If you’ve been keeping up with Porter Robinson lately, you’ll know that he has been pretty vocal about the current status quo in EDM and how we can expect some new, genre bending sounds on his new album. Great! I’m all for progress. In a lot of other areas too... like maybe the portrayal of Asian women in the media?
Oops. Maybe Porter wasn’t ready to go there. But let’s not move backwards either. Maybe he didn’t get the memo, but it’s not cool to use Asian women as objects in music videos, or anywhere else. Let’s not move backwards on racism as we move forward with music. Opstay ithway Asian girls-ay, OK?
The video for Porter Robinsons “Lionhearted” has him as some sort of emo-thug leader with four Asian girls and one white girl (in Asian face) as his minions. The girls are dressed in traditional anime garb- think hyper-sexualized schoolgirls with stockings, mini-skirts and backpacks. He orders them on shooting spree of Los Angeles, with their bullets turning an otherwise drab cityscape into vibrant, colorful sketches. Towards the end, one of the Asian girls shoots Porter in the groin in what looks to be some sort of power grab, and the white female (yes, still with Asian face) takes the lead.
Maybe there’s some deep meaning here- free yourself from your oppressor for positive change? I can’t really tell because there are several troubling themes present (gender inequality and using violence to solve problems are just two) that overshadow any positive message. But let’s stay focused on its depiction of Asian women, as it seems to be the root from which the other problems branch out.
Robinson is traveling down the same “good intentioned”, but ill-fated road of Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry and most recently Avril Lavigne. They all display Asian women in their videos in some twisted form of Caucasian flattery- a tribute to Japanese culture that emphasizes none of its depth and all of its novelty.
Harajuku Girls, Geishas, ‘kawaii’ Hello Kitty dolls, and now Robinson’s ultra-violent video vixens- all are one dimensional characters serving only as props to the white lead.
When Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” video was released in late April, Amanda Duberman of the Huffington Post wrote “It's not novelty. It dismisses Asian culture and the women who choose to enjoy it as mindless pawns at white America's disposal.” Unintentional or not, Robinson is doing the same thing. In many ways, his Anime fetish makes it even worse.
I do doubt that he intended this video to be racist- he’s just really into Anime and probably believes he has the highest respect for Japanese culture. Just like how Avril Lavigne “loves Hello Kitty” and “loves Japan”. But cultural appropriation- whether it’s wearing a Native American war bonnet/headdress or the pseudo-glamorization of only certain parts of an ethnic identity, is problematic at its core, especially when it comes from the dominate racial group.
Japanese culture goes much deeper than stylized cartoon characters- unfortunately its portrayal in the media often times does not. More specifically, Asian women are routinely eroticized as either silent, submissive playthings or weapon wielding martial arts experts. Real life depictions of the true Asian woman in media – artist, lawyer, doctor, DJ, banker, teacher, artist, police officer, designer, mother – are virtually non-existent – especially in the United States.
The imagery in "Lionhearted" is an example of the sticky racism that exists as an unseen riptide in society. “No look, I’m showing how awesome I think Asian girls are”- Really, bro? It’s not as blatant or hateful as putting “No Japs Allowed” sign in your storefront- but it’s still racist. It is a “celebration of culture” rooted in ignorance. It serves only to perpetuate negative stereotypes- no matter how cool or positive Robinson might personally believe them to be.
These mistakes have been made in popular music before, and the offenders have been summarily called out. As an artist of this era, Robinson needs to know better. To say this is only a “tribute” to Japanese culture and celebration of Anime is bullshit. Its equivalent might be celebrating the American white male through depictions of Homer Simpson.