“I’m on the Internet!

”: The Production of Identity for Asian America through Social Media Use

Jillian Toda RHET496W: Senior Seminar Fall 2011

Keywords: Asian American, new media, identity, social media, counterpublic, blog, YouTube Toda 1

Abstract In today’s increasingly diverse society, the emergence of social media as sites for communication have enabled counterpublics to form in online spaces. This essay explores how the formation of an online counterpublic by Asian Americans contributes to society’s understanding of both racial identity and space construction. Examination of artifacts produced by two of the most recognizable and well-known Asian Americans in cyberspace—Phil Yu, the Angry Asian Man, and Ryan “Nigahiga” Higa of YouTube—illustrates how rhetorical crafting of visuals and personae using social media can shape the collective identity and image of an entire marginalized group in the United States.

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Asian Americans and the Media
In 2002, clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch released shirts that contained caricatured Asians with slanted eyes, conical hats and text reading, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs can Make it White.” Asian Americans from across the Internet banded together in a letter and email-writing campaign to demand the shirts’ removal from stores. This action was taken in response to entries made on blogs like Angry Asian Man and KimChiMamas, as well as email blitzes and social media posts. The company removed the shirts from store shelves and its website, and spokesman Hampton Carney issued a public apology—all within less than a week’s time of the shirts’ release (Ono 148; 170; Strasburg para. 6-7). In late 2006, television personality Rosie O’Donnell employed derogatory “ching chong” language in describing the sound of Mandarin on daytime talk-show The View. Immediately, organizers responded calling for an apology from O’Donnell for her ignorant and demeaning insensitivity toward Asians. Bloggers posted their own commentary, and YouTube videos sprouted up in which people discussed O’Donnell’s actions. Chinese American spoken word artist, Beau Sia, created a video piece titled “an open letter to all the rosie o’donnells” in which he called for her sincere apology. This video circulated on YouTube and has since gained nearly 700,000 views (Sia 02.22.2007 n. pag.). During the spring of 2011, a video rant on “Asians in the Library” by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student Alexandra Wallace was uploaded onto YouTube. The video included Wallace’s frustrations with cultural differences and, like O’Donnell’s, used “ching chong” noises to represent Asian languages. Another quick and large response surged online, as Facebook postings and Twitter tweets abounded. Beau Sia made another response video (Sia “a persona poem in the voice of Alexandra Wallace” 03.16.2011 n. pag.), as did Toda 3

several other prominent Asian Americans on YouTube including Asian American rapper TimothyDeLaGhetto, comedian David So, and Nigahiga. Letters, emails, videos, and posts erupted online and Wallace eventually apologized for her video (AAM, “alexandra’s anti-asian video about ‘manners’” para. 9). Within the last decade, the use of new media has grown exponentially. Websites no longer contain only information about people and organizations, but act as hubs where multiple platforms converge into comprehensive and participatory online exhibits. New media has emerged from computer technology, and refers to the on-demand distribution and access of print, text, broadcast, photo, and video media over digital devices. In order to show how new media functions within society, this essay will examine social media platforms, which are used by professionals and teenagers alike. Social media, easily disseminated to a public for digital, social interaction, include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Blogger, and YouTube, to name only a few. Such social media have become the extended public forums of society, open to the experts and the amateurs. This shift in communicative means has changed—and continues to change—the way people and groups think, interact, and even construct identity. In today’s increasingly diverse society, conversations occur over issues of race, identity, and rising multiculturalism both interpersonally and digitally. One group that has emerged in the last decade with a strong web presence is the Asian American population. Asian Americans have lived at the margins of society in the past, without much representation in the media (Natividad 595). The rise of new media and social media has allowed more convenient social outlets for marginalized groups, which Asian Americans have utilized as illustrated in the previous examples. This movement of Asian American voices into blogs, personal websites, YouTube, and independent film has (re)introduced society—via online simulacra of reality—to

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an Asian American identity. With this rising need to understand complex societal behavior, it is important to look at how marginalized voices function within mainstream culture. Examination of such interactions shows us how those outside of the mainstream can gain, and where they are denied, entry. Specifically, Gary Okihiro explains how marginalized groups actually contribute to, and shape, the mainstream (175). Today’s mainstream culture is also being continually influenced by new media technologies. With these considerations in mind, this essay will answer how Asian Americans have made rhetorical use of social media to create an Asian American counterpublic on the Internet. The rhetoric of identity formation has been integral to the study of the public sphere, but the intersection of public sphere and new media theory is a topic open for exploration. Although the traditional concept of the public sphere was focused on reach and participation of citizens, this conceptualization has grown and shifted throughout the years. With the rise of the Internet and online interaction, the web is viewed as an open public forum with participatory convenience. Simultaneously, a changing racial landscape in America is bringing forward conversations of identity online and offline. By researching the way in which use of social media platforms has shaped Asian America, a better understanding of cyber identity will form. This understanding will complement not only discussions around counterpublics in relation to the mainstream, but also around new media’s visual rhetoric and racial identity in the United States. Combining these aspects, this study exists to inform society about how a digital culture can shape, and be shaped by, the expanding available resources for American subcultures. The history of Asian American media culture is marked by mainstream representations of stereotypes, which position the group at the margins of the public sphere. Stereotypes that will be further explored—Ethnic Studies concepts of the Model Minority myth that exceptionalizes

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Asian Americans in direct comparison to other people of color groups, and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome that forever marks Asian Americans as cultural outsiders —show how living in the margins has provided Asian Americans reason to enter the public through media. The 1960’s Asian American Movement was eclipsed by the Civil Right Movement, making it invisible today (Wei 3). This era introduced the Asian American identity as a pan-ethnic title under which various, previously disunited groups could combine. The Asian American Movement sparked an alternative press with varying perspectives. These media “were often the main communication link between Asian American activists working on common causes in different parts of the United States, unifying the Movement and Asian Americans” (Wei 102). The Asian American Movement is similar to today’s digital movement including a community of Asian Americans using new media as a way to develop the voice of Asian America. This social and digital movement is beginning to be recognized by the public. A study by the School of Communication at Northwestern University found that Asian American youth typically spend over an hour more per day on recreational computer use than white, black, and Latino youth (Rideout, Lauricella, and Wartella 2). Where mainstream media on television and magazines lack an Asian American presence, online new media is filled with prominent Asian American YouTube “stars”, bloggers, and film producers (Considine pars. 4, 7). In this way, a new generation of Asian Americans has been using new media to redefine Asian America in a digital space. Acknowledging this social media movement, this study explores how such platforms have been used by Asian Americans to change their positions in society. More specifically, in this essay I will argue that social media platforms have allowed Asian Americans to 1) form a digital counterpublic based off of racial membership and belonging, 2) rhetorically craft images

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of Asian Americans that both perpetuate and resist mainstream representations, and 3) claim an online voice to create an Asian American identity. This online counterpublic functions as a technique to work in the margins and mainstream space, shaping a new Asian America. To demonstrate this, I will examine two artifacts produced by Asian Americans. Angry Asian Man, the first blogsite dedicated to Asian American news and issues of racist pop culture to popularize on the web, and NigaHiga, a well-known YouTube channel that has over 166,000,000 channel views (Nigahiga channel n. pag.). Both Angry Asian Man and NigaHiga have been recognized in the mainstream media for their fame online, making the two artifacts significant in showing how marginalized voices can pass into the mainstream public. Due to their high viewership and recognition, these artifacts will demonstrate 1) the complexity of the Asian American identity online in regard to persona and resistance, 2) how Asian Americans create participatory, online enclaves implicitly and explicitly for fellow Asian Americans, and 3) how the vehicles of new media and social media shape their counterpublic’s creation, and what this implies about the significance of racial identity in a digital society. The examination of these artifacts will include an analysis of visual rhetoric in regard to counterpublic sphere and new media theories, and identity. First, I’ll provide context about Angry Asian Man (AAM) and NigaHiga as texts and as recognizable figures among a long list of other Asian Americans participating online. Second, I’ll explore existing scholars and rhetorical studies on the topics of counterpublics, new media, and identity. This discussion will lead into the visual analysis of each artifact, showing how AAM and NigaHiga either resist or perpetuate stereotypes of Asian Americans through the visuals of their new media. Such an analysis will also demonstrate how Asian American digital enclaves form and maintain a counterpublic through new media.

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Next, I’ll examine the rhetoric each artifact employs to develop a persona and create identity. This analysis will be central to understanding the way that the artifacts function within the digital public and Asian America. Based on the visual rhetoric analysis, Ethnic Studies concepts, and theories on social media, I will argue that the crafting of AAM’s and NigaHiga’s personas make them iconic, with the ability to pass into the mainstream public from the margins. I will then look at the fluidity of each artifact in regards to two aspects: race identity and Catherine Squires’ concept of oscillation (112). Viewing the artifacts under the lens of racial voice will also reveal how AAM and Nigahiga resist and/or perpetuate stereotypical images of Asian Americans in media through textual rhetoric. The artifact analysis will thus reveal how access to counterpublic and public spaces by new media allows Asian Americans online to both produce and use digital space for Asian America, as well as define that space with their own experiences. Finally, I will conclude this analysis by bringing together the information from throughout this essay and draw conclusions about how social media have allowed for the creation of a new Asian American counterpublic. I will also lay out implications for how race and communication have changed in today’s digital age. Ultimately, the act of Asian Americans entering the mainstream through use of social media provides us a unique study on how and why marginalized groups may choose to use digital technologies to reposition their identities.

Behind the (Inter)Faces of Asian Americans
Phil Yu was blogging solely for personal entertainment when he began Angry Asian Man (AAM). Yu had graduated from Northwestern University, where he studied film. While noticing discrimination toward and misrepresentation of Asian Americans in media and mainstream culture, Yu began blogging in 2001, adopting the tagline, That’s racist!, in his personal blog. Yu Toda 8

titled his blog AAM to represent his frustrations with institutionalized racism in prominent media and society. Angry Asian Man grew in popularity among Asian Americans online, and the blog now receives approximately 350,000 views and 250,000 unique visitors each month (Yu para.1). This popularity goes beyond just the Internet, however, as discussion about AAM has currently reached some classrooms of Asian American studies courses (Yu para. 2). Ryan Higa posted his first video on YouTube in 2006, purely for entertainment. He was a high school student in Hilo, Hawaii, and had simply wanted to have fun with friends and share videos (“My YouTube Story: Ryan Higa” n. pag.). While studying nuclear medicine at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), the Nigahiga channel popularity on YouTube allowed Higa to change his career pathway with the profit he made. Higa switched his major to Film Studies and began focusing more on his YouTube career. His channel grew steadily and quickly in subscribers. Today, Nigahiga is the #2 most subscribed-to channel of all time, with over 4.5 million subscribers (“YouTube charts” n.pag.). The channel includes several different skit series and vlogs of Ryan individually. The YouTube community environment, though, has allowed Higa to collaborate with other Asian American YouTubers in comedy skits, shorts, and music videos. Asian Americans are making their presence known on every online platform imaginable: blogs like AAM, magazines like Mochi, KoreAm, media channels like Myx TV, Channel APA and Pacific Rim, as well as a plethora of young, up-and-coming Asian American artists who broadcast their talents on YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr. This rhetoric is intriguing and is being recognized by society (Considine par. 11). A group of five Asian American filmmakers are addressing this phenomenon in the documentary “Uploaded: The Asian American Movement,” which interviews over thirty Asian Americans who are prominent contributors to

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the Asian American online community (Uploaded website, “Cast” n. pag.). Nigahiga and AAM are exemplary artifacts to represent this movement because of their longstanding popularity and large followings. Both are highly influential within the Asian American community because of their established media production, which makes their rhetoric especially valuable to examine in an exploration of counterpublic creation and development of identity. Notions about what the contemporary public sphere is, encompasses, and strives to be have been complicated by the emergence and widespread use of new media. Even more complex than the definition of public and private spheres is the pressing issue of marginalized identities in a growing society of diverse perspectives, histories, cultures, races, and lifestyles. This essay characterizes marginalized communities as those outside of the mainstream culture that conform to the normative “construct” of American: white, male, mid-to-upper class, heterosexual, and able-bodied (Nakamura, Cybertypes 32). Asian Americans can thus be seen as a marginalized group, and will be explored at the intersection of identity and new media in a counterpublic space. Representations of Asian American identity in mainstream media are grounded in stereotypes. Such misrepresentations and generalizations were formed within society long before new media existed. The concept of a public sphere has existed for over two centuries, bringing with it the idea of a counterpublic. Counterpublics are what Nancy Fraser describes as “parallel discursive arenas” where disempowered and marginalized groups can come together under collective identities that differ from the mainstream (67). Identity representation and counterpublics will be central to this essay, so it is necessary to examine scholarship that deals with both of these topics within the digital age. Due to the small existence of scholarship by

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Asian American authors, seeing what issues arose from work regarding Asian Americans and new media is essential in understanding the contribution this essay makes to this community.

Counterpublics, Oscillation, and a Digital Space
To understand how contemporary counterpublics function, one must first look at the conceptual mainstream society, known as the public sphere. The public sphere has been based on civic engagement; those who can access and participate in the public make the public. Jürgen Habermas originally conceptualized the public sphere as a space open to everyone, in which they could openly exchange discourses relevant to its participants (Asen and Brouwer 4). Debate among scholars has occurred over this definition and how participation in the public sphere is denied to some citizens. In recent years, the public sphere has retreated and it appears that civic engagement mainly occurs within the private sphere. As University of Illinois-Chicago professor of Communication, Zizi Papacharissi asserts, “This retreat to the private sphere is an act of dissent, and as such is a political act” (24). Due perhaps to the social unrest of the times, citizens are taking advantage of new media tools that allow them to participate widely in subversive conversations in the public from the comfort of private spaces: the home, personal computer, and even personal mobile phone. This type of engagement blurs the line between what actually is the public and private sphere. Furthermore, the mere existence of a public sphere has been long debated among scholars. As Papacharissi explains of the viewpoints of Jürgen Habermas, the theorizer of the public sphere concept, “For the sake of the present argument, it is important to focus on public space over the public sphere. Analytical thought frequently debates whether a public sphere ever truly existed, but in fairness to the true spirit of Habermas’ argument, this misses the point. What is important is not whether the public sphere ever Toda 11

was, but, rather, that the conditions necessary for it to ever be have become extinct…the public sphere, abstract or tangible, requires public space to exist, and Habermas’ point is that the public space that previously enabled the collective sharing of a public sphere no longer exists” (39). In today’s privatization and digital age, we do not engage in the open public sphere that Habermas posited, but this doesn’t mean that the ideas and activities associated with the public sphere have gone extinct. Rather, Papacharissi views the current public sphere as a metaphor for social democracy. Here, civic activities act as a “vehicle for capitalist hegemony and ideological reproduction” (115), which happens online. How specific online spaces like the AAM blog and NigaHiga YouTube channel differ from such mainstream reproduction directly stems from their identities and past experiences at the margins of society. While there may not be a true public sphere today, the idea of counterpublics still applies. A counterpublic is formed in response to, and alongside, the mainstream public. These spheres are not opposite of public sphere thought, but rather present an oppositional perspective by people who differ, and are marginalized, from that mainstream public (Asen and Brouwer 7). Counterpublics, then, form out of the multiplicity of society, which can be demonstrated well in arenas with varying perspectives and identities, such as the Internet. Catherine Palczewski examines the way that collective identity affects cyber-movements and counterpublics on the Internet, observing that “Counterpublics, as temporal, discursive, and even physical spaces, are not exclusively defined by identity but, instead, aid in the definition of identity” (165). Palczewski also recognizes that the formation of cyber-movements depend upon the access that marginalized groups have to cyberspace, and that this digital space has great potential for the development of social movements and counterpublics (181). Expanding on Palczewski’s

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argument that counterpublics aid in defining identity, this essay will show how AAM and NigaHiga have constructed Asian American identity through forming a digital counterpublic of Asian America. This discussion will illustrate how a marginalized group not only forms a digital counterpublic, but also how the concepts and assertions of identity which come out of that formation contribute to the debates about new media as a democratizing force. Different counterpublics function differently within society, and Catherine Squires recognizes four genres describing the discursive behavior of marginalized groups. One such genre is oscillating, which Squires describes as when “members of a marginalized public systematically project their previously enclaved ideas toward the state and wider publics (112). In other words, an oscillating counterpublic goes further than solely existing in parallel to the mainstream public by crossing into that mainstream to achieve desired results. The Black Press counterpublic is the entity that Squires examines as operating under the oscillation genre, which shows how a racially oppressed group used media outlets to address the State and be heard in political discussion (130). This exploration of a counterpublic marginalized from society parallels the Asian American digital counterpublic formation that will be shown here. By examining AAM and NigaHiga as part of an online movement to form an Asian American counterpublic, the delicate balance of oscillating between an enclaved space and the wider cyber public will be seen. Oscillation functions to give fluidity to a movement or counterpublic, especially one like Asian America which has acted mainly as an enclave before the growth of social media. By working solely within its own borders of Asian American communities, this group has not often voiced its opinions and needs to the mainstream public. Social media platforms have allowed for greater transparency between the margins and mainstream, and have let Asian Americans

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oscillate between internal and external functioning. Working between spheres not only aids in shaping the mainstream, but also reshapes the margins at which disempowered groups stand, resisting further oppression and creating social change.

Cybertype Identities and Convergence Culture
Online counterpublics evoke an element of participation from its members, and this engagement is what can define and create. As shown earlier, counterpublics are formed out of marginalized and disempowered members of society in order to use their collective resources to influence the mainstream. Issues of identity are extremely pertinent to the functioning of counterpublics. Professor and author, Lisa Nakamura, appropriately notes identity issues in Digitizing Race, explaining that “Despite uneven forms of access to Internet technology, there are burgeoning visual cultures of race on the Internet authored by people of color and women. These cultures flourish in the out-of-the-way spaces of the popular Internet… Really seeing them means looking more closely at the Internet and looking differently” (209). Nakamura points to the way identity is important to individuals’ presence online, especially race, which is still a topic not explicitly discussed online in the mainstream. Yet, racial identity is constantly being constructed on the Internet by both animated avatars and labels. These stereotypes are what Nakamura examines in her work Cybertypes, which explores the “distinctive ways that the Internet propagates, disseminates, and commodifies images of race and racism” (3). Cybertypes are apparent throughout the web, in part due to the way the Internet functions as an extension of offline society; since racism exists within the society that created the digital sphere, it is only logical for racism to exist within that digital sphere. Since the online Toda 14

public is informed about matters of identity by the complex actions and social constructions of its users, it can be seen how issues of race identity are very intricate pieces that influence an individual’s online presence. In other words, cybertypes are embedded into the fabric of the digital sphere in so much as to make users believe that these stereotypes are reality. The engagement between AAM or Nigahiga and their followers, however, can actually allow for their messages about Asian American identity to spread and, in effect, create their own cybertypes of Asian American identity. Identity formation online takes the avenue of mainstream media and counterpublic oscillation, but within this process it behooves us to also examine the idea of convergence. Henry Jenkins discusses the concept of a convergence culture as being the process of multiple technologies coming together into one interface. Convergence in our culture is not solely based on technological shifts, however, since the way technology functions within our current society is so integrated that when technologies converge, so too does our culture (34). Papacharissi takes the idea of convergence further in saying that the public and private spheres are converging, as well as technologies, spaces, and practices (61). Thus, contemporary counterpublics must be prepared to converge their communication practices as well as online and offline identities, which will be seen occurring with AAM and Nigahiga. It is not enough to only view these two artifacts separately in relation to counterpublic activity and racial identity formation in a digital sphere. Exploration of how the combination of all of these aspects work together in a convergence of identity will reveal the complex relationships the Asian American community has with the mainstream public and its own counterpublic. The oscillation activities of Asian Americans will be further investigated, with regard to how visual aspects of racial cybertypes on AAM and Nigahiga either continue or resist

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those images. First, however, it is necessary to look at the rhetorical layouts of both AAM and Nigahiga’s channel.

Beyond the Interface: Angry Asian Man and Nigahiga as visual texts
What sets AAM apart from other blogsites is its capability to create strong camaraderie and community among its fans. When the blog reached its ten-year anniversary, a group of wellknown Asian American artists—all followers of the site—collaborated and compiled a congratulatory video to AAM. In late September 2011, when Yu went vacation, the blog was still able to be maintained with the help of a dozen prominent Asian Americans who contributed guest posts daily (AAM, “Vacation!” 8.25.2011). This phenomenon of AAM’s widespread popularity and power to unify readers is especially unique given that the structure of AAM lacks a way for readers to directly comment and discuss the content presented in posts. Nevertheless, Yu receives numerous emails each day from readers, from which he often draws upon for post topics. The allowance for discussion that other blogs offer, though, is missing, making this blog a particularly intriguing piece of rhetoric. Evaluating how AAM creates, maintains, and influences an Asian American online counterpublic, even without direct discussion capabilities, reveals insights into the power this blog has in its community, and complement the other artifact for analysis, Nigahiga. Unlike AAM, the Nigahiga channel is very open to comments and viewer participation. This engagement is promoted by the YouTube structure of all channel pages: the channel structure has the videos on the top half of the page, with information about Higa and his activity on YouTube on the bottom half. The large section, “Recent Activity,” on the channel page is Toda 16

dedicated to Higa’s involvement on the platform and showcases YouTube’s competency of engaging participation among all members. This important idea is conveyed through YouTube’s central slogan of broadcasting oneself and being both the producer and consumer, or prosumer, in our increasingly mediated society (2020 Media Features “The Prosumer” 1). Both Nigahiga and AAM are prosumers, although their methods for disseminating their messages differ. The way in which the Nigahiga channel page conveys messages about Asian Americans, especially through visual rhetoric, is dictated by the structure of the YouTube platform, while AAM is an autonomous blogsite. Whereas Nigahiga conveys his opinions through video and visual presence, AAM holds a strong voice through written narration. In this way, the two artifacts complement one another in their craft of rhetorical arguments on Asian American identity and community. Lisa Nakamura’s concept of cybertypes plays an integral role in examining both AAM’s and Nigahiga’s rhetorical arguments for a counterpublic of Asian American identity online. The ways in which both AAM and Nigahiga perpetuate and resist cybertypes of Asian Americans are largely visual. Their visual rhetoric allows them to either perform existing cybertypes or create their own, producing content that contributes to the collective Asian American identity in digital space. An exploration of the ways in which these visual representations create Asian American identity follows, examining how AAM and Nigahiga perpetuate, resist, or create cybertypes that circulate on their online counterpublic. Counterpublic spaces, being characterized by alternative perspectives from the mainstream culture, operate with the knowledge that every action can affect the public, as well as vice versa. An enclave operates within itself without interaction with the mainstream public. I

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argue here that AAM and Nigahiga create both online counterpublic spaces and ethnic enclaves, moving between the two types of spaces with their visual rhetoric of Asian American cybertypes. At first glance, AAM doesn’t appear to be strikingly different from any other blog. The format with entries under headlines and dates is standard. A visual element viewers see on the blog’s main page is the header of the blog, the large title “Angry Asian Man” and the picture of Quick Kick, the Asian character from G.I. Joe. Quick Kick is in the middle of a shirtless high kick, nun chucks in hand, and complete with martial arts headband. His facial expression is angry, mouth open with a fighting cry, and eyes looking straight ahead at the viewer. Quick Kick is the ultimate kung-fu-fighting Asian caricature. He shows readers what the blog is about —Asians and Asian Americans—as well as reinforces the rhetoric of the title “Angry Asian Man.” For fellow Asian Americans, Quick Kick is empowering, reminding them that they, too, can fight. For other viewers, Quick Kick reinforces Asian kung-fu stereotypes, but is also a stern and blatant representation suggesting caution and accountability. The action figure Quick Kick is, in fact, the blog’s gatekeeper. On the blog’s gateway page, Quick Kick sits, staring directly back at viewers, daring them to enter and stopping some to question whether or not they may want to (AAM, “Angry Asian Man” n. pag.). This digital barrier, while easily overcome with nothing more than a click of the computer mouse, still creates a sense of membership when entering the blogsite. This title page works to redirect those who may not fit the Asian American target audience for the blog, while simultaneously evoking a sense of belonging with those who do continue on to the blog. As readers become familiar with the blog and Quick Kick, the character becomes welcoming as the icon of AAM. Through this rhetorical use of an angry Asian character, AAM constructs membership for the online space and reinforces the creation of an online counterpublic enclave based off of racial belonging.

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This idea of an Asian American online enclave is further reinforced by the advertisements at the sidebars of the blog. All of the ads promote Asian American-related events and merchandise. These promotions contribute to the ambience of the blog as an Asian American place. Pictures of celebrities, activists, professionals, and inspiring Asian Americans are shown throughout the blog, making Asian faces seem like the norm. Thus, AAM actually makes Asian Americans the standard on this blog in the same way that majority culture makes white, mid-to-upper class citizens the norm in mainstream society. Giving Asian Americans a space to exclusively share perspectives and interact with news content creates what Nancy Fraser calls a “parallel discursive” space (67). By creating its own online enclave through catered visuals, AAM carves out space in order to engage with the mainstream public—news, pop culture, politics—as a counterpublic. Nigahiga’s YouTube channel also employs extensive visual rhetoric, but constructs a counterpublic space for Asian Americans that is less of an enclave than AAM. The visual aspects of Nigahiga’s channel differ from AAM in that its creator, Ryan Higa, is shown in all of his videos. Unlike Phil Yu, whose visual presence is lacking on his blog save for the personification of Quick Kick, the Asian American physical presence of Asian-looking Higa— black hair, almond shaped eyes and slightly darker skin than would be acceptably white—is constant throughout the channel. The first visual that viewers see upon arriving to the Nigahiga page is his latest video post in which his body becomes a rhetorical statement. Nigahiga’s channel doesn’t have the gate-keeping of a Quick Kick equivalent that AAM has, and, in fact, any viewer may continue watching his videos. Instead of this gate-keeping, however, is the fact that by just being Asian American, Nigahiga makes an inevitable and unconscious argument about his videos’ audience being fellow Asian Americans. Scrolling down the sidebar with past posts

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reveals Nigahiga collaborations with other YouTubers, such as the “Nice Guys” video. This parody video contains an all-Asian American cast with fellow YouTubers Kevin Wu (KevJumba), Chester See, Dominic Sandoval (D-Trix), Kina Grannis, and Cathy Nguyen. These Asian American bodies are also used as visual rhetoric for the viewers of Nigahiga’s videos, implying an Asian American target audience through the lack of people of other races. In this way, Nigahiga’s channel constructs a counterpublic space for Asian Americans through implied target audience and association with other Asian American entertainers. While it’s true that not all of Nigahiga’s subscribers are Asian American—in fact, part of Nigahiga’s great popularity and success on YouTube is because he reaches a very large and wide variety of viewers—the counterpublic space that Nigahiga creates on YouTube is largely due to the plethora of Asian faces on his channel page. Of Nigahiga’s sixteen promoted YouTube friends, ten are Asian American with pictures, reinforcing the construction of a counterpublic space centered on Asian American identity. Nigahiga’s channel creates an oscillating counterpublic that is more open to the mainstream than AAM, yet still rhetorically constructs an online space where Asian Americans feel welcomed, an “Asian” space. Even though Nigahiga videos are mainly for entertainment, the channel’s utilization of Asian American bodies in its videos still illustrates and develops cybertypes. Stereotypes of Asian Americans evoke the image of the math nerd who is quiet, reserved, and, in the case of Asian men, emasculated (Ono 71). Nigahiga is more relatable and relevant through his outgoing comedy. Thus, Nigahiga breaks the mold of the quiet, effeminate Asian man. By challenging this cybertype, however, Nigahiga inadvertently creates another: the image of the goofy Asian guy. The danger in this cybertype is it sending the message that Asians and Asian Americans

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cannot be taken seriously; Higa may be highly likeable, but this cybertype makes him superficial and two dimensional. The Nigahiga channel also perpetuates other existing cybertypes through its video content. For example, the Nigahiga channel contains nine videos about ninjas or secret agents, reinforcing stereotypes in mainstream and online spaces about how Asian Americans behave (Nigahiga, “Uploads” n. pag.). These messages make mockery of Asian Americans with martial arts gestures or noises acceptable. Furthermore, such cybertypes are perpetuated quickly and widely in mainstream media because of the strong influence it has within majority culture. Nigahiga is influenced by stereotypes just as anyone else, and this, in turn, influences his videos. On the other hand, with millions of subscribers and many non-Asian American viewers, the Nigahiga channel also resists stereotypes of Asian Americans by simply giving accurate representation and recognition to the Asian American community in his vlogs. Kent Ono states that Asian Americans have largely been misrepresented in media because of their “lack of systemic power within mainstream media production,” and that any representation or role model in media—in this case, new media—has an impact on the image of Asian Americans being marketable as entertainers and cultural leaders (5). Angry Asian Man also increases Asian American representation in new media with a blog that provides entertainment, political, global, and cultural news to the online community. By raising awareness of issues relevant to Asian Americans, AAM, like Nigahiga, resists cybertypes. Angry Asian Man goes a step further in resistance, as Yu actually provides social commentary of news, calling out where racism exists and not being afraid to say, That’s Racist! Another large difference between the cybertype-breaking of the artifacts is that AAM deals with a much wider age base of Asian Americans, not only YouTubers who tend to be youth between ages thirteen

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and twenty five. Angry Asian Man can be read as also perpetuating stereotypes of Asian Americans as nun-chuck-toting, kung-fu masters from the use of Quick Kick among non-Asian viewers, but AAM actually reclaims this stereotype to empower Asian Americans by providing it as a cultural icon. Quick Kick again serves as gatekeeper here by attracting those Asian Americans who are conscious of the visibility Quick Kick gives Asians in mainstream culture. Although Quick Kick is a caricatured image, this is a platform for discussion and education in today’s open digital spaces. The difference between this utilization and that of Nigahiga is due to the specific media outlets of each artifact. Where AAM creates an Asian American counterpublic environment, the counterpublic space created by Nigahiga is more restricted by the YouTube channel format. Both artifacts are able to create a counterpublic space through their unique combinations of content and structure, as well as attract Asian American audiences. Asian American identity conveyed through AAM and Nigahiga largely parallel one another, but the creation of counterpublic spaces by the blog and YouTube channel differ upon types of visual rhetoric employed and media structure. Through the crafting of online counterpublic space, AAM and Nigahiga demonstrate rhetorically how the Asian American voice can be projected through platforms of new media that showcase perspectives from the margins of mainstream society and allow for the redefinition of identity.

Behind the Interface: Person vs. Persona
Defining identity on the Internet—the acclaimed democratizing technology—is more than just an issue of atmospheric visual framing of space for a counterpublic. Rather, in today’s digital age, Asian Americans can choose how they represent themselves, but must also consider their actions as becoming reflections of an entire collective identity. I have argued that AAM and Nigahiga employ cybertypes that are perpetuated and resisted, contributing to the formation Toda 22

of an Asian American identity. This working within the mainstream and margin allows for both artifacts to pass into different roles and spheres. Messages about Asian American identity are passed into these spheres. Understanding how these artifacts convey their messages in their respective spaces must be examined. The methods used by AAM and Nigahiga in developing Asian American identity can be seen as twofold: first, these artifacts set up personas for themselves that act as vehicles through which they can express their perspectives as well as be noticed, and second, they use their personas and positioning on social media platforms to oscillate between their counterpublic space and the mainstream culture. In using these techniques, AAM and Nigahiga not only define Asian American identity in their counterpublic space, but also communicate these ideas to the mainstream public. Even these marginalized voices influence and shape the mainstream public, demonstrating the parallel functioning of counterpublics and mainstream publics. Issues of subjectivity on the Internet have been pertinent since its introduction, but with the rise of social media platforms that operate in real time, showcase real people, and connect everyone from Hawaii to South Korea, the way that online citizens present themselves and their respective identity groups is becoming increasingly relevant and complex. Blogs were an early form of new media that presented ideas, news, and opinions, and where “commentary was the value-added, the new content that made the blog itself worth visiting” (Dean 42). In a space where personal commentary determines the readership of the blog, Yu has crafted a personality for his blog through employment of AAM (referred to as “AAM” rather than the blog “AAM”) as a persona. Similarly, the YouTube platform has emerged as “symptomatic of a changing media environment, but it is one where the practices and identities associated with cultural production and consumption, commercial and non-commercial enterprise, and professionalism

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and amateurism interact and converge in new ways,” thus “unsettl[ing] the producer-consumer divide” (Snickars and Vonderau, eds. 90). Higa created the persona of Nigahiga, a YouTube personality sensation. The utilization of persona by both AAM and Nigahiga has allowed them ease of defining identity as well as oscillation between their counterpublic space and the online mainstream. By building up their personas’ ethos, we’ll see the extent to which AAM and Nigahiga gain access to the mainstream public. Yu and Higa have both developed personas that revolve around the Asian American identity, but they differ in rhetorical construction. The persona of Nigahiga is created by key visual elements of the channel that imply the identity of Nigahiga as being associated with YouTube. The YouTube logo sits at the top of the channel page, reminding viewers that Nigahiga is under YouTube as part of its community, making him not only an Internet sensation but specifically a YouTube star. This connection with YouTube is important because it brands Nigahiga as YouTube; without the platform, Nigahiga doesn’t have autonomy or recognition in cyberspace. In other words, the vehicle of YouTube builds Nigahiga’s ethos. Another association made by the channel page is between Nigahiga and Ryan Higa. A bold, green title reads “nigahiga” at the top of the page with small script underneath reading “Ryan Higa” (“Nigahiga’s Channel” n. pag.). The emphasis on the Nigahiga title rather than the actual identity of the channel author signifies how Higa creates a personality separate from himself. Viewers seeing “Nigahiga” in the main title, with Higa as secondary, associate the persona as distanced from the real Ryan Higa. Nigahiga is the entertainer and YouTube star. His persona presents Nigahiga as a peer, as the average young adult in America who happens to make YouTube videos. He uses this persona to relate to other young people across the YouTube platform, and show that he is credible as a young comedian. Most of Nigahiga’s comedy

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sketches deal with pop cultural references (i.e. the Twilight movies, Justin Bieber, popular YouTube phrases such as “thumbs up if you’re the 302nd subscriber”), legitimizing his role as both consumer and producer of culture on YouTube and solidifying Nigahiga as an expert on how to be a YouTube star. These indications show how Higa presents the persona of Nigahiga as the true star of his channel. His adoption of the funny, quirky, and multifaceted persona, Nigahiga, illustrates how the construction of counterpublic space can facilitate the construction of an online personality that identifies with its large audience and communicates ideas across interfaces. Yu’s persona AAM is created from implications throughout the blog regarding Asian American identity and tone. Like Higa, Yu constructs and adopts a persona in order to better communicate his blog’s content to readers. Everything on the site is labeled with “Angry Asian Man,” from the large title at the top of the blog page to the “about” section that is not about the blog’s literal author, Yu, but his persona, the character of Angry Asian Man (AAM blog, “about Angry Asian Man” para. 1). The tone of the blog is reinforced by the angry Quick Kick sitting at the top of the page. He is an ever-present reminder to readers of the content and ambience of AAM. Yu is never mentioned by name, completely immersing himself in the AAM persona that he has constructed through his witty commentary and catchphrase That’s Racist! (AAM blog, “about Angry Asian Man” para. 2). Unlike Nigahiga, AAM is not a ‘star’ but a social commentator and an expert on all things Asian American. Angry Asian Man’s ethos comes simply from the name; being an angry Asian man—even if a constructed personality—equates to having experiences that non-Asian people could not fully capture. The anger is part of the AAM persona that creates a resonance with readers, in effect contributing to the definition of the Asian American counterpublic space. Non-Asian readers wouldn’t care about an angry Asian man so

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that the AAM persona becomes a marker of counterpublic space in itself. Yu employs the persona of AAM for reinforcing the counterpublic space created by his blog, communicating content to a specific audience, and building up his credibility as an expert. With both Yu and Higa adopting the personas of AAM and Nigahiga, the divide between real and constructed, opinions in counterpublic space and accepted facts in the mainstream online culture, becomes blurred. Although these personas are not “real” in terms of the people they represent in reality, they become real online through new media by association with the artifacts’ creators. In this way, AAM and Nigahiga become the cultural icons that all of the online community knows and interacts with. This discussion on “real” identity is a topic already discussed in scholarship as well as in online spaces, as Kevin Wu—known on YouTube as KevJumba—demonstrates in a video titled “The Real Me” (Strangelove 65). Just as the line between the real and constructed is unclear in new media, the line between the mainstream and margin also becomes unrecognizable. Examining how persona construction allows for AAM and Nigahiga to interact with both their counterpublic space and mainstream web community is important in establishing a comprehensive view on identity creation online. Large followings of AAM and Nigahiga within counterpublic space as well as the mainstream public, enables them to move between the two spaces—what Mansbridge dubs as “oscillation”—or occupy both simultaneously (Brouwer 88) . Both AAM and Nigahiga achieve oscillation, but the extent of Nigahiga’s access to, and positive recognition in, mainstream society is broader. Due to Nigahiga’s large viewership and persona of a peer, the channel has more freedom to move into the mainstream public, as Nigahiga has even had opportunities to appear on mainstream television (Nigahiga, “4,000,000 Subscribers” n. pag.). In contrast, AAM hasn’t been granted as great of ease of movement between the mainstream culture and its own

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counterpublic space for Asian Americans. While AAM has been mentioned in public newspaper articles, the way in which AAM as a persona has been constructed with a narrower expertise than Nigahiga—emphasizing racial identity and Asian American knowledge—limits the range of oscillation that AAM has. Angry Asian Man faces difficulties being portrayed as anything other than angry within a mainstream, non-Asian audience because of its persona. This oscillation that Nigahiga and, to a lesser extent, AAM, utilize in occupying counterpublic and mainstream spaces is made possible by the personas that have been constructed. Such persona constructions of AAM and Nigahiga demonstrate how margins can permeate and thus become the mainstream, or how counterpublic space can work within and outside of itself to achieve visibility in the mainstream public. What now lies beyond persona construction is the issue of whose identity is being constructed by whom.

Asian American Cybertypes and Construction of the Real
Examining the ways in which AAM and Nigahiga create identity through the use of racial cybertypes will illustrate an important point of how these personas are entangled with the collective Asian American identity, how their identity influences their messages, and what this means on the interfaces of social media. It is important to explore new media in terms of racial identity in America since media is intrinsically studded with messages about racial groups. Especially in such a visual society, the growing presence of Asian American faces on blogs and YouTube indicate an escalating need for more frank discussion about subjectivity on the Internet. Viewing Nigahiga and AAM under the lens of race leads to the discovery of how identity on new media spaces contribute or counter cybertypes and discriminatory concepts in society regarding Asian Americans.

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YouTube has birthed many phenomenons, providing a space where amateur, everyday citizens can become producers of public content. As Burgess and Green explain, “there are YouTube ‘stars’ who, despite their carefully cultivated ‘homegrown’ brand identities…are famous for doing something in particular very well, even if that ‘something’ is unlikely to accrue prestige in the traditional media or arts industries” (24). These authors hint at the way YouTube stars like Nigahiga are becoming popular for being different, from the margins, and for being on YouTube. Indeed, Nigahiga has gained extreme popularity that an Asian American man has not previously achieved, and this has all occurred on YouTube. Being so attached and associated with this platform has made Nigahiga a personality of YouTube, but how does that affect the identity of this persona? Although Nigahiga is solely a personality, the physical markers of Ryan Higa’s race as Asian also create Nigahiga as Asian. This point is enforced by his profile describing his “style” as “Asian” (Nigahiga, “Nigahiga: Profile” para. 1). Assigning Nigahiga a race—even inevitably as is the case with Higa’s physical appearance—allows viewers to place cybertypes and opinions about Asian Americans onto him. Since this label evokes layers of assumptions about what Asian American identity is or is not, YouTube viewers of Nigahiga’s channel are able to have those notions either confirmed or resisted by Nigahiga. Furthermore, when Nigahiga collaborates with other Asian American YouTube stars (“Best Crew,” “How to be a YouTube Celebrity,” “Nice Guys”), cybertype formulations are made by viewers, who can assume that the behavior of the Asian American YouTube stars applies to all Asian Americans. All Asian Americans must be funny, musically talented, and tech savvy. Thus, without meaning to, Higa becomes representative of the collective Asian American racial group because of his own physical markers. Such markers are why an online counterpublic can form based on membership to a community.

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On the Nigahiga channel page, the “Asian” style that is described in his profile automatically makes Nigahiga a racial Other from mainstream society. His videos rarely mention Asian American identity, which makes his channel appealing to a non-Asian viewership and grants Nigahiga popularity and large oscillating potential. Nigahiga’s channel and videos do have small markers of “Asianness,” however, that are enough to evoke cybertypes. By “Asianness,” I refer to Kent Ono’s description of the term encompassing physical aspects, especially the shape of one’s eyes, as well as any accent noticeable through speech (46). The two largest cybertypes brought up by Nigahiga’s channel are the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome and Model Minority myth. Asian Americans often get mistaken for being “foreigners” because of the mainstream construction of “white” being synonymous with “American,” which is further complicated by living in a “color-blind” society that believes we are past racism (Nakamura, Digitizing 3, 14, 17). This Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome is perpetuated by Nigahiga in that he presents himself as part of a community of Asian American YouTubers who are divergent from what the mainstream culture constructs as “American.” A large part of the tension with the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome is that, at its roots, it assumes that Asian Americans who were born and raised in America will never be truly American or fully assimilated because their physical attributes do not conform to the mainstream standards of “American” (Ono 92). With Nigahiga’s collaborative work being almost entirely within the Asian American community, he inadvertently puts himself into the inassimilable category, letting viewers fall into the Perpetual Foreigner’s Syndrome. Furthermore, the “about me” section of Nigahiga’s page reads, “I get small kine accent,”—referring to the Pidgin language of Hawaii that was originally used as a means for different immigrant laborers to communicate with one another—and is a racialized

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statement (“Pidgin and Education” para. 3). While this language and phrase is recognized and understood in Hawaii,—by Asian American and non-Asian American people—some viewers of Nigahiga won’t understand and will see “accent” as equating an Asian accent that reinforces the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome. Unlike his widely popular videos, Nigahiga’s rhetorical choices for revealing his “Asianness” actually mark him as an Other. Unfortunately, Nigahiga also perpetuates the Model Minority myth of all Asians being successful purely because of hard work and picking themselves up by their bootstraps (Ono 81; 90). The success that Nigahiga enjoys as a YouTube star may not be comparable to Hollywood stardom, but his entrance into mainstream television and top spot in YouTube channel charts has boxed Nigahiga into the Model Minority stereotype. While being an Asian American voice for his underrepresented group in media, Nigahiga simultaneously must conform to cybertypes like the Model Minority in order to maintain his status and visibility. In order for Nigahiga to be relatable as a peer to his viewers, he emphasizes his story of being a regular high school kid wanting to make funny videos (“My YouTube Story: Ryan Higa” n. pag.). What fits his story into the Model Minority myth is that he has gained huge popularity and income from his YouTube activities and become an intriguing Horatio Alger “bootstraps” story. While Higa may want to encourage others that his level of popularity is highly attainable, the Model Minority myth prevents him from promoting himself as the proverbial “guy next door” because of his success story. Viewers will attribute Nigahiga’s success to the misinterpretation of all Asian Americans being effortlessly successful. This reinforcement of the Model Minority myth discounts Nigahiga’s hard work—as well as other Asian Americans trying to become recognized —and makes him unable to overcome this cybertybe. Such discriminatory rhetoric circulates in society regularly, perpetuating myths in mainstream and counterpublic spaces.

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Where we see the Model Minority myth being debunked is actually on AAM, the site with less mainstream oscillation. “Somehow anger has led me to a place where I have learned a little bit more about myself,” Yu claims in an interview about his blog’s success (“Steve Nguyen Flip HD: A Conversation with Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man” n. pag.). This anger that is illustrated by his persona is the factor that actually allows AAM to resist the discriminatory notion of the Model Minority. Setting up his persona as angry gives AAM a sense of rebelliousness and dissent that diverges from the conventional model of success embedded in the Model Minority myth. Angry Asian Man doesn’t conform to the passive cybertype of Asian Americans—he educates his community about racism and calls for action. This work has made AAM newsworthy, and the Model Minority myth is disrupted by the site’s publicity because of the dissident content that AAM provides for the online community of the margins and mainstream. In comparison, creating a space that is meant for Asian Americans presents the AAM enclave as inassimilable like Nigahiga, and thus, continues the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome. The trap of increasing media representation in the mainstream gets countered by the assumption that exclusively Asian American space equates the inability to melt into America’s desired melting pot. Perpetuation and breaking of cybertypes by AAM is marred by such societal traps. It is not entirely the fault of AAM and Nigahiga for continuing these cybertypes of Asian Americans; as I have previously shown, AAM and Nigahiga resist the cybertypes of Asian Americans as invisible, unfunny, passive, and quiet. The fault, Nakamura asserts, is the systemic racial oppression that affects subjectivity and identity online (Digitizing 3, 171, 202). Racist ideas have become embedded in cyberspace just as they have been in society, making issues of identity even more complex regarding what is “real” or “authentic” in racial representation. The further intricacies of new media interaction add a layer of complexity to this counterpublic, as

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space and identity are constructed online only to be changed with techno-cultural shifts, which I will now explore.

New (Inter)Faces of Culture
New media and social media platforms have changed the way people communicate with each other, but this shift has also facilitated a structural change in the way we participate with interfaces, interact with communities, and identify ourselves and others. It can be said after examining the intricate cybertypes of Asian Americans that not all web users are created equal. It’s true that “[YouTube] participatory culture as an ethos inspires a new kind of subjectivity which transforms all consumers into potential authors,” but we must not forget how certain “forms of cultural production are pushed to the margins as falling outside dominant tastes and interests” (Jenkins 116; 124). Angry Asian Man and Nigahiga, while having access to the mainstream public space as well as their counterpublic space, have adapted Asian American identity to the new interfaces of social media. Angry Asian Man and Nigahiga convey their messages that, as I’ve illustrated, define identity through social media interfaces using multiple platforms. Cybertypes are resisted and perpetuated, even created over these channels of cultural production. The process of what Henry Jenkins calls media convergence can be applied to AAM and Nigahiga and be seen as converging cultures and identities. Both AAM and Nigahiga have places on the blog and YouTube channel that direct visitors to different social media interfaces: email, Facebook, and Twitter. Having all of these links included in one space—a social media site—demonstrates media convergence and the way in which multiple technologies collide. The act of converging technologies, however, is also marked by a convergence of identity. When the personas of AAM and Nigahiga have become normalized online as the real Phil Yu and Ryan Higa, identity issues relating to these Toda 32

online personalities get complicated. Where Yu and Higa are people who have lives offline, their personas are adopted as those who live on the Internet. The line between what is actually AAM or Nigahiga and what is Yu or Higa becomes blurred. If these personalities are associated with cyberspace, then what Jenkins sees as convergence culture also means the converging of media and identities, or the cybertypes defined by artifacts like AAM and Nigahiga. When audiences expect Yu to be angry or Higa to always be joking, the identities of their personas are converging with their real selves. In this way, the identities of AAM and Nigahiga converge with their real identities, integrating the spaces they occupy, the marginal and mainstream online and offline. Working at the margins and mainstream, the largest concern with these two artifacts lies in their production of new cybertypes that circulate on the Internet. As previously discussed, AAM and Nigahiga resist and perpetuate cybertypes of Asian Americans that have formed within mainstream society and been coded into cyberspace. With converging identities solidifying Yu and Higa as AAM and Nigahiga, however, the presentation of Asian American identity is especially sensitive to their influence. Even with breaking the cybertypes of Asian Americans being socially inept math geniuses, two new cybertypes predictably emerge: the image of the angry Asian American and the funny Asian American. While anger doesn’t emasculate Asian American men, this emotion is easy for society to write off with assumptions of hyper-sensitivity to racism. Angry Asian Man is no longer knowledgeable, but instead too reactive to the social landscape. Similarly, being funny at first seems to give Asian American identity life and personality, but actually delegitimizes Asian Americans as one-dimensional. Nigahiga moves from a peer to a jester, serving society through comedy. As AAM and Nigahiga

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represent collective Asian American identity, these byproduct cybertypes must be considered in the extent to which identity creation in an online counterpublic is developed by its community. Another derivative of AAM and Nigahiga’s existence on the Internet is the definition of what it is to be physically “Asian” in America. The blanket term was once a great unifier for a disunited mass of people, but icons of this digital movement cannot always cautious enough with how and who they represent in the Asian American community. The Model Minority myth applies mostly to Japanese, Chinese, and Korean communities that have had several generations in America to acclimate and accumulate money. Southeast Asians, on the other hand, are among the poorest communities in the United States and have limited access to new media technology as a result. Thus, Yu and Higa represent only a small percentage of Asian Americans and yet, they are seen as “typical” because of the invisibility of other Asian Americans online. While the term “Asian” may apply to those who can participate in the online counterpublic, this label also creates a cybertype of what Asian Americans look like based on social media icons like AAM and Nigahiga. Nigahiga and AAM’s interaction with new media interfaces lead to counterpublic formation and the rhetorical construction of identity. Use of the personas AAM and Nigahiga allow to an extent the oscillation of their counterpublic in order to assert notions of Asian American identity. Such creation of Asian American identity is complicated by systemic forms of oppression in society that normalize assumptions and cybertypes, as well as media convergence that affects technology, culture, and identity. Counterpublic space of the digital age of convergence culture is the vehicle through which AAM and Nigahiga construct the collective identity of Asian Americans for mainstream society, creating a new Asian America.

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“I’m Going to Blog about you”: Toward a Digital Society
Angry Asian Man and Nigahiga stand as examples of the creation of counterpublic space for the Asian American community online, illustrating that racial identity in America is, indeed, still relevant in our increasingly digital society. Social media has become the platform off of which Asian Americans like Yu and Higa can rhetorically craft a digital space into a counterpublic through visual and textual cues. This construction occurs through various ways, making it a complex work of rhetoric that is characteristic of new media interfaces. As shown, AAM achieves this counterpublic creation through gate-keeping and Asian American-specific content, while Nigahiga’s channel physically portrays Asian Americans in videos and collaborations. Both spaces utilize personas, but as I have shown, today’s convergence culture allows for identity convergence alongside the collision of technologies. Such convergence, however, grants AAM and Nigahiga different levels of access to the mainstream public allowing for oscillation, as happened in 2002 when a single AAM post garnered a great response to the Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt controversy. The crafting of counterpublic space over social media calls into question issues of racial identity and how AAM and Nigahiga can simultaneously resist and perpetuate cybertypes that are built into the social fabric of online and offline society. These considerations, coupled with the sharp increase in visible Asian Americans in cyberspace, have made AAM and Nigahiga significant in studying the social media rhetoric of counterpublic and identity construction. Angry Asian Man and Nigahiga are both relatively aged in terms of their social media platforms, but unlike other online personalities in the mainstream public, they are kept relevant because of their positions in the Asian American community. Not only have AAM and Nigahiga oscillated into mainstream media, but that transcendence has gained them great fame and Toda 35

branding within the Asian American online community. Yu and Higa are treated like celebrities and they’re understood to be, especially on cyberspace, the leading Asian American cultural producers and icons. Yu has been featured in KoreAm—the top Korean American magazine that is printed and sold monthly nation-wide—with his face right on the front cover (KoreAm, “Mad Man: Meet Blogger Phil Yu” n. pag.). Higa has had the opportunity to be part of ISA, a concert event company originally started to empower rising Asian American talent on the Internet, as well as Yesterday Today Forever (YTF), a group of YouTube entertainers that had its first concert and comedy performance in October of 2011 (ISA, “About” para. 1; YTF, “YTF Global” n. pag.). These recognitions and activities outside of AAM and Nigahiga’s channel demonstrate the popularity and strong membership that Yu and Higa have in the Asian American community offline. Both AAM’s and Nigahiga’s work in online counterpublic space has translated into success in public society, illustrating the deep connection between social media and society, or as the convergence of society becoming digital. In other words, the convergence culture of colliding technologies and identities on social media produces cultural icons that function within both cyberspace and real space, in the margins and mainstream. What social media leaders like AAM and Nigahiga do for the larger, collective Asian American identity—the counterpublic of Asian America—is act as producers of culture around which social movements can occur. Visibility and representation of Asian Americans in society, both online and offline, are important in constructing a more accurate Asian American image in society; AAM and Nigahiga contribute to the crafting of this positive image through their respective work of commentary and comedy that brings Asian American perspectives to the foreground of media. By understanding how “cyberspace functions as a vector for resistant cultural practices that allow Asian Americans to both use and produce cyberspace,” AAM and

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Nigahiga, as well as numerous other Asian Americans online, have the power to create their own identity and shape their society (Nakamura, Alllooksame 263). Despite racial barriers, AAM and Nigahiga have been granted access to the mainstream public. This oscillation happens online and offline because, as I illustrated, what is in cyberspace shapes and produces offline society, and vice versa. Due to this convergence, AAM and Nigahiga have come from the margins of society onto social media to make their opinions, perspectives, and experiences matter. A platform like YouTube, despite its corporate power, allows people to share their stories and have a say in society. While it seems as if Asian Americans have full representation in society because of their wide presence in online social media, it is the power of such new media that has drawn marginalized groups of people to it so quickly. It was because of their lack of voice and power in society that social media platforms make sense to groups like Asian Americans. The large use of new media by Asian Americans today reflect the hunger for representation and voice by a group in society’s margins. New media facilitates sites like AAM and Nigahiga’s channel in shaping Asian America, and in effect, the identity of this group is being reclaimed from dominant society, redefined, and empowered through online voice. As racism and other systems of oppression and inequality continue to exist in society it may seem that building a stronger Asian America won’t hold the rhetorical power to change society, but what we must consider is that the mainstream “is not the center that embraces and draws the diverse nation together…is neither uniform nor all-powerful…[because] the mainstream derives its identity, its integrity, from its representation of its Other” (Okihiro 175). What tomorrow holds in terms of racial equality is unclear, but the rise of technology and social media platforms has enabled the margins to participate in its creation of identity and positioning

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in society. The oscillating work of AAM and Nigahiga that we have examined isn’t unique; numerous other Asian Americans are using new media as a means to distribute and advance the identity of Asian America, as are members of other marginalized groups. The power of social media platforms in creating voice, empowering communities, and making the margins mainstream is invaluable. With this great power, however, comes the responsibility and accountability of who gets to produce culture and identity for others. Where are the Asian Americans online who don’t look like Ryan Higa? As I posed earlier, how is it that the wealthier Asian American groups get to define identity for those who have dissimilar socio-economic statuses and historical backgrounds? How do the intersections of race and gender affect these movements? How do non-English-speaking groups in America fit into such counterpublic spaces? What can other marginalized groups of Americans without access to the Internet do to keep up with the rest of society when cultural production now occurs online? Is this the democratizing, participatory culture of the “prosumer” that America really wants? As we move toward an increasingly mediated society, social media plays an important role in continuing to define what “American” is. It is vital, then, that marginalized groups use their rhetorical power over such platforms for constructive societal contribution. Understanding the ways in which this production is handled at the intersection of identities such as race, class, gender, ability status, and sexual orientation is necessary for the full advancement of the margins as they become mainstream society. Identity will only get more complex as society becomes entrenched in digital lives derived from digital culture. As worlds collide—the mainstream and margins, counterpublic and public, online and offline—society must remember that social media like blogs and YouTube only better facilitate movements like the (re)creation of Asian America, but that cultural construction depends upon us all.

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