Racial discrimination is an awful thing. At this point, I think most of the enlightened world would agree that society would benefit from the elimination of stereotypes. But while they exist, it may not be so bad to take advantage of the ones that work in your favor.

Although “positive” stereotypes are detrimental to the racial group as a whole because they do not reflect real vicissitudes among individuals, they can be used to your advantage when you’re the beneficiary. If you’re a model minority and someone assumes that you are smart and industrious, roll with it. If you’re not actually intelligent and hard-working, this just makes it easier to fake it like everyone else does. This is especially the case with anything non-white being more “authentic.” This can apply to any aspect of culture, but if you have cultural authority based on the color of your skin, then use that empowerment to better spread your message.

Much has been written about Twelve Years a Slave winning the Oscar for Best Picture because of white guilt. Two Academy voters even when as far as voting for it without seeing it because of its “social relevance.” Ellen DeGeneres may have joked that there were two scenarios–either Twelves Years a Slave would win or the Academy is made up of racists–but she touched on the real issue of how much race played into the decision. “Social relevance” may just be a euphemism for white guilt.

Now here I’ll make a distinction between white guilt and affirmative action. Ostensibly, affirmative action is driven by a goal of diversity, and less so now to rectify past wrongdoings. White guilt is a response that European descendants feel towards minorities because of a history of imperialism, including institutionalized slavery. Although a college admissions officer may be inclined to admit the black candidate because her ancestors were slaveholders and she is correcting for some cross-generational moral deviance, her official line would be that the black candidate would increase the college’s “diversity.”

I won’t proffer an opinion on affirmative action here; that would take up entire post, if not the entire blog. However, I will say that white guilt is completely fair game. As a minority, you don’t know what kind of unspoken biases are held against you. Safe to say that most of those stereotypes are more detrimental than beneficial. You can work to subvert that racism because you know that it is wrong on a societal level, but you can also smartly use it to your advantage when necessary. So when a white person offers you some sort of concession because of some historical event that likely didn’t directly affect either of you, go ahead and grab it!

Lastly, if you are a white reader, don’t let white privilege blind you any more than pernicious racial biases do. Sometimes an Asian person is just not that smart; sometimes a black person is just not that athletic. And sometimes a movie about slavery is just not that great.

*NB: This also applies to Jews, of course.

These days, you step away from the Internet for a moment and suddenly you’re behind on current events. Most recently, I went dark for twenty minutes and when I came back on Twitter, Nelson Mandela had died. Pair this with the tragic death of Paul Walker just days early, the Internet cried.

I know vaguely who Nelson Mandela was. I never studied apartheid or much of South African history in school. I didn’t even watch Invictus. What I do know about Mandela is cursory. He fought against racial discrimination and was willing to go to jail for 27 years for his beliefs. He was President of South Africa from 1994-1999. In short, most of his accomplishments happened either before I was born or during my formative years. While I can’t say that I didn’t benefit from him making the world a better place, his impact on my life is relatively indirect and minimal.

I have seen every Fast and Furious movie with Paul Walker. Those movies are likely Walker’s greatest legacy. That alone has meant that Paul Walker has had a more direct impact on my life than Mandela. Comparing the legacies of these two individuals is an idiotic task, but if I were to post a RIP to either of them, it would be about Walker. Mandela led and extraordinary life with huge accomplishments, but he died peacefully at the age of 95 and had been mostly out of public light since 2004. Walker died at 40, and while he didn’t leave us with too meaningful roles, he still had a potentially long career ahead of him.

Looking at my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I see plenty of my peers posting messages of mourning for Mandela. I suppose it would look rather shallow if you grieved over the loss of Walker but said nothing of Mandela, who, by almost any definition, had a greater impact in the world. However, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers aren’t relying on you for world news updates. Your social media presence should be personal and relate to how the things you post affect you (although please, we don’t care what you ate for lunch).

I don’t doubt that for some people, Mandela may have been a source of personal inspiration and his life was meaningful on a personal level to those people. But for the majority of people expressing their sorrow, I hesitate to assume that they even know what apartheid was. This is reflected by the awful tributes to Morgan Freeman that people have put up or the tasteless comparisons of Walker and Mandela, like the picture at the start of this post. Just because someone important died, doesn’t mean the rest of the world needs to know that you were vaguely aware of that person’s significance.

I’m typically not a fan of gender neutral pronouns like “s/he” because they are awkward to use. I’m fine with using male pronouns by default. That is  because I use “he” as just a default gender-ambiguous pronoun. I ascribe no gender biases when I say “he.” I can just as easily refer to a hypothetical corporate CEO as “he,” as I do for a hypothetical emotionally unavailable spouse.

Once upon a time, “he” was the acceptable gender-unknown pronoun by default. With the rise of the women’s movement, “he” fell to the wayside in favor of “she” to be more inclusive of women. This is especially the case when referring to professions and other formerly male-dominated roles. For example, it seems more common these days to refer to a gender-unknown judge, police officer, accountant, astronaut as “she.” Even in industries that are still statistically overrepresented by men, gender politics have seeped through. I acknowledge the arguments that a default masculine assignation might perpetuate glass ceilings and stereotypes of female versus male gender roles, especially in the workplace. If we always refer to positions of power by male terms, we associate men with those roles.

Therefore, I accept using “she” as the gender-unknown pronoun since we don’t objectify people as “it,” even if it would solve all these problems and “they” is grammatically incorrect.  If it is now more politically correct to always use female pronouns when the genders are unknown, that should always be the case, even when using “she” perpetuates negative female stereotypes. Case in point from a New York Family Law outline regarding divorce for constructive abandonment:

“The willfull, continued, and unjustified refusal to engage in intimate relations with a spouse for one year or more may constitute constructive abandonment [as grounds for unilateral divorce]….In cases in which the parties have not engaged in intimate acts for a period of one year or more, the plaintiff must establish that he repeatedly requested resumption of the marital relations.”

The poor pleading husband who doesn’t get laid often enough has grounds for divorce. I haven’t looked at the actual statute, but I’m assuming that a wife who has not had sex in more than a year can also seek divorce. Would it have been confusing to use “she” in that instance? I’m guessing that some students would’ve done a double-take if it did read “she.” It wouldn’t have been as clear precisely because people assume it’s the husband who has “repeatedly requested resumption of the marital relations.”

After establishing that it is men who aren’t sexually fulfilled in marriage, the outline continues to paint them as deadbeats:

“Spousal support is the obligation of one party to provide the other support….It is awarded in a divorce if one spouse cannot provide for his own needs with employment.”

In this example, the former husband is the one who cannot provide for himself. So we’re not going to perpetuate the stereotype that men are the breadwinners, but we’re going to assume that it’s men who beg their wives for sex? This is the problem with picking and choosing which gender-unknown pronoun you want to use. The point of a default is that it is supposed to be free from any bias. If we’re all going to use “she” from now on, then that should apply across the board, even when it reinforces negative stereotypes of women, e.g. the divorced housewife. Simply reversing the male and female, reserving “she” for positive associations and using “he” for negative ones only reflects the biases of the speaker. Guy Kawasaki, in The Art of the Start, puts it best, ‎”If only defeating sexism were as simple as throwing in an occasional he/she, she, her, or hers. I use the masculine pronouns merely as a shortcut. Successful entrepreneurship is blind to gender. Don’t look for sexism where none exists.”

#Linsanity. You’ve seen it all over the social networks for weeks now, but what is the key story in Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise on the Knicks? Sure, he’s phenomenal to watch on the court. No one can deny that he works hard.

Looking purely at the numbers, Lin’s performance has been spectacular. He has set records for scoring the most in his third and fourth career starts since the ABA-NBA merger in 1977. I’m sure that meant something to someone; I could barely figure out what that means. But just catch any game and you can sense his undeniable tenacity and instincts. So let’s accept for the moment that Lin would be a standout player no matter his race or career history.

But the story isn’t that simple. Lin is not just a great player, he’s the greatest (and first) Taiwanese-American player in the history of the NBA. While in an ideal world, his race shouldn’t even be an issue, we’re not at that point yet. He’s being recognized for standing out and breaking stereotypes. As Eric Adelson writes in his report on Floyd Mayweather’s tweet, the hype is equivalent to if “a black golfer came out of Stanford and started winning golf majors…[or] two black sisters from Compton dominated the world of tennis.” For Asian-American men, who are too often emasculated by American media and culture, Lin represents something much more than a star basketball player. He expands the public consciousness of what an Asian man can do, especially athletically. Undaunted by bigger foes, he fearlessly drives towards the net. As point-guard, he demonstrates great leadership in leading the team. Courage and leadership, two traits that aren’t commonly attributed to Asians are now generously lavished on Lin.

I’m not going to write about how Lin was overlooked likely because he is Asian. That topic is covered extensively in the media and especially well sexplicated by Timothy Dalrymple in his post on “Jeremy Lin and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.”  Instead, my focus is on supporting Lin despite whatever basketball allegiance you might have. No doubt if you have Asian friends, you’ve seen them eagerly jump on the Linsanity bandwagon. People who had previously never watched a basketball game in their lives were buying #17 Knicks jerseys and crowding into bars to watch the games. Being an Asian-American, originally from the Bay Area and now living in New York, I am exactly that demographic that should be fawning over Lin. I’m not a sports fan. I have no qualms about cheering on the teams that my friends care about. In short, I have no team loyalty.

Bandwagoning has such negative connotations in the world of sports fanaticism. Supporting a team only when it’s doing well or because it’s getting more media coverage seems anathema to what real sports fans do. Indeed, there is truth to that. Teams rely on their core fans through the good times and the bad. All I’m saying is that no matter your loyalty to your own team, there’s no reason not to support the rise of diversity in sports. In other words, don’t be a hater. Lin is bigger than basketball. While he’s no Jackie Robinson, he is hopefully just the start of shifting public perceptions of Asian-Americans. You don’t need to support the Knicks if you’re really desperate to hold onto your own team, but that does not mean you can’t support Lin’s personal success. Linsanity is hopefully not just a fad, and treating it like one will ensure that Asian-American basketball players will remain that way.

It still surprises me when I’m trying to get past a crowd on an escalator and the pedestrians don’t know to keep right if they’re not moving. Fine, you don’t need a license to walk so maybe they just have never learned to stay to the right and they’re too oblivious to realize that’s what everyone else is doing. But driving a car is completely different. There are rules of the road, rather important rules if you want to survive, or have the barest of courtesy towards your fellow drivers.

Having driven too many times along that God forsaken stretch of highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’ve had my share of frustration of slow drivers blocking the fast lane. I don’t care how fast you’re going, if someone is behind you, move to the right and let them pass. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re going fast enough; you’re not the speed arbiter of the road. All it does is enrage the people behind you. I can only assume that you are intentionally holding people behind you because if you’re too oblivious to realize a line of frustrated motorists tailing you, you’re not observant enough to be driving in the first place. For two-lane highways there is not much choice. Trucks dictate the speed of the right lane. The slowest motorist dictates the speed of the left lane. You should never be the car that sets the speed. As long as someone wants to go faster than you, get out of the way.

I don’t speed excessively on highways, even through long stretches of nothing.  I tend to speed up and try to pass cars in front of me; however, I respect the rules of the road. If I am being tailed and I’m uncomfortable driving any faster, I pull to the right. There’s very little diversion out on this highway and passing cars breaks up the monotony. Besides the In-n-Out oasis in Kettleman City, is there nothing else on the 5 interstate besides Jack in the Boxes and Carl’s Jrs.? That’s not completely fair. There are a few major landmarks. When it starts smelling like manure, you know you’re passing by Harris Ranch. When you see windmills, that’s Andersen’s Pea Soup. And when you pass Buttonwillow, look out for the only Indian restaurant between LA and SF. So if you’re not the speedy type and want to take it easy in life, those are three places to pull off the road instead of slowing down the fast lane.

Race relations is a sensitive subject for obvious reasons. It’s difficult to speak about the issues without running into walls of political correctness on one end or accusations of racism on the other. Being a minority, I’ve weathered charges of racism pretty easily. It seems that calling a white person racist is one of the worst insults imaginable to that person. Given the history of Caucasian discrimination in this country, I can see how whites would be especially offended by any sort of inferences of racism. However, as a child of immigrants from a country where racism is not a forefront issue like it is here, it’s just never seemed like a big deal. As I’ve gotten older however, I’ve become even more sensitive to subtle racism when the effect is too easily downplayed.

Whatever my feelings about racism, I hate the term “person of color.” At its simplest level, it splits people into a dichotomy–either you’re white or you’re not, as if that distillation is all that’s required for intelligent discussion of race. At least when you use the word “minority,” there could be instances where that minority, within a given population, could be white. But with “person of color” that can only mean that they are nonwhite. I don’t believe the charges that “minority” has connotations of subjugation. Not only that, but the idea of categorizing based on skin color is archaic and should not be perpetuated in use.

I suppose that this is a necessary term when you’re talking about diversity programs, but that overlooks the problem that diversity programs that only seek to ensure a significant “person of color” population is inherently flawed. It is easy, living in a diverse city, to forget that most of the country is predominantly white and in many communities, minorities are so few and far between that they might as well be grouped together for a coherent antimajoritarian agenda. However, this parochial outlook should not represent the country any longer. Sure, there are still parts of the country where being Asian means you’re conceived of as either Chinese or Japanese, but the country as a whole is a pluralistic society.

As alluded to, the cloud hanging over this whole discussion is affirmative action. My stance is that affirmative action programs that simply seek to achieve non-white diversity would not be respectful of the diversity within the nonwhite community. These days, most affirmative action programs likely will group minorities into broad categories and seek adequate representation of those groups. Yet any time you set an arbitrary group, there will always be underrepresented subgroups. This has been a big problem with Asians and Pacific Islanders, commonly grouped together as one, but actually representing very diverse cultures. When the public perceives too many overachieving East Asians and proceeds to pass judgment on the achievement of South East Asians, it unfairly discriminates against that group that actually should benefit from affirmative action.

The elevator doors opened, and the crowd, anonymous in white Venetian masks, sputtered out into a dark hallway. I raced past the uninitiated, who stumbled around getting their bearings and held in place either by their uncertainty or fear. Like the opening of the gates in the morning at an amusement park, I was determined to reach the most popular rides before my peers. In this dimly lit 1930s hotel, my goal was to explore alone, find the candy shop, and see how far my courage would take me.

Sleep No More is difficult to describe, mostly because there is nothing quite like it. Most commonly, I’ve heard “interactive theater,” though that isn’t quite accurate. For the most part, you don’t interact with the actors or the other audience members. It’s interactive in so far as your (mostly) unbridled access to the sets and props. The show is intense, carnal, scary, claustrophobic, voyeuristic, but utmost–gratifying. My impression was the feeling of being inside a video game. I could walk around the rooms, observing the interactions with the characters, getting as close as decency allowed (there is plenty of indecency). The actors act, even when no one is there. I could watch the action or go rifling through the drawers and cabinets. The Punchdrunk theater group converted an old warehouse into a 1930s hotel. I couldn’t confirm whether the McKittrick Hotel actually existed at some point, but besides a lounge and a lobby, very little of the set resembles a hotel. The intricate set dressing allows a whole experience in just going through the props and finding passageways through the five floors. I randomly pulled out books from the shelves and found Sixteenth Century Poems and Greek Tragedies.

The actors engage in reinterpreted scenes from Macbeth on one-hour cycles. They disperse throughout the hotel, going about their business, occasionally coming together for scenes. They’re mostly silent, and much of the action is interpretive dance. You’re welcome to follow the actors, but part of the fun is abandoning the action and exploring the intricate set on your own. Since the scenes repeat every hour, you can choose to follow different actors and see different perspectives for the same events. This is also why you should arrive at buy tickets for the 7:00 check-in for a full three hours to explore. Towards the end of the show, the rooms are so packed with white-faced spectators that much of the chilling magic of exploring an adult haunted house is gone. The mask, which ostensibly keeps the audience from confusing the cast from spectators, also allowed me certain freedom in anonymity. I had no fear going up close to the actors or wandering in between the characters during scenes. The mask was empowering in its dual functionality. Sleep No More is named after scene 2, Act II of Macbeth, but my own experience was not being able to sleep that night as my mind replayed all the events of the night.

I had heard rave reviews of Sleep No More for months before I finally bought tickets. The thing that kept me away for so long was fear. In my mind, I pictured Macbeth meets the Shining, a not altogether inaccurate picture. I had to spur myself forward in the beginning to explore alone, my heart bursting out my chest because of the anxiety and running up and down sets of stairs. But what eventually got me over my fear was the odd sensation of being invisible to the actors. Nothing could hurt me, no one is out to scare me. Also, once I joined up with other audience members, the fear (and most of the thrill) was eliminated through shared experience. But for the first twenty minutes of the night, it was just me, alone in utter silence exploring the fourth floor of the hotel. While going through the empty barbershop, I heard exaggerated coughing. I initially avoided the sound, thinking it was an asthmatic audience member who couldn’t get up the stairs. Instead I ran head on into a young man crashing into the walls. It occurred to me that this was my first actor. I followed him into a photography dark room with hanging pictures of corpses. Outside, a woman had appeared at a desk. They joined together, fought, and embraced. The entire scene happened with just me and these two actors, and it was one of my most cherished memories because of that intimacy. Hence, I highly recommend exploring early on your own in the beginning and getting away from the crowds while getting a lay of the land.

The following contains some spoilers, but is intended for those looking for the fullest experience

Here’s some advice for people attending the show:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and contacts if you require glasses. This is stressed to you in emails from the show, but it cannot be more important. You will be standing, walking (and running) for three hours.
  • You can leave early, but there’s enough to keep you engaged for the entire time. The last cycle ends differently than the previous two and you’ll be gently guided towards the climax scene.
  • You can easily miss scenes so look for crowds and follow actors if you want to be entirely engaged. There are a few scenes I witnessed and would recommend checking out. First, towards the beginning of the cycle, follow the rave music into the bar on the fourth floor. Second, somewhere in the middle of the cycle, find the Macbeths’ bedroom next to the cemetery on the third floor. Third, the ballroom will host several large cast events throughout the cycle so make sure to check back from time to time.
  • Come to the event with friends but don’t try to stick together. Everyone will be led by their own curiosity and sticking together is not fruitful or that practical. You’ll have a fuller experience once you reunite later and talk about the differences you all witnessed.
  • Don’t look too deeply into the props. They are all highly detailed, but sometimes there is no significance. Also, as much as the experience is similar to being inside a game, it is not a game and there are no quests. Don’t try to take the keys and open locked doors. Don’t search for secret messages to give the actors. That said, the props will help you figure out which characters the actors are playing.
  • If you’re hungry, look for the candy shop on the fourth floor. If you’re tired, you can retire to the lounge that exists outside of the hotel events on the second floor. If you need a quick refresher, look for one of the individual stalled restrooms on the fifth floor.
  • Most of all, be brave. Although you’re generally a passive observer, the actors do sometimes pull one audience member away for a private scene. Stand close, show interest, and you may be picked. You’ll be the lucky one if you keep an open mind. Specifically, I heard there are private scenes that happen in a) the shack in the woods on the fifth floor, and b) the black tiled bathroom on the third floor. You just have to be there at the right time.

The show runs until November 5th. I urge you to buy tickets and experience this sensation for yourself. A Monday through Wednesday show is $80, while Thursday through Saturday is $100. The weekend shows also offer the late night check-ins, which go from 11pm to 2am, instead of the usual 7-10.

Sleep No More
530 West 27th St.

Back in July, Netflix announced that it was changing its plans to offer “the lowest prices ever.” They did this by raising my membership price by 60% per month. How did this make sense? By unbundling the streaming from the DVD services, Netflix could charge $7.99 for each service separately. While I used to get both for $9.99, now I would need to pay $15.98 for the same services I used to receive.

Had Netflix PR not try to spin this price increase as their “lowest prices ever” and characterized it more properly as an increase in the cost of streaming services, I would’ve likely coughed up the extra $6 per month. Instead, somewhat out of spite because Netflix’s bumbling marketing move, I actually evaluated what I was getting for my money. Netflix used to have a sweet spot–direct billing on a recurring basis to my credit card. I never questioned the value of my Netflix account. But  instead of confronting the issue on its face and regretfully needing to pass the increased costs to its customers, Netflix was trying to pull one over on me (and the rest of the disgruntled customer base).

Netflix officially denied that the price increases had anything to do with increased costs of streaming rights. I hardly believe that considering a few months later, Netflix streaming’s main content provider Starz Play backed out of its contract, depriving Netflix of the Sony and Disney catalogs. People seem to think that streaming is almost costless to Netflix because it doesn’t have to mail out DVDs. What people usually don’t realize is that copyright laws are different for streaming content and those rights can actually be much more expensive.

As I said, had Netflix just been upfront about the price increase instead of trying to disguise it as a price drop, I probably would’ve just swallowed it whole. But because of the path it took, I had to think critically about what I was getting for my money. The results weren’t good. Netflix streaming had little content that I valued. I couldn’t get any new releases on popular titles, the main purpose for my Netflix account. Come to think of it, I usually get no more than two DVDs per money anyway. So I downgraded my plan to the cheapest option, the limited DVD-only plan for $4.99 per month. I can only get two DVDs per month and have no streaming services.

Netflix has done much to revolutionize the industry. It generated so much consumer loyalty and goodwill. But when it wants to play chicken with its customers and lay down “the only game in town” card, it better be ready for the mass exodus. Netflix is now losing $5 per month from me and I suspect many more former satisfied customers.


Image credit: http://vitaminsea.typepad.com

What’s the point in applauding after watching a movie? If it were a live performance, I can understand showing your appreciation to the performers. But when a movie is over, no one involved in the production will have any idea of your applause so it’s clearly not directly at them. The possible exception is a movie screening with cast and crew in attendance. Applause was appropriate when performances were in person, otherwise, they’re unnecessary.

So then, who is the applause for? It seems to me that people clap after movies they like to signify to the other people sitting in the theater that they collectively witnessed a triumphant film. To those people, I ask if it’s necessary to project your opinion. Do we need validation from you that it was a good movie? I wasn’t quite sure I could express my satisfaction until my personal opinion of the movie was validated. Thank you for telling me that I’m allowed to like this movie.

If the applause isn’t for the benefit of everyone else in the theater, perhaps it’s some sort of spontaneous reaction to watching something entertaining? I loved it so much that I just had to clap! I fail to believe that applause is as involuntary as laughing at a pratfall or tearing up during an emotional farewell. Perhaps people clap because they think that’s an appropriate response no matter the number in the audience. But then I ask, how many of you clap when you watch television by yourself?