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February 2010
 
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Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 01:19 am
Did Beatnik Grifter Play On Loathsome Hipster Negro Fetish?

Imagine it's 1957, and Norman Mailer has just published his essay The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster. White and Jewish hipsters in the Beat underground of the late 1950s, Mailer observes, are distancing themselves from mainstream white society. They're dressing like, talking like, and listening to the music of, negroes. Now imagine a counterblast to Mailer's booster for black culture. A black girl -- a con artist known as the Beatnik Grifter -- has been hoodwinking hipsters out of large sums of money. An article appears in the press headlined: "Did Beatnik Grifter Play On Loathsome Hipster Negro Fetish?"

WTF, you say to yourself. "Loathsome hipster negro fetish?" This headline couldn't happen today, when racism is taboo, and there's a black president. Alas, it can happen, and it does. All you have to do is replace "negro" with "Asian". The Jezebel blog ("celebrity, sex, fashion for women") ran a story headlined Did "Hipster Grifter" Play On Loathsome Hipster Asian Fetish? last Wednesday. It's a racially-angled take on the story The New York Observer ran earlier the same day, the tale of Kari Ferrell, the Korean-American con artist who ripped young Brooklyn bohemians off by telling them she had cancer (and other mini-scams).



The Observer told the story fairly straight as a crime tale. The Vice blog (Kari worked for Vice for a week) just mentioned that they made the mistake of hiring "a grifter". The blogosphere resounded with Kari's witty, direct pick-up lines ("I want to give you a hand job with my mouth" or "I want you to toss your hot dog down my hallway") and "I knew Kari" testimonials, both real and fake. Some naked photos turned up, featuring Kari's extensive chest tattoo. Kari herself even chimed in; on the lam from Utah cops, she emailed Gawker her apologies for the scams, which generally began with sex, developed into "terminal cancer" or "pregnancy", with check fraud and petty theft along the way.



The reason the story got so big is that the charming, self-assured confidence trickster -- the grifter -- is a central archetype in the American psyche, the dark correlate of the sell-you-anything salesman, the white-smiling politician, the human chameleon. On top of that, add some sympathy for the victims, and a big dose of Schadenfreude towards both "bitch" Kari and the "idiot" hipster clique she moved through. Which brings us back to the Jezebel piece, without a doubt the nastiest article I've seen on the subject.

"The most ludicrous theory attempting to explain why Kari managed to scam so many different people for so long despite the glaring inconsistencies in her money/cancer/psychotic ex/employment lies attributes her success to her being Asian (Korean, to be exact)," sighs Jen at Disgrasian, linking to the Jezebel piece. "While Asians are generally stereotyped as trustworthy... and some hipsters do have raging Asian fetishes, this little narrative convenience is completely fatuous. We've seen Asian fetishes rot many things--most notably a man's appeal--but common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism across the board? Continually? As Gawker's already pointed out, Kari got away with her crimes because of her charm."



So how exactly did Jezebel play the race card, and how plausibly did they make the argument that it was relevant? Here's what they said: "The fact that she's Korean-American is intriguing; as anyone who's been to a Williamsburg art opening knows, for a lot of these dudes, having an Asian girlfriend is some kind of weird fetish (to the point where one Chinese American friend of mine remarked once, "I can't go near those hipster neighborhoods. These guys just want to date an Asian, doesn't matter who, and it's racist and weird and really uncomfortable." Another friend adds, "It's obviously rooted in some racist stereotype of the 'exotic' or 'submissive' - I don't even want to know what.") Vice has never made any bones about its love of hot Asian women - see any "Dos" - so Farrell chose her targets well. One has to note that after writing a note to a stranger at a bar reading, "I want to give you a hand job with my mouth,"she signed it "Korean Abdul-Jabbar."

The piece ends with a quote from Jaemin Kim: "Unlike any other racial group in America today, Asian women routinely are dehumanized in popular culture as sexualized, meek and voiceless objects." Jezebel ends its piece: "Surely Farrell knew this too?"

The article (which misspells Ferrell's name) begs an enormous number of questions. Is to be sexual (or "sexualized") to be dehumanised? Was Kari Ferrell -- with her incredibly aggressive and direct sexual patter -- really playing on the stereotypology of being "meek and voiceless"? If so, she went about it in a damn strange way. As someone asks in the comments below, just exactly when, if someone has a girlfriend who is Asian, can we not assume that they have an "Asian fetish"? Does a white with a black girlfriend have a "Negro fetish"? Does a Jewish person with a Jewish girlfriend have a "Jewish fetish"? When do we stop persecuting people for their sexual choices, and their sexual orientation? Only when they've been proved to have no choice about it? Or, precisely, when they've made plenty of other choices (ie don't exclusively date people from one ethnic category)?

The thing I notice about the Jezebel article is the stuff I was talking about in The arrow and the frame: that if you switch your focus from the stated opinions in the piece and look instead at the framings, you'll find that the article exemplifies the very racist stereotyping it pretends to decry. How would Google AdSense read the Jezebel page? It would note only the proximity of the word "Asian" to words like "exotic" and "submissive". That the article projects this stereotypology onto hipsters is spurious (I've never heard anyone who actually dates or lives with an Asian partner using this terminology, or even implying it between the lines); it's the framing that counts. If you frame the framing of Asians as submissive, you pretty much frame them, yourself, as submissive. You make that the context for the whole discussion, no matter what sort of behaviour the actual Asian in the story is exemplifying. The stereotype, Jezebel, is in the eye of the beholder.

Let's end with Norman Mailer. Let's imagine that the reason hipsters in 2009 are frequenting (and dating) Asians is that Asian culture is as inspirational to today's cutting-edge subcultural kids as Negro culture was, back in 1957, to their jazz-loving, jive-talking grandfathers. And now here's some ultra-conservative publication coming along to tell us that one particular black girl, who turned out to be a bad egg, "played on the loathsome hipster negro fetish". You'd want to tell them exactly which hallway they could toss their hotdog down, right?

102CommentReplyFlag


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
qscrisp
qscrisp
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 09:35 am (UTC)

I also hope this bullshit article has shown you the folly of moralising people's sexual preferences. You can't prove that the general preference for whites is indicative of social inequality anymore than Jezebel's can prove that a preference for asian females means you secretly want to dominate and sexualise a meek and child-like woman.

Touche?


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)

I like how you can barely conceal your defensive bluster.


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)

Admit it, Momus, if you had ever met her, you would now be broke, living in a cardboard box underneath a bridge in Montana.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)

If she didn't have the tattoo, maybe.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)

I thought Asian girls went with hipsters because no one else would have them (outside their own country). If there not with hipsters then they are with the older men types (Hi Momus). Besides hipster turn to them because no one else will have them, it's perfect really.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)

Anti-Asian racism is probably more likely in the press than anti-African American racism. Thanks to its 80s styling, many people see Japan, at least, as moneyed up, plastic, fast, futurist, disposable, mass-marketed, pomo, repressive-capitalist.

The brand image might today be stressing nature and earthern pots but for low-paid or no-paid journalists Asia still equals money.

“It stinks of Yid in here,” Evelyn Waugh touched on the rise of hipster Jew hate in the cafes of 1930s London – which was a kind of double-barrelled – it was mixed with New Money hate and inequality hate, so it scooped people up on both sides of the spectrum at the time.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
Asian Teen Has Sweaty Middle-Aged-Man Fetish

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/asian_teen_has_sweaty_middle_aged

Or just go the Onion's website and type "Japanese" in the search box--there will be revealed what Americans really feel about Asians.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)

you know, everyone wants to play up fetishes or hipsters or race; isn't anyone concerned why a girl in her 20s is in such an attention-deprived state that she gets this huge tattoo, fakes cancer, writes obscene notes to strangers? or are we so attention-deprived as a society that elements of this approach normalcy? when i first saw this story my initial reaction was, 'that girl obviously had a fucked up childhood, what a shame'.


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)

Asian chickz rulez man!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)

You know Ferrell was adopted, right? I think that may be a contributing factor. I guess she was raised by white parents in Salt Lake City and feels odd about being the only Korean-American in her family. The fact that many of her scams involve her using identity theft techniques while claiming to be, herself, the victim of identity theft relates directly to the perceived loss of her true identity, whether that's a pure Korean identity or a pure white-American one.

/Amateur psychology.


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desant012
||||||||||
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

There are three categories of people who moan about "Asian fetishes":

1) Scene girls who are annoyed Asian girlsare "taking away" potential patchy-bearded boyfriends

2) Loser guys who are at the bottom of the sexual food chain, and have no hope of scoring a girl, Asian or otherwise.

3) Other Asians who are annoyed scrawny, pasty, hipster guys are taking their "territory", but they probably belong in category 2

That is all.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
watch shortbus

Shortbus does a wonderful job of humanizing sexuality. . .first movie i've seen that makes sex a very human and endearing part of life. Not really touching on racial fetishes. . . I think that for me dating people that look different than myself is very appealing. . . maybe its just that asians, culturally and physically, are the most different from western white hipster people that makes them so appealing. Stereotypes which have some general truths to them, though short sited, and unconscious are all we have when observing someone new for the first time. I have often dreamed of dating an asian girl at one of the chinese supermarkets. . .one of my favorite places to go in the city, and she could use all of these strange ingredients and make something delicious and foreign for my taste buds. :)


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rogerlodge
rogerlodge
I'm A Vocoder
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
Re: watch shortbus

I have often dreamed of dating an asian girl at one of the chinese supermarkets. . .one of my favorite places to go in the city, and she could use all of these strange ingredients and make something delicious and foreign for my taste buds. :)

Sorry, but ICK! Don't tell an asian girl about this dream.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)

Can't be bother scrolling through 96 replies to see if anyone else has made the same comment but:

How would Google AdSense read the Jezebel page? It would note only the proximity of the word "Asian" to words like "exotic" and "submissive". (...) If you frame the framing of Asians as submissive, you pretty much frame them, yourself, as submissive. You make that the context for the whole discussion, no matter what sort of behaviour the actual Asian in the story is exemplifying.

How is your writing about the issue any different? Or does Click Opera somehow float above the general discourse in some sort of meta-space?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)

It's not different -- and neither is your comment, which would also be parsed by AdSense as one which linked "Asian", "exotic" and "submissive". And so would this comment in turn.

The AdSense argument is just one arrow in my quiver, though. Clearly if that were all there was, no criticism of anyone would ever be possible, because all framings of their error would themselves be repetitions of that error.

When it comes down to it, I think this is a matter of good manners and simple humanity. You shouldn't slap labels like "loathsome" on relationships between fully consenting adults. Then again, I suppose I call Jezebel "nasty" for the consensual relationship they have with their readers. We should probably just let them get on with their casual hate. I do think the historical thought experiment using Norman Mailer and the White Negro added a useful piece of distance to the argument, though. And yes, as someone who dates an Asian I certainly felt the need to say "This slander shall not pass!"


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dabroots
dabroots
dabroots
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)

And she couldn't have carried out her style and degree of grifting anywhere besides New York City, really. And she wouldn't have gotten nearly so much attention anywhere else, because she was bound to be messing with people who write for hipster magazines and various media that pick up on hipster magazines.

My favorite fictional American grifter still remains Manley Pointer in Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People.


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rogerlodge
rogerlodge
I'm A Vocoder
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)

Wasn't the hipster negro thing all about white males coopting an aestheticized version of black masculinity to make themselves more attractive to boho white females? Even in the 50s and even among the boho set, a black female would not have much sexual capital. And if the current asian sexual fascination stemmed from an admiration of asian culture then wouldnt there be at least some admiration for asian masculinity/social structures. Most white guys I've met who've preferred asian women play up the fact that they are so very NOT like asian guys.

I'm not condemning the asian "fetish" in any way, though. I think we just have to admit that asian women are generally more attractive (read: feminine) as are black males (read: masculine). If there was no such thing as cultural upbringing/personality/iq/family/etc, the vast majority of women would gravitate towards black males just like the vast majority of males would gravitate towards asian females. I think that's just how it naturally is. Culture, economics, geography and everything else is just a temporary hindrance towards our eventual light-skinned blasian future. =)


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Apr. 21st, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)

I find this whole story fascinating. It is like a hipster/Williamsburg version of Six Degrees of Seperation.



I mean it has a lot of layers -- sex, money, race, the media, sexual politics, mental illness...


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)

I agree. I couldn't help thinking of Tanizaki's "The Tattooer". Especially the bit about her having a tatoo saying, " I love beards".
Someone somewhere is working this up as a screenplay.


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