Your Obsession with East Asian Culture Is Fetishization

Chanho Lee, Contributing Writer

The fetishization of East and Southeast Asians in the U.S. has dated back to the colonial era. Asian women have been caricatured by people in the West as sexually alluring and seductive, enabling discriminatory legislation like the Page Act of 1875, which banned Chinese women from entering the U.S. Likewise, the portrayal of Asian men as undesirable and emasculated has led to policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited all Chinese immigration due to the growing anti-Chinese sentiment.

Wars the U.S. took part in also contributed to the fetishization of Asian people, including conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, and the Philippines. The My Lai massacre, for example, was when the U.S. military murdered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and raped many women while disguising it as international service. But how has the fetishization of Asian people left implications in the present?

K-pop, short for Korean popular music, has been on the rise internationally, constantly breaking records and sales numbers. K-pop typically consists of girl and boy groups with the number of members ranging from one to 23. Some of the wider-known groups include BTS, Blackpink, and Twice. From the flashy and complex dances to the catchy rhythms and melodies, the recognition of their talent is undeniable. But the popularization of K-pop and other aspects of Asian culture in the U.S. comes with an increase in obsessive fans.

The fetishization of Asian people is one cause of the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Supporting Asian-owned art and culture is needed, especially in a time of peak anti-Asian violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the overconsumption of East Asian media and the constant idolization of real figures is dangerous. For example, many K-pop fans continuously infantilize male singers by coddling their looks and actions, even though they are fully-grown adults. The stereotypes of East Asians allows fans to ignore that these singers on stage are adults in charge of their own lives. Since traditional notions of Western masculinity are stripped away from East Asian men, fans perpetuate this by fetishizing these singers.

Another common example of this romanticization is East Asian bait-ing. Social media has exemplified this through the fox-eye trend, where people purposefully elongate their eyes by pulling their face to get the “fox-eye look”. Many Asians with monolids and slanted eye shapes are mocked for these features, but when white models adopt this trait, it becomes aesthetically beautiful on them. This is a recurring societal pattern where the common ethnic features of people of color are only found desirable on white people.

The fetishization of Asian people is one cause of the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Asian women have been targeted at high rates of hate crimes and sexual trafficking. The 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, where six Asian women were killed, was a devastating result. The shooter openly admitted that he wanted to eliminate a sexual temptation that was racially motivated. This comes to serve as a reminder that racial preferences and fetishes are racist and lead to egregious hate crimes such as the spa shootings.

As you submerge yourself in and center your personality in East Asian media, is it a quirky interest, or is it just fetishization. Ask yourself if you are showing up for the people whose culture you consume and imitate.

This piece also appears in our May 2022 print edition.