Saturday, June 6, 2009

My First & Last Words On David Carradine

First: Autoerotic asphyxiation?! At his age? Damn, dog!

Second, Atlasien at Racialious:
For many Asian-Americans, tributes to Carradine’s careeer feel like a cold and bitter insult. Bruce Lee was originally considered for the lead in Kung Fu, but the producers decided America was not ready for an Asian man as a heroic lead. David Carradine was chosen instead. His character, Kwai Chang Caine, was supposed to be half-Chinese and half-white. All the rest of the characters reacted to him as if he were Asian, when he was quite obviously 100% white. This confused the hell out of me when I first saw the show. Once I realized he was supposed to be Asian, it made me angry.

Why did I watch it in the first place? Well, Kung Fu was a pretty good show. It was plotted and shot and edited skillfully. It touched on important philosophical and cultural themes. It was ground-breaking, unique, and had some of the only respectful depictions of Asian culture available on American television in the 1970s...It would be hard for Asian-Americans not to want to watch Kung Fu. But every time we watched it, we were reminded that it was possible for white people to take the best of what they wanted from Asian culture. Asian culture was mysterious and cool, but real Asian people were unwanted and superfluous. They could easily be replaced by the right kind of white man. And nobody remarked about it, nobody complained… at least it seemed that way.

I was very young when I saw reruns of Kung Fu, but I caught on quickly, and began to dread the sight of David Carradine’s face. I still have some fond memories of sequences that didn’t involve Carradine, such as the training sequences set in China. Then I stopped watching the reruns because the experience became too painful. Sitting there and watching was like… offering your body up to be erased. It’s hard to explain.

[...]I don’t blame David Carradine for all the anti-Asian racism in America. But he had an important and highly visible role in a vicious feedback loop. Audiences identified with his performance of a calm, detached, self-important masculinity seemingly grounded in an exotic Asian tradition. He satisfied certain urges of the audience in that regard, and as he performed, he innovated, and created new and more refined stereotypes with extra layers of self-awareness and sophistication. His performances also worked to naturalize the desire of white people to appropriate the aspects of Asian culture they happened to find most appealing.

Somewhere, Bruce Lee is laughing.

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