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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

June 30, 2008

Written by C.N.

The Social Construction of ‘Facts’

In the realm of racial/ethnic relations, sociologists consistently observe that certain beliefs — let’s even call them stereotypes — can take on a life of their own and attain a level of “legitimacy” that defies logic and rational thinking.

In the context of the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain, one persistent belief/stereotype is that Obama is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Muslim of course, but certain extremists are using this stereotype against Obama and suggesting that if elected, he will somehow turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.

To shine some light into the nuts and bolts of how such outlandish perceptions can become so widespread, two authors have written an op-ed piece in the New York Times that illustrates the social and biological workings of this process:

The Obama campaign has created a Web site to dispel misinformation. But this effort may be more difficult than it seems, thanks to the quirky way in which our brains store memories — and mislead us along the way. . . For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. . . .

Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked.

In other words, when it comes to controlling information and what is perceived to be “true” or not, the link between biology and society becomes a very powerful tool for both sides to exploit and manipulate. This is in line with Joseph Goebbels’ (Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda) famous quote, “If you tell people a lie often enough, eventually they will start to believe it.”

With that in mind, we should also recognize that these days and through such media as the internet and various blogs, social networking sites, and other forms of mass communication, such misinformation can be spread quite easily and effectively.

In the past, liberals have not been quite as skilled in these respects. With this in mind, I hope this time we’ve learned our lesson and can better respond in asserting facts over stereotypes.


June 27, 2006

Written by C.N.

Justin Lin’s Take on The Fast and the Furious

The third installment of the Fast and the Furious series of movies is out (Tokyo Drift), sporting a few changes from its first two predecesors. The most obvious is that it is set in Japan and features a large Asian and Asian American cast. Part of the reason may be due to its new director, Taiwanese American Justin Lin, of Better Luck Tomorrow fame. Here’s MTV’s take on the film and on Justin Lin’s career up to this point:

The result is — as you’d expect — an eardrum-assailing, lightning-paced, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that might send your bag of popcorn flying through the air. The real shock, however, is that it’s the first “Furious” movie with a brain under the hood.

“It’s a self-discovery movie,” Lin insisted, equating the story of street racer Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) to his own experiences as an Asian filmmaker navigating Hollywood. “This is really, at the end of the day, about this kid who is outside and comes into town. . . .

“It’s still funny sometimes,” Lin added, saying that as passionately as he felt about exposing American audiences to his world, he realized on day one of the “Drift” shoot that he was still working in theirs.

“The first day of my big movie, I drive on the set and the security won’t let me in. They thought I was a P.A. [production assistant]! It happens all the time. Every time I go to a meeting, they’re like, ‘So, what are you delivering?’ “It constantly slaps me in the face, that I’m still perceived as a bit of an outsider,” Lin lamented.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will try to soon. It’s nice to see Justin Lin moving up in the Hollywood hierarchy, from unknown independent filmmaker to director of feature-list mainstream studio movies. It’s also good to hear that he had enough power to demand — and get – major changes in the storyline and plot to make it more realistic and professional, and not just a retread of the first two movies and of tired stereotypes of Asian culture.

At the same time, it’s frustrating to hear about Justin’s experiences of still being treated as an outsider in the moviemaking industry. Unfortunately it just goes to show that although Asian Americans have made nice strides in penetrating the silver screen (or is that white?), there is apparently a long way to go until we are seen as regular, legitimate players in the industry.