That’s Not My Name: Lord, It’s The Samurai! intervention

August 26, 2009 at 5:21 am 11 comments

altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai, intervention, 2009

Altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it’s the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year’s summer blockbuster which replicates the show’s official website with a twist—it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the “code of the warrior.”

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit’s glamorization of violence, noting,

No myth here, and it hasn’t changed since the times of the samurai: it’s universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone.
Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war.
The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords.

The faux-site also calls out the AAM’s ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline (Where Asian Still Means Oriental) and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site also makes a cogent connection between the Museum’s soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government’s interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it’s not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower’s questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC’s claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, invention, 2009

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It’s a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco’s Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM’s own brochures almost as soon as they’ve been distributed. The fake site’s gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum’s functionaries are so freaked out that they’re furiously trying to eradicate it, then I’d have to say that the intervention is working.

UPDATE: After just a couple days it appears that Lord, It’s The Samurai! has gone viral. This very blog entry has outstripped the site’s previous champion Shah Rukh Khan (and his six-pack) as the top post of the week and news of the faux-site has travelled far and wide around the blogosphere. Here are a few links:

CBS5′s post

mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum)

sfist post

8asians post (wherein the bloggers confess to being pwned by the faux-site)

Interview with the anonymous creators of the site here.

sfmike’s post

digdug’s post

UPDATE 2: The Asian Art Museum itself has posted an entry on its blog about the intervention. I’m de-linking it, though, since they’ve selectively refused trackbacks (including mine) from sites critical of their position. Another example of systematic exclusion on their part.

And Japanese history scholars weigh in with their approval of the site, calling it “an instant classic.” There are also some great observations on the significance of museum shows as well as a shout-out to the scholarly rigor of  Lord, It’s The Samurai!

UPDATE 3: Found this nice manifesto about social art intervention on John Jota Leanos’ site and thought I’d toss it out there, since it’s relevant to the conversation at hand. You can check out his art and other relevant information there, too. Plus his significant other was my kid’s kindergarten teacher.

UPDATE 3: Myself and a representative from asiansart.org, the folks who put together the parody website, were on Hard Knock Radio on KPFA-FM this week talking about the intervention. Go here for the stream, or download the interview here.

UPDATE 4: Ken Baker, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, weighs in here. Mostly positive, with some great dialogue in the user comments (aside from some obvious cluelessness). Viraling!

UPDATE 5: Continued fallout some nine months later as Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu talks in the LA Times about how “painful” it was to be pwned by asiansart.org’s intervention. Maybe getting a clue would ease some of the pain, Jay. asianarts.org talks back here.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • [...] Wait, what is this all about? 27 08 2009 It’s all blogged eloquently into nuanced and pitch-perfect context here: That’s Not My Name: Lord, It’s The Samurai! intervention [...]

    Reply
  • 2. Barbara Jane Reyes  |  August 27, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Hey Valerie, thanks for blogging about this! The entire website is pretty fabulous. I saw that mash-up of the language of the previous AAM exhibits and for sure, this project doesn’t need to fabricate any “orientalist” language when it’s already there.

    So then, I wonder, what’s next? Would the AAM really rethink their current trends in programming (for example)?

    Reply
    • 3. valeriesoe  |  August 28, 2009 at 1:53 am

      Hi Barb,

      So then, I wonder, what’s next? Would the AAM really rethink their current trends in programming (for example)?

      I think that orientalism is so entrenched in the fabric and culture of the museum that they don’t even realize it. It’s not like it’s an Asian Art Museum for living Asians, or for Asians living in this country, or for anything having any contemporary relevance. Every so often they show a modern-day artist but it’s rarely (never?) an Asian American. The AAM exists to serve collectors, who are by and large wealthy white people, so it’s not interested in current work by Asian/Americans, which often has messy political and social commentary. So I’d be surprised if much changes right away in their programming trends, but down the road things might improve. Which is why this intervention and others like it are so necessary to keep the pressure on the institution.

      v.

      Reply
  • [...] a week it’s been! We launched the site last Tuesday, picked up by bloggers in less than 24 hrs; began campus outreach at SFSU and UC Berkeley Wednesday; intervention Thursday [...]

    Reply
  • 5. Ed Waffle  |  September 1, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Thanks for this link, Valerie. An absolutely brilliant parody that really seems to cover all the bases.

    Those responsible for it have a pitch perfect sense of the absurd along with a real commitment making sure that even the “official” representatives of the Asian American community (as interpreted and presented for the Caucasian bourgeoise) are let off the hook.

    Reply
    • 6. valeriesoe  |  September 2, 2009 at 3:59 pm

      Hi E,

      Thanks for the kind words. I agree that the parody site succeeds in large part because of the excellence of its satire, as well as the depth of its research. Glad you liked it—

      v.

      Reply
  • [...] Hyphen Blog:  originally published at Beyond Asiaphilia [...]

    Reply
  • [...] Kinatay, Brillante Mendoza’s controversial new flick, asiansartmuseum’s parody website Lord, It’s The Samurai, the late Pinoy poet Al Robles, and President Obama’s brother Konrad Ng. Good friends Edison Chen [...]

    Reply
  • [...] online newspaper article that questioned our work as well as the museum’s, Asian American culture blogs, and at the very bottom, a major museum curator’s response to our [...]

    Reply
  • 10. How we made “Not Art” « asians art museum's samurai blog  |  November 25, 2009 at 2:07 am

    [...] beyondasiaphilia, by SFSU faculty Valerie Soe [...]

    Reply
  • 11. Have You Heard The News? Recent updates « beyondasiaphilia  |  November 29, 2009 at 7:50 am

    [...] asiansart.org, the collective responsible for this summer’s smash hit intervention, Lord, It’s The Samurai, had a little dustup at the deYoung Museum last Friday when they attempted to show artifacts from [...]

    Reply

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