Musings on Media, Asian Identity and Empowerment
Charles Riley

[Fall 2001]

CUNY Graduate Center

What is the difference, in terms of empowerment, between being in the media  and being a gatekeeper to the media?  

At the moment, the media is full of important figures in the arts and  entertainment, including Lucy Liu's massive following for her role on TV's  Ally McBeal, Amy Tan's new novel (which is at second on the bestseller  list), Ang Lee's unexpected hit with Crouching Tiger, the roaring success  of the Guangdong Modern Dance Troupe, the Nobel Prize for Soul Mountain, a  new play for Jessica Hagedorn and many, many other examples. 

While this kind of exposure can be leveraged into power in the media eventually, most of these are still just "faces."  What counts, economically and politically, is the ownership of the media, and being in the position of gatekeeper. 

Using the example of a magazine for and about people with disabilities, Dr. Riley examined the role of a niche publication in the empowerment of a community that may be strong in terms of numbers (the recent census figure bears this out in terms of the rise in the Asian population in the U.S.), and consequently in terms of a potential market, but is not traditionally strong in other terms. 

Dr. Riley concluded with the case of Ted Fang, who has taken over a San Francisco daily called The Examiner and will prove to be a pivotal figure -- one hopes--in the empowerment of Asians through ownership of the media. As Frank Kehl pointed out during the meeting, the inclusion of credible Asian voices has been a trend in contemporary literature for some time. Others, including Thomas Lee, pointed out the ambivalence many younger Asian-Americans feel toward the categorization and the problems posed by  that rejection of a label for potential media players. The future of such publications as A. Magazine or the recently created Mavin, which is by and about inter-racial young people, depends in part upon the acceptance of  this identity, as well as their commitment to quality and competitiveness in  the field. 

Synopsis by Thomas Tam






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