Speculative fiction writer, translator, and editor


media studies

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Language and anti-Chinese racism in the media

Media never exists in a vacuum. Even stories that are set in distant science-fictional universes, or stories set in parallel universes that are free of institutionalized oppressions, are still created by people coming from worlds where institutionalized oppressions exist.
Media, then, not only reflects the concerns of its sociohistorical context, but also reinforces and reproduces these concerns: “Films both reflect and feed back into a larger socio-cultural landscape[.]” (Richardson 2010: viii) Given the overwhelming presence of various forms of media in contemporary culture—from television to movies to radio and online forms of all of these mediums, in addition to online-only media—it is not a stretch to say that media has a strong hand in helping us conceptualize our lives by providing us with the images and concepts on which we base our interpretations of our experiences. Richardson (2010) further argues that the America reflected in Hollywood is never a “real” and “accurate” representation of what America actually is, but is instead a representation of how America wishes to present itself and how America wishes to be seen by others.

Just as media can reflect the hopes and dreams of its root culture and provide an escape, media can also be complicit in perpetuating institutional oppressions. In this paper, I will specifically investigate anti-Asian racism, specifically anti-Chinese racism, in United States- based media; in particular, I will be exploring how language use and representation in movies and televisions reflects and reinforces anti-Chinese sentiments.

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Code-switching in FIREFLY

Our research is concerned with the significance of code-switching within the Firefly television series. We have two main questions: (1) How is code-switching used in Firefly? (2) What is the relevance of code-switching to characters’ identities? Does it mark ethnic identity, socioeconomic class, a broader east-west hybrid identity, or is it simply another decoration in the Firefly world?

We will begin with a brief background on code-switching and various attested uses of code-switching. We hypothesize that code-switching is a marked choice in Firefly, and we hypothesize that usage of code-switching is meant to reflect the hybridity of the east-west culture in the Firefly world. We found that usage of Mandarin typically aligned with both (1) socioeconomic class of the character, and (2) emotional content of the utterance, with code-switching more prevalent in utterances with high levels of negative emotion. We also found that the connection between language and ethnicity in Firefly was more difficult to draw than we initially expected.

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