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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Too Cute: American Style and the New Asian Cool (Day 1)

PRINCETON, March 3 — Princeton University hosted an academic conference about Asian American pop culture aptly named "Too Cute: American Style and the New Asian Cool Conference". The panels and schedules were arranged by Professor Anne-Anlin Cheng.

Child Love

Anne Higonnet, an Art Historian from Columbia University, started the panel with a presentation on the connection between the cultural concept of cute and definitions of childhood. She frequently referenced Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) and his artwork. Higonnet also mentioned Murakami uncanny ability to co-opt commercial product such as his line of custom designed Louis Vuitton hand bags.

Murakami's Version of the Louis Vuitton Hand Bag

Higonnet was followed by Christine Bacareza Balance. Balance, a University California - Irvine professor and vocalists for the Jack Lords Orchestra, conducted a presentation about Filipina Child Pop Stars. Her lecture was mainly focused on the cultural and political undertones in Filipino Pop Music. In her discussion, Balance talked about the impact of YouTube, American R&B influences, karaoke, and Filipino “palabas” concept. She used Charice Pempengco’s rise to stardom as a case study for her presentation.

Gertrude Ederle

Joon Lee, an English professor from the Rhode Island School of Design, read passages from one of his novels.

Girls on Girls

After a short lunch break, the conference continued with a panel about “Asian cool” from the perspective of girls.

Karen Tongson, a professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, discussed the internet pop phenomenon known as “Rin on the Rox”. Tongson began her discussion by outlining the cultural factors that lead to the emergence of the two Filipino American internet pop idols. She also talked about the deeper cultural trends surrounding the duo. Tongson emphasized topics such as sexual undertones, homophobic reactions, and the modern perception of womanhood in the media.

The next presentation was conducted by Laura Miller, Anthropology professor from Loyola University. Miller’s lecture was primarily concerned with the Japanese concept of “kawaii”. As an anthropologist, she approached the topic by categorizing the different types of “kawaii” found in Japan. She made a clear distinction between regular “kawaii” (cute) and “kimo kawaii” (grotesque cute). At this point, Miller started to couch her argument in a resistance framework. She characterized “kimo kawaii” as a rebellious act by Japanese girls against the commercial exploitation of the “kawaii” paradigm.

The Keynote Address: Eating Rice with a Fork

The day ended with an amazing keynote address by Eric Nakamura, co-founder of Giant Robot Magazine. Nakamura conducted a quick history of Asian American pop culture including personal stories about his own identity as a Japanese American. He described growing up as a product of two cultures that were intermingled. In an attempt to illustrate this “mashup” of identities, he humorously remarked that, “I eat rice with a fork.” The Ivy League audience enjoyed his wit and entertaining slide presentation. Towards the latter half of his address, he talked about the early days of Giant Robot Magazine and the evolution of the brand.

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