In the promotion for Netflix’s brand-new truth TV series “Bling Empire,” a diamond-laden and heavily made-up socialite named Christine Chiu extols her spouse, a Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon. She declares he is a descendant of China’s Song dynasty and would be next in line to be emperor if the dynasty were still in place. It isn’t, is it? The Song dynasty ended in 1279, so who cares?
The timing of its release shows a neglect for the context of an international pandemic leading to racist hate, an unmatched economic crisis and political strife.
The elitism and classism gushed in this brief clip efficiently frames the program for what it is, but the timing of its release shows a neglect for the context of an international pandemic resulting in racist hate, an extraordinary economic crisis and political strife. Asians do not require this sort of (mis) representation, particularly now, when we have actually currently been long fighting the model minority myth and additional bigotry and animosity as a result of Covid-19
” I think more is more when it comes to fashion jewelry,” says Chiu, batting her thick lashes, as she places on one piece of bling after another.
Reality programs are, in truth, scripted, and much of the dialogue in the series feels inauthentic. Reveals like “The Genuine Housewives” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” are criticized for their representations of women and opportunistic capitalism. “Bling Empire” is no even worse than its category. Condemning this specific show when the others similar to it have ended up being woven into popular culture is unfair.
But why does our society continue to celebrate the fortunate 1 percent that does not represent the large majority of our human experience, not to mention the Asian American experience, specifically when our country is suffering through a pandemic and recession?
My sibling and his better half run a Vietnamese dining establishment in a strip mall. They welcomed their first infant in Might, just as their business was hit hard by the pandemic. They are balancing childcare with keeping the dining establishment available to pay expenses and support their workers. It’s an incredible stress. Like numerous Americans, their application for assistance went unanswered. My bro’s experience is the real truth for countless Americans, however that is not represented. Rather, what we have is Chiu flaunting her Gucci-clad Infant G, tended to by a rotating group of multilingual baby-sitters.
To be reasonable, Netflix began shooting the series in early 2019, before the pandemic. While no one might have anticipated Covid-19, the racist hate that would be prompted in its name and the suffering that it would cause, the timing of the program’s release is acutely tone-deaf. In the first episode, Kim Lee, a cast member and DJ, mentions offhand that her rent is “only $19,000 a month.” This at a time when countless Americans are losing tasks, getting evicted and experiencing homelessness is tough to accept.
On top of these financial difficulties, there have been thousands of reports of anti-Asian discrimination nationwide, worsened by Donald Trump utilizing the phrases “Chinese virus” and “kung flu” to describe the coronavirus while he was president. Despite the show’s milder efforts at subverting other Asian stereotypes (its stars are neither academic nor conventional), this sort of representation strengthens stereotypes that Asians are wealthy while the majority of the nation is suffering and threatens to make scapegoating worse.
On the other hand, don’t Asians should have to be as vapid, materialistic and performative as the Kardashians? The concept that representation need to only include more palatable behavior suggests that racism is triggered by unsavory habits. It is a domino effect to victim-blaming and adds to the model minority myth. So is representation of Asians behaving boldly, rudely and wastefully subversive enough to be good for the American mind? I do not know.
The series’ property is to unabashedly spotlight a real-life version of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the 2018 hit that earned over $238 million around the world. Thankfully, “Bling Empire” is not focused solely on the Chiu household.
The full cast includes more charming characters, including model Kevin Kreider, whose videos about struggling as a Korean adoptee in a white community and redefining Asian masculinity acquired him a large following prior to the show. Kreider narrates the series and represents the naïve one with the heart of gold stumbling around unknown society while others tease him for his lack of couture fashion sense and a lavish way of life. Unlike imaginary protagonist Rachel Chu in “Crazy Rich Asians,” Kreider is deliberate in his efforts to join the elite inner circle. He soaks up all the teasing to acquire acceptance. Throughout the program, he attempts to charm producer Kelly Mi Li in what can be checked out as a campaign to replace her current kept guy.
” If you can’t be rich,” he says, “at least have abundant good friends.”
Kreider’s look for his birth parents and anxiety around how his adoptive parents will respond is meaningful representation. The show’s addition of an Asian adoptee perspective, a vital story in the discourse about the Asian diaspora, should be praised.
The show’s addition of an Asian adoptee perspective, a necessary narrative in the discourse about the Asian diaspora, must be praised.
Similarly socially considerable is the program’s depiction of Li’s devastating relationship. Li is not just a cast member, however a powerhouse business owner and the show’s producer. “Bling Empire” would not have been created without her, yet she appears to continue to accept spoken and emotional mistreatment from her partner. She is a pointer that no matter how strong or effective a person is, they can be prone to hazardous patterns. The show believably catches moments of vulnerability and shame from the couple, which might help audiences comprehend why liked ones, or maybe themselves, remain in or lie to cover up such relationships.
The social awareness of “Bling Empire” peaks in episode 7, when Kreider and his buddy Kane Lim go to Charleston, South Carolina. They come across a little protest and sign up with individuals holding an American flag and a “Make bigotry wrong again” sign opposite a pickup truck showing a much larger Confederate flag. They make light of the minute, it was the show’s only acknowledgement of America’s ongoing political and social unrest.
The 2 pals go on to investigate a stranger’s apartment, looking in their windows, making me wonder if they might have done this safely if they were Black. Another episode shows the Russian and Japanese heiress Anna Shay and good friends ignoring law enforcement officer’ orders to move their hoverboards onto the walkway on Rodeo Drive. Rather, the authorities escort their trip to the end of the street. Maybe the allowance was made because of the video camera team, however the event further delineates the inequality of the American justice system.
The program is not meant to be a hard-hitting docuseries– I get that. However releasing a program celebrating opulence when Americans– and Asian Americans in particular– are experiencing such high joblessness rates feels like a giant middle finger to the neighborhood it supposedly represents.
Michelle Yang is a supporter who speaks and blogs about the crossway of Asian American identity, feminism, and mental health. A proud “takeout kid,” who grew up operating in her family’s restaurant, she’s added to CNN, InStyle, Shondaland, and more. She tweets @michellehyang.