Week 9: East Asian Representations

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“While perhaps seeming to invite and embrace inclusion of Asians and Asian Americans, yellowface ensures the distancing and ultimate abnegation of them. By not attributing any specificity to Asian Americans, yellowface is ambiguous and aggregative. It helps white viewers feel comfortable and simultaneously be at ease with something they understand to be a diametrically oppositional other, quintessentially alien and inscrutable. Inscrutability is an effect of structural yellowface, the denial of Asian American subjectivity and complexity, which provides no insight into lived realities and experiences.” (Ono, Pham, 2009. Pg. 60)


This is a photo from Katy Perry’s 2013 American music awards performance. Here she performed her single, unconditionally, while in yellowface. As a white woman dressed in traditional Asian clothing, a kimono, she is strengthening stereotypes on a show that is broadcasted and viewed widely. Perry dressed up as a geisha, whose job is to solely entertain men. Through her performance she is exoticizing Asian stereotypes, while strengthening fetishes. The song also reinforces stereotypes with lyrics like “I will love you unconditionally” encouraging that Asian women are submissive and defenseless.

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