Saturday, June 25, 2011

Master of the Manly Arts

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk.]

Sometimes when I hear talk of “manliness,”  Damon Wayans appears in my head wearing a ridiculously tiny bowler with David Alan Grier alongside him sporting the shiniest lip gloss. They’re the hosts of Men On Film, a “show that looks at movies from a male point of view.”

According to Wikipedia the Men On Film sketches on In Living Color split the gay community.  Some found them funny,  others believe they reinforced the “notion that black gay men are sissies, ineffectual, ineffective, womanish in a way that signifies inferiority."

Sometimes the mention of “manliness”brings forth visions of Tom Jones

He is credited with inspiring the trend at some live shows where women toss their underwear at the lead singer. Is there a greater demonstration of manliness than having women throw their panties at you?

I mean aside from being Bruce

His Way of the Dragon fight with Chuck Norris (another model of manliness) demonstrates the “art of manliness” on so many levels. I heard Chuck Norris in a Bruce Lee documentary praising Bruce’s set up of the fight scene. It’s set in the ruins of a Roman coliseum with him and Bruce as gladiators, fighting to the death.

The fact that it is an Asian man engaged in a gladiatorial battle with a hairy-chested Caucasian man among the ruins of a Roman coliseum (the seat of Western manliness) makes it an excellent PSA for the cause of Asian manliness in the Western world.

On a side note: It’s not winning the fight that makes him manly. It is the respect he shows his opponent. He gets ready to leave but turns back and gets emotional over his fellow warrior – Now, that’s manly! Not like the kill’em by the faceless numbers violence that dominates movies today.

I must admit I cringed when I first saw the title of Big WOWO’s Rice Daddy post on masculinity and manliness. There are two pervasive reasons I hesitate to join organizations and groups that identify themselves as Asian American: (1) I don’t want to sit around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian men whining about how American media has emasculated them and (2) I don’t want to site around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian guys whining about how Asian women won’t date them.

I don’t begrudge them their feelings. When I was young and single, I’d also been told by Asian women more often than not: “Sorry, I don’t date Chinese guys.” The rejection stung but I can’t say that it phased me. Maybe I was just too ignorant to understand that I should have been insulted by it. Or maybe it was because I grew up in culturally diverse New York City. For every Asian woman who didn’t “do Chinese” there was one who would. Better yet, the Chinese girl who didn’t date Chinese had a Puerto Rican friend and an African American friend and an Italian friend and so on who would. I love (and I learned to love in) New York.

I’m glad I didn’t let the title deter me. I went back as the opening lines of his post suggested and read his previous posts on masculinity and manliness and the some of comments readers left on each. On masculinity, I agree that emasculation is more often than not self inflicted. And on manliness, I agree it is a cultural construct. And I would add that neither definitions are fixed. 

For example, earrings in the 80s. Someone somewhere made up a rule that if the male of the species wore earrings, he was a sissy. And the rule caught on, until someone else somewhere else made up a rule that if the male of the species wore a single earring in his right ear, he could avoid being identified as a sissy, but if he wore it in his left…

Then still someone else in yet still another place decided that sissyness was avoided as long as the male of the species wore one earring (regardless of the side it was on) but if he had two earrings…

Do you see what I mean?

The Wall Street Journal  recently published an article about the popularity of the “wussified” man on network TV. The article was linked from an Ed Week blog called Why Boys Fail (which I thought was interesting).

When I think of the sissified man or the wussified man, I think of lessons to be learnt from The Magnificent Seven. In particular, the scene after the first fight between the Seven and the bandits. Charles Bronson’s character, Bernardo, is talking casually with a group of the village boys. A few begin chiming up about how they want to be brave gunfighters like Bernardo and not weak like their fathers who are just farmers. Bernardo throws the leader of the boys over his knee and spanks him. He scolds the boys saying he wished he had their fathers’ courage to work the land and take on the responsibility of providing for a family --

Don't you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there's nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That's why I never even started anything like that... that's why I never will.

So when I think of manliness, I turn off my cell phone and take a sick day to watch my kids in a school play. Or I stay in with them to watch cartoons on Netflix instead of going for drinks with friends. I think of all the things my dad was too busy or too tired to do with me and I ‘m grateful he forged the opportunities that give me time he didn’t have with me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Animal Husbandry

[Cross Posted at Cranial Gunk.]

It began with a Tweet.

I had read Panda Dad’s “epilogue” and Tweeted that he had me “up until he decided to plug his friends’ book.”

He Tweeted back that he was concerned about the cheesiness of it too but really did believe in the worth of his friends’ book.

I Tweeted back “No worries. We’re on the same page (though I might be interpreting the text slightly different).”

And then he Tweeted back: “How?”

And then I stopped to think.

I wanted to Tweet back but I didn’t know how? I mean I knew how (sort of) but I didn’t know how to express it in the most accurate and least provocative way. I’ve filled pages with thoughts and feelings towards the Tigers and Pandas.

Jeff Yang in his Asian Pop column catalogues quite a few new species of animal-identified parent:

with the Tiger Mom meme having spawned a bestiary of wannabes -- panda dads, butterfly moms, elephant 'rents, bull parents and more -- why not lob another animal metaphor out there for consideration? Rice Daddies and other online social parenting havens are the ideal warrens for Meerkat Moms and Dads -- social animals linked by a vast series of tubes. And when prompted by one of our own, scanning the horizon, to something of interest to all, we pop up in quick succession to add our respective bits of chitter.

The National Wildlife Federation and Science Ray both have their own lists of “Top Dads” in the animal kingdom. Many of these dads go against the oversimplified and stereotypical belief of that the animal father is a deadbeat dad and philanderer. Most of the dads on these lists actively engage in the rearing of their offspring.

And I think -- as a starting point -- this is where the differences in interpretation are found -- within the cultural gender expectations of fatherhood. It is not so much in how we see ourselves (or desire to see ourselves) as fathers or the animals with whom we identify ourselves, but how those around us want to see us as fathers.

Having lived three years in China immersed in the domestic  culture of its families, Alan (Panda Dad) might be more Rice Daddy than me. I mean if it actually came down to a competition of who’s “ricier” his firsthand experiences of Chinese home life and habit are sure to have influenced him as a father (imbuing him with a certain “riceyness”). Just as my experiences Second Generation Chinese raising my Third Generation kids in American culture have influenced my beliefs as a father (possibly reducing my “riceyness” to a degree).

When my grandmother died I lost more than just homemade dim sum and smelly bitter homebrewed cold remedies. I lost my connection to traditional (for lack of a better word) Chinese holidays and social courtesies – Kwaigeui as she would say in Cantonese.

It’s not culture (mahnfa). It’s not as high brow as that. It’s something more ordinary and day-to-day (gaandaan).  It is the manner in which children greet their parents and their parents’ friends – Of how and what they play together -- And most importantly (at least in this conversation) what is expected of them as children, as adults, and as parents.

The world at large has created molds in which Alan and I must fit into as fathers regardless of the costs. They have expectations of our children – children of a Chinese father do A, B, C, and D, while children of a Caucasian father do E, F, and G. And while we can fight them, their sheer number guarantees them victory. But while they are winning the war now, it doesn’t mean a battle isn’t won here and there and with each little break we make in the line tomorrow might see an end to the stereotypes and antiquated assumptions about fatherhood.

From what I’ve read about the Tiger Mom’s and Panda Dad’s books their value is not how they described their childrearing formula BUT how we have reacted to it. I haven’t read  either books yet. I want to wait just a little bit longer for the hype to die down so I can approach both works with an objective head. Right now, I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been if the Panda were the Tiger and the Tiger were the Panda?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Time Out for GLEE!

Introducing Kellen Mirador Sarmiento! As a parent, when/if your child's video goes viral, there must be a feeling of glee, yet also a bit of trepidation, especially if one starts going through the comments. These parents were smart, because it looks like they created a new account with just this one video. The original video must have gotten millions of hits and hundred of comments, too. UNLESS, this was their first video upload to YouTube, and it became an instant sensation? Nah...

As for the show, Glee, my son also really enjoyed this number, and we watched it a number of times. We never let him watch the show because of its content, but TiVo'd and previewed each episode before deciding whether to show some of the singing and dancing routines or not. But, as the show went on, we showed him less and less, and eventually, one or two numbers. We wound up watching NBCs, The Sing-Off, which also had great singing and dancing. The great thing was having to worry about fast-forwarding or explaining anything that might not be age-appropriate, except maybe some lyrics if he was listening really closely. ;)

Is it harder or easier to grow up as a kid nowadays? This dad keeps wondering...

Best wishes to Kellen and Family. A happy kid = a happy family! :)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Left by the Ship

LEFT BY THE SHIP trailer English from visitorq on Vimeo.

This just came through my Facebook feed, and I wanted to share it with anyone who might possibly be able to catch this screening tonight at 10PM in New Jersey (or on July 9th in LA).

It's a film titled Left by the Ship, and it's about the children of Filipina sex workers and American servicemen who were stationed at Subic Bay, Philippines. The film's title is a translation of a derogatory Filipino term for these kids: "iniwan ng barko." Not surprisingly, the children of African American officers face some of the worst discrimination. In this trailer, one beautiful teenager talks about how she wasn't allowed to take part in games or contests because her skin was too dark and her hair was curly. To add insult to injury, Filipino Amerasians were never recognized by the US government, unlike Amerasian children from other countries.

Tonight's screening is a part of the Hoboken Film Festival, and will take place at 10PM in Teaneck, NJ. The next screening is at: Aritvist Film Festival, Hollywood, CA on July 9th at 8 pm at the Egyptian Theatre.