Identity Deft

Asian faces on YouTube are quickly gaining views, comments and popularity, on their own terms, rather than society’s. This also ran in the Spring 2009 issue.

By Edmund Mai

They talk about UFO sightings, Lil Wayne and slug sex.  Millions of viewers keep watching, so they continue to upload their rants, sketches, song covers and utter randomness.  While the average span of these YouTube clips is 3 minutes, someone can skyrocket to more than 15 minutes of fame – over and over again through a viral video.

YouTube’s user-generated content redesigns the entire “discovery” process, allowing anyone to put his or her face on the Web for the world to see.  And many people do, without shame (Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain,” anyone?).

The “You” in YouTube has allowed Asian stars to avoid being typecast in stereotypical roles, and instead grab the spotlight – on their own terms.  They’re not all competitive Sandra Oh’s (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy) or passive Masi Oka’s (NBC’s Heroes), but they do aspire to stardom via Internet celebrity.  Eagerly creating accounts, acting, self-directing and producing isn’t just a hobby – it’s a career plan.  Account holders proudly post their business e-mail addresses on their homepages, encouraging contact and subscriptions.

Stephen Brechin, a sociology professor at Syracuse University, says YouTube provides a way for powerful figures like Barack Obama to connect to young people, and can serve as a marketing device for “those who have commercial interests.”

While those “commercial interests,” like record deals and acting contracts may be a long way off, ample opportunity still exists for emerging Asian YouTube stars to flaunt aspects of their personal identities, such as sexual orientation, political affiliation, personal opinions or even a hidden talent or two.  YouTube provides an outlet for Asians to shine and gain much-needed exposure in mainstream media.

Meet the Cyber-Cast
“YouTube is destroying the common belief that Asians are bookworms,” says Alan Cheng, a regular consumer of YouTube superstars “kevjumba” and “nigahiga.”  He thinks the Web site is making big strides in bringing clarity to the distorted perceptions of Asians.  “It allows us to show that we too are enthusiastic, social and diverse.” he says.

Nigahiga
These two Japanese boys from Hawaii only have 48 videos in their account, but more than 835,000 subscribers and more than 26 million channel views.  These videos range from comedies, such as spoofs of “Titanic” and “Harry Potter” to random skits about how to become a ninja (most valuable lesson: make loud unnecessary noises when hitting things).  Their thick accents and animated facial expressions lure millions to watch their simple renditions of just about anything.

Kevjumba
This famous Chinese-American teenager offers his personal take on tough life situations (including girl troubles and parental expectations) – straight from his bedroom.  His postings have been viewed more than 14 million times.  At first glance, he looks like just another laid-back California resident, but his perspective provides insight on general social issues as well as the awkward position of being a first-generation born Asian American.

Mririan
At its best, these videos are pointless – but pleasantly so.  Also known as Magibon, this American girl simply greets the viewers.  Then, she stares at the camera with no form of verbal communication, waves goodbye and leaves.  Despite the occasional insult or critique, her silence is certified golden to her 76, 731 subscribers.

Michelle Phan
Ironically, this self-proclaimed tomboy demonstrates tutorials of personal beauty remedies and facial care.  With more than 1 million channel views, she shows you don’t have to be a beauty queen to look like one.  With genuine knowledge of practically every make-up product that exists, from eye shadow to lipstick, her expert advice shows everyone how to master the art of seductive smokey eyes and make a facial mask using Aspirin.

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