another sense, though, they weren’t right. The term “fake news” isn’t itself more prone to being co-opted. If you have legions of unquestioning followers (as Trump does), any legitimate term can be co-opted, and they are, in fact, being co-opted—the term “safe spaces,” which used to be a way for conservatives to ridicule “special snowflake” liberals, suddenly became something Trump followers (or Twitter bots?) were co-opting to indicate they can engage in whatever hate speech they want without being called out on it.
It’s a strategic fallacy to believe that picking the right word or phrase to describe a phenomenon will somehow prevent someone else from misusing the word or phrase or co-opting it to mean almost the exact opposite. We do want to be precise with our language, but not because that means it can’t be co-opted—only to be accurate in what we are describing.
If you decide to use the word propaganda instead of the phrase fake news, Trump supporters can just easily start responding to any news story they don’t like with #propaganda. If you decide to use the word lies, they can similarly respond with #lies.
Of course you want to pick the right tool for the purpose. You don’t want to use a hammer to screw in a screw, and you don’t want a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. But don’t imagine for a second that if you pick the right tool, a malicious party can’t decide to use your “correct” tool to become a weapon.
Attacks on the press. I'm not talking about "This publication said mean thing. They suck. Their subscriptions are going down" tweets, though those are certainly horrible. I'm talking about denying critical information to some press while giving it only to the press that reports positively about him, his family, or Russia. I'm talking about siccing his followers to harass reporters or issue death threats to them. Doing practical things to discredit legitimate news sources. Fully expect Trump and his followers to increasingly misapply the term "fake news" to actual real news.
A horrible event leading to increased executive power. Trump might allow a terrible event to happen as an excuse to grab more power—something like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Watch out particularly for anything that allows him to "temporarily" be subject to far fewer checks and balances than he already is. Not needing congress to declare war. Postponing a 2020 presidential election. Proposals or even hints at eliminating presidential term limits. He may even be so bold as to "jokingly" rename his title to "emperor" or "king" instead of president.
Limitations on free speech. Right now most of you can speak out against the president without government retaliation. Sure, if you issue a credible death threat, the secret service will be after you, but if you said "Obama sucks!" recently or said "W. is a moron" ten years ago, nothing probably happened to you. You didn't fear for losing your job in almost all circumstances. Nothing would happen to your family. If you find yourself self-censoring criticism of Trump for fear of death, imprisonment, loss of a job, etc., then you know we are officially in an authoritarian regime.
Limitations on movement. Sure, it's difficult to emigrate, much as people often joke during presidential elections about moving to Canada. Lots of paperwork and hoops to jump through. But we can still freely travel, for the most part. If you have a passport and some money, you can fly to another country or drive across the border to Canada. Once American citizens feel they cannot leave the country, you know we are officially in an authoritarian regime.
Erasure of the past. George Orwell was not wrong about this. She who controls the past controls the future, and she who controls the present controls the past. If you start seeing information disappear or become less available that shows the illegitimacy of the Trump regime or you see indications that what is now "normal" has always been this way, you know we are officially in an authoritarian regime.
Racial regress. We're already starting to see this with the rise of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists rebranded in puff pieces as the "dapper" alt-right. But it might get worse. There might be proposals to not make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a holiday. There might be proposals that segregation is not such a bad thing, really. You might start to see these ideas not just at the fringes but in "mainstream" media coverage.
This is not an exhaustive list. Just some key points I wanted to highlight.
Some of you reading this now may be thinking "Come on. You're being alarmist. Everything is going to be okay. We're still the United States." Fine. I'm not predicting these things will definitely 100% happen, even though we've had lots of early indicators they should be real concerns. What I'm saying is I really, really, really, really hope they won't happen, but we both know now as you're reading this how alarming these would be if they did happen. So remember that if they seem to be alarming now, they should also be alarming to you in the future—those values of what's alarming or unacceptable should not change. I would love to be wrong about this, believe me.
I've been going to comic book conventions for decades, back when they used to be almost exclusively about comics and less about games, movies, and cosplay. Back then, admission was $3 or maybe even up to $7 or $10 depending on what artists were there signing. There wouldn't be tons of artists there, maybe two or three. I remember one convention I went to with a huge line for Todd McFarlane. David Mazzucchelli sat at a small table with no line. I was a fan and went over to get Mazzucchelli to sign something (Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again—I forget which). There weren't artist alleys. There wasn't much visible cosplay. I think there was maybe one panel. No movie tie-ins (before that, we had Batman, Dick Tracy, and Rocketeer, and not a whole lot else).
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm in San Francisco attending Wonder-Con at the giant Moscone Center in SOMA. I remember seeing a completely packed large ballroom for a preview of Joss Whedon's Serenity, and as they emptied out, seeing the cast of Fantastic Four, randomly Christian Bale (for Dark Knight, I guess), and then Kevin Smith.
Comic conventions were huge, and this wasn't even San Diego Comic-Con.
But then Wonder-Con ditched San Francisco for Anaheim.
This year, another company decided to take on launching up a San Francisco Comic-Con, and it was bit rocky, but a promising start.
The logistics were a bit of a mess.
The line-up of celebrity guests kept changing. People kept cancelling, even last minute. A week before the convention, my spouse and I checked the panel schedule and mapped out time-wise what we'd like to see. The weekend of the convention, all the panel times had completely switched around.
The check-in process was also extremely confusing. For some reason, the Marriott had put two little metal gates in front of the main entrance of the hotel so that everyone (both conventioneers and regular hotel guests) had to squeeze into a narrow four-foot opening.
Then, we saw a lot of colorful signs up the escalator from the lobby, so we went up there, but the people up there said the check-in was downstairs. We followed the crowds of people downstairs... and then down more stairs, and then down even more stairs. There was no cell reception in the depths of the check-in area, so convention staff had to keep yelling that people with e-tickets should get the tickets up on their phones before heading downstairs.
When we got downstairs downstairs downstairs, we had a security check line with a Disneyland-like snaking line (about Toy Story Mania–length, for those of you familiar with California Adventure). They scanned our tickets and gave us bracelets.
We asked a Comic-Con volunteer where Golden Gate B was, and she had no idea, and told us to ask a staff member. What's a volunteer for exactly? Or why aren't they getting proper training?
The Comic-Con app was also a big fail. It wasn't mobile-friendly at all, and it didn't have everything offline. Some of the text you had to side-scroll to read. Every time you clicked into the panel information, you had to reselect the day (how often is the day going to change?).
Ultimately, it didn't seem the Marriott was equipped to handle a comic book convention. There was a major bottleneck right in the main lobby where guests check in. I felt bad for the hotel guests who wanted nothing to do with comic books.
Still a Good Time!
Logistics aside, we still had a good time. The first panel we went to was with Jenna Coleman: I thought she was the height of professionalism. You could tell she was tired of answering the same questions over and over again, but she kept trying to be respectful of her fans and make up new ways of giving the same answers. She didn't pretend she'd been a huge Doctor Who fan before being on the show. She didn't pretend to know who Death from Sandman is. And she connected really well with the little kids, who were totally adorable when asking their questions.
The convention didn't provide much in the way of food. There was a small concession area near the check-in area with mediocre food for okay prices (which is still better than mediocre food for exorbitant prices). That's fine, though. There are plenty of places to eat around the Marriott. We opted for Mel's Drive-In, which was crowded but didn't have too long a wait.
The artists' alley had a lot of artists (not all unfortunately listed on the San Francisco comic-con website). We got to meet and speak with Gerhard, the mastermind behind Cerebus's beautiful backgrounds. (I'd recommend reading this extensive interview with Gerhard from 2011.) Chatting with Gerhard alone made the convention worth it.
Weirdly, a ton of people were lined up for these mystery boxes—giant boxes that look like power-ups from Super Mario or Tardises from Doctor Who. They sold out mid-day.
The afternoon panel we went to was Women Write Comics with Trina Robbins, Dani Colman, and Anne Toole, and it was excellent. So much great stuff about writing, collaboration, sexism, differences in media (movies, TV, comics), authenticity... just too much stuff to list.
I've got to say, having gone to comic book conventions for several decades, I loved seeing a gender balance in attendees (lots of girls dressed as Rey from Star Wars, lots of women dressed as Ghostbusters) and lots of racial diversity as well (not all the stereotypical white neckbeards of yesteryear). Yes, this first San Francisco Comic-Con was a logistical flub-up (not exactly a disaster, but there's lots of room for improvement!), but people still looked as if they were having fun. I certainly had a lot of fun, and I hope next year the planners learn from their mistakes and make the process a bit smoother for everyone involved.
I grew up in the 80s, when Asian American characters in Hollywood movies and TV shows were few and far between and often awful caricatures with fake accents. Unfortunately, these caricatures and lack of good roles for Asian American actors persist (Two Broke Girls, for example), when it's not just plain old whitewashing (Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell, for example).
So I thought I'd make up a little list of movies and TV shows for those who are looking for more than just the usual American film/TV portrayal of Asian Americans.
Criteria for List
Like the Bechdel Test, this list's criteria isn't intended to be comprehensive or to even say "This movie is good" or "This TV show isn't problematic in any way." But the criteria does set the movie or TV show as different from the usual Hollywood fare:
There must be as least one Asian American character either who is in a lead role or who is fully fleshed out and complex.
There must be at least one Asian American character who isn't faking an Asian accent.
If there is a lead female Asian American character, she doesn't just end up with the lead male white character. Nothing against that kind of romantic pairing on principle—it is just done and overdone. (The Mindy Project and The Joy Luck Club are exceptions, because the female leads are so fully developed and central to the narratives.)
If it's a movie, I have to have seen it. If it's a TV show, I have to have watched at least two episodes of it.
It must be somewhat watchable. I won't say these are all excellent movies/TV shows, but I at least don't think they're horrible.
The Actual List
I'm listing in reverse chronological order by year (not going to distinguish within a year—too much work for too little reward—to get exact months of release) and then alphabetical.
Honorable mentions are for movies that have a fleshed-out non-fake-accented Asian American character who is a very side character or only supporting role. (My Favorite Brunette sneaks in there even though the one Asian American character isn't fleshed out. For a 1940s American movie to even have an Asian American character who doesn't have to fake an accent is relatively progressive for the time.)
The list is not complete by any means...
I'm open to suggestions, and I'll append to this list as I think of / see more movies and TV shows. Keep in mind I won't be adding to this list stuff that I haven't seen before. I haven't seen Marvel's Agents of SHIELD or the new Teen Wolf series, for example.
I have absolutely nothing against Asian American actors who fake accents to get work. Getting jobs in acting is hard for anyone, and it's extra difficult for Asian American actors to get any acting jobs, even ones that are horrible parts. You do you. Get your work. Stay active. Build your résumé. That said, I still want to bring extra attention to the roles that involve not faking accents or reinforcing stereotypes. It doesn't mean those actors are better than actors who do other roles (in many cases, there is a lot of overlap—one Asian American actor having to do one role with a fake accent may sometimes score a role without a fake accent).
Yes, I know there are Asian movie stars in Asia, and some of them have even had some success in the U.S. (especially for action/martial arts). Why can't Asian Americans also have the same (or better) success in their own home country? And, yes, I know I did a big old lump of the diasporas into the umbrella of "Asian American" when some of these actors are Asian Canadian or Asian Australian (or Asian British?). If I narrowed it down to only U.S. citizens, the list would, unfortunately, be even shorter than it is.
Why does everything have to be about race?
Not everything is about race, but race is a real issue in Hollywood. It isn't by accident that almost all major movies and TV shows are about white (or white-appearing) characters. Don't tell me I don't need to go into surgery for my damaged right arm just because my left arm is fine. For more details on why ignoring race in America is messed up and doesn't actually fix problems, check out Why is it so controversial when someone says "All Lives Matter" instead of "Black Lives Matter"?
If, after reading that, you're still going to troll, I'm just going to delete you. There is plenty of that garbage out there in the Twittersphere and Tumblrsphere. I don't need to host so-called (i.e., fake) "color-blindness" on my blog. Go spout it somewhere else.