The Nitpicks: Media does not exist in a vacuum

Thus continues my discourse series on literature and literary academia. Those of you reading who know me might go “Oh no, Ash why? I thought you hated discourse!” While the other half is more thinking “Oh no, here we go again.”

Listen – there’s a place and time for discourse, and I think often enough, it’s important to address.

Speaking broadly, when writing fiction of any kind we highlight stories to show to the world. This can be in all sorts of media: TV, movies, novels, short fiction, plays, podcasts, whatever. For someone, somewhere, your piece of media will be their first time experiencing a story like that, or will be reinforcing their views.

Your intentions may be good, but execution also plays a very large role in this. Do you seek to criticize and scrutinize ideologies such as homophobia or racism in your work? Do you choose to do this by showing bad things to your main character? Criticism and featuring these issues are not necessarily the same thing, and it inherently hinges on your ability as a creator to address them. Whether you’re actually criticizing an issue or inadvertently reinforcing the opposite viewpoint needs to be shown throughout your work.

As a creator, your job is to be a curator of these stories.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being aware. It can be as basic as simple representation in an objective manner. Lately, I watched through all of the Netflix documentary series Ugly Delicious and I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Being created by a Korean-American chef, I saw Asian cuisine being championed as something that could compete with Western cuisine for the first time in a lot of years of watching food shows. I saw the history of racism in the culinary world addressed and put forward, when we often like to think of food shows as a simple place without “politics”.

To me, being a Chinese-Canadian, it was kind of amazing seeing something so historically underrepresented being held up to the standard that it deserves. That Asian food had been shown to be as diverse as Western/European food, and not just a splash of soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil. And before this post turns into my rambly praise of Ugly Delicious, I want to rein it back in to my initial point:

Cooking shows and food documentaries have, in the past, spent most of its time glazing over Asian food. They’ve portrayed it as “exotic” or “weird” even when they try to highlight it. They’ve simplified it and butchered it into something simple and inoffensive to white Westerners. The way that a group of many cultures had been distilled down to one singular group by these shows and tried to separate it from the greater context of all of Asia and Asian diaspora has ultimately had negative effects.

For a food show to show Asian food as something complex and delicious rather than something meant to appeal to white Westerners was a fascinating and refreshing thing to see. The show also brings up the point – several times – that the culinary world has seen anything that isn’t traditional European cooking as second-rate or beneath them. And this shows throughout culinary media which has then gone on to influence how Westerners view Asian food.

Media cannot be denied its widespread influence – after all, that’s what media is. It exists to bring stories to an audience. And while, as creators, you may not have an obligate responsibility to respect the greater context, don’t be surprised if people do.

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