HL90 FB: Asian America in Popular Culture

We’re so excited about all of our new HL90 seminars! Karen Huang told us more about her new course, Asian America in Popular Culture, which meets Wednesdays, 3-5.

What inspired you to teach this class? 

I’ve been really excited by the influx of Asian American mainstream media in recent years, and how it’s helped Asian American popular culture become a more visible and less othered part of the American cultural imaginary. On the other hand, I think it’s important for us to contextualize the contemporary mainstreaming of Asian American pop culture in the history of Asian America at large, in terms of things like what stereotypes of Asian America have prevailed in the default cultural consciousness, how representations are shaped by yet transcend the historical experiences of Asian Americans, and what broader political and imaginative possibilities Asian American cultural representations gesture towards. I’m looking forward to unpacking these and other related issues with students throughout the semester, and hope that this class will give us an opportunity to collectively build a critical vocabulary for talking about Asian American pop culture, while still appreciating the media we study on an affective level. 

What is a text you’re excited to share with students? 

Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. It’s a lovely film with a relatively straightforward plot, but I’m so excited to discuss with students the ways in which it complicates the narrative framework of the American Dream immigrant story — something that’s been popularly ascribed to the film in mainstream media. 

Do you have any cool assignments planned? 

This course is designed to help students think about the origins and evolutions of Asian American popular culture, but it’s by no means an exhaustive survey. This means that there’s a wide swath of texts and issues relevant to our course that we won’t get a chance to discuss; something that immediately comes to mind is the techno-orientalism of recent films like Blade Runner 2049 and, of course, Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson. For the final project of the semester, then, I’m asking students to propose a new week to add to the syllabus, with a theme, and primary and secondary sources of their own choosing. I can’t wait to see what students come up with! 

Who’s your favorite Asian character in American media? 

This is probably a cliched answer, but it would have to be Mulan from the 1998 animated film.  

How can students learn more? 

You can take a look at the syllabus on the course Canvas site, and email me at karenhuang@fas.harvard.edu with any questions! 

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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