A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Public Culture, 1930-1960

By Shirley Jennifer Lim | Go to book overview

3
Shortcut to Glamour
Popular Culture in a Consumer Society

How to tell your friends from the Japs: Most Chinese avoid horn-
rimmed spectacles. —Time magazine, December 22, 1941

[Scene magazine will] help heal the wounds of war—both here at
home and across the Pacific. —Scene,July 1952

Dear Sirs: George Ohashi's article on “Short Cut to Glamor [sic]”
(Scene, April) is just what we have been hoping to find in your mag-
azine. Thanks. —Rosemary Ono, Scene,May 1950

This chapter examines the paradox alluded to in the above quotations: in the post–World War II era, Asian Americans claimed modernity, cultural citizenship, and civil rights through consumer and youth cultures. According to many cultural critics, dominant hegemonic society uses consumer culture to make society accede to its will, not through coercion but by making its power seem natural and legitimate. Why, then, did the language and narratives of Asian American belonging to the nation-state become structured through the auspices of youthful female improvement through consumption as portrayed in Asian American popular culture?

The answer lies in the dynamics that propelled the dominance of American democratic liberalism in the middle of the twentieth century, namely, the United States' economic and political evolution into a consumer society combined with the construction of racial inequality as a matter of denying access to public institutions. For the purposes of this chapter, I define the concept of mid-twentieth-century American democ-

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