Whoa. WhoaWhoaWhoa. Time out. That title is so not cool. Just because Jeremy Lin has been smoking fools up and down the court, doesn’t mean it’s okay to joke about black people and basketba– wait, that’s not what you meant?
No, this is what I mean.
Jeremy Lin is popular. With red-blooded Americans. That’s not a group of little old Asian ladies waving Taiwan flags who have no idea how the game of basketball is played. That’s a group of white kids repping the number of their sports hero.
As an Asian-American who writes about pop culture, I have to say that Jeremy Lin’s greatest achievement isn’t what he’s accomplished on the court. It’s the road he’s paved for Asian-Americans to be relevant in mainstream pop culture as normal Americans.
And my god do we need that already.
Asians have always been present in some form or another in American pop culture, and while a lot of it was straight up derogatory back in the day, it hasn’t always been negative. What it has been, however, is Asian. Whether positive or negative, Asians have rarely entered the pop cultural mainstream without something distinctly Asian to bring to the table.
Take John Cho for instance. He’s a versatile celebrity who has played plenty of race-neutral roles. But he’s best known for his Harold and Kumar movies. While Cho doesn’t play a “no tickee no laundry” Asian guy, the movie concept is funny because it’s an Asian guy and an Indian guy. There would be no punchline to the franchise if it were some white guy and an Indian guy.
Even my personal hero Bruce Lee isn’t immune. Every American knows who Bruce Lee is, and you could say that he’s a legend in American pop culture. He endured racial prejudice, overcame the odds and broke into Hollywood, wowing audiences young and old along the way. But in the end, he was the kung-fu guy from the Orient, great for Halloween costumes (even I’m guilty of that one, as evidenced by my Twitter avatar), but not to throw a baseball or eat apple pie with. Despite the fact that he was American, he wasn’t.
And this is why Jeremy Lin is good for pop culture. For the first time ever, we’ve got an Asian-American in the spotlight who is becoming a household name and is adored by millions. Not because he is Asian. He simply happens to be Asian.
One would be a fool to think that this tidbit doesn’t factor into all the media attention he’s getting. After all, you can count the number of Asian-Americans who have ever played in the NBA on four fingers. But this isn’t why he remains popular. He’s popular because he’s the bench player who rose up from obscurity to dominate the court in the span of two fateful weeks. He was born and raised here, went to school like everyone else, and played high school and college ball. Everyday Americans can relate. The NBA didn’t pluck him out of some mysterious mountain lab/basketball camp in China.
And this normal American-ness is what Asian-Americans need. Aside from George Takei, I can’t think of any major Asian-American pop cultural icons who are known for something else, but simply also happen to be Asian. If I include not-so-mainstream pop cultural players, you could probably include James Iha from The Smashing Pumpkins, actress Sandra Oh, Daniel Dae Kim from Lost, and that’s about it.
This is why when millions of Americans go crazy for a kid named Lin, the Asian-American community finally feels included in the party in the USA. When Spike Lee chastises Floyd Mayweather for a racist tweet, we feel like people besides us care. When thousands of people express disgust at an ESPN headline that callously uses the phrase “Chink in the Armor” we feel like we have friends. And we can credit Jeremy Lin with the assist.
Best of all, Jeremy Lin recently had to squash rumors that he was dating Kim Kardashian. When the pop culture gossip mill cheapens you so much as to link you with a Kardashian, you can rest assured that your integration is complete. Get ready world, Asian-Americans are now stuck to American pop culture like white on Wonder Bread.TOP POSTS