The Self-Defense Dummy in the shop
The wooden dummy
Screen from game

Cultural Self-Defense Training Tool for Asian-Americans
wood, force sensors, arduino and processing sketch
2008

DESCRIPTION

This project is a device for “cultural self-defense training” - an entertaining and cathartic way Asian-Americans to practice their “defense” against media representations. It’s a rudimentary wooden dummy as is used for kung-fu practice; the intention of a real dummy is for a martial artist to practice their blocks (and some strikes) using something of a similar size and weight of a real opponent.

Media representation is a basic topic for Asian-American studies, and for ethnic studies in general. For minority populations, the images of them in media shape how they see themselves and their place in society (so-called “internalized oppression”), and how the majority forms opinions and stereotypes of them. This piece approaches the subject in a fun and visceral way, rather than an analytic or academic way. Rather than accept the media representations consciously or unconconsciously, this piece offers the player the opportunity to confront the media and defend themselves actively.

When the game starts, a variety of images of Asians and Asian-Americans are blasted towards the viewer. Some are obvious negative stereotypes; gross and offensive caricatures from films, propaganda pieces and advertising; one more recent piece was from an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt several years ago. Some are positive role-models, Asians and Asian-Americans who are successful on the world stage, such as Yo-Yo Ma, I.M.Pei and Michelle Wie. Others are more ambiguous. Celebrities like Bruce Lee are greatly respected, for good reason, but they fit into a dominant stereotype for Asian-Americans, and through no fault of their own, reinforce such stereotypes. Yoko Ono, on her own, may be worthy of great admiration as an artist, but a photo with John Lennon symbolizes the “Asian fetish” that has become a problematic issue in the intersection of race and gender politics.

In the game, the player hits the arms of the dummy to block/deflect images that are offensive, disturbing or evoke other negative emotions such as shame, fear or resentment. The game records data for which images were hit, how hard they were hit, and how quickly they were hit; the scoring for each image is based on the aggregate feelings of past players, on the assumption that users will choose negative images to hit, and hit worse images harder and faster. (For now, there isn’t enough of a data sampling for the game, so the scores are only based on speed and force).

The project functions in different way for non-Asian players and audiences. It encourages the viewer to evaluate the images from the perspective of an Asian-American, in order to score well in the game. Often, people who are not members of a specific group do not see or feel the impact of a particular image or symbol on the targeted group; this installation, in a humorous way, forces the issue on the players and viewers.

 

REFERENCES

MANAA: A memo to Hollywood: Restrictive Portrayals of Asians in the Media and How to Balance Them

Joy Cheng, Charles Hsieh, Scott Lu, and Sarah Talgo, “Asian Americans in the Media”

Amy Kashiwabara, “Vanishing Son: The Appearance, Disappearance, and Assimilation of the Asian-American Man in American Mainstream Media”

Cindy Cho, James Hsiao, Andy Hsu, Bea Wang, “Yellow Myths on the Silver Screen”

 

 

 

Copyright © Derek Chung