This post was written partly to put YOMYOMF on blast. But above all it was a reaction to the sheer lack of media criticism in the Asian American YouTube space. New media, especially with an Asian American face, was riding a wave of momentum when the YOMYOMF channel debuted in 2012, and the idea of democratic access to production and distribution was romanticized by makers like the boys behind YOMYOMF and of course by platforms like YouTube that cashed in on diversity.
I wasn’t as enthusiastic. Justin Lin’s original YOMYOMF trailer, entitled “Bananapocalypse” had high production values but also high tolerance for casual misogyny, and the videos that followed left me wondering what exactly was worth celebrating. But nobody seemed interested in denouncing the serious shortcomings of “underdog” Asian American creatives. And so I decided to do what nobody else wanted to do with Asian American media content: review it as I would a film or TV pilot, complete with the sort of tongue-in-cheek posturing of a weekly film critic, and with some letter grades for good measure. Needless to say, there was not a Week 2 recap.
They called it the Bananapocalypse, which could refer to some kind of yellow-faced take-down of the internet-as-we-know-it, a changing of the (racial) guard, or perhaps the fact that Hollywood is willing to get their hands dirty playing in the same sandpit as the YouTubers. But having now seen every second of new YouTube channel YOMYOMF Week One, I think the Bananapocalypse might actually be the fact that 350,000 subscribers (the “big story” of the week!) clicked “like” on explosions and b-list stars and somehow we’re now writing epitaphs for Long Duk Dong.
Yeah it’s just week one, but this banana-flavored Kool-aid is getting to people’s heads, and in a few months, those subscribers risk looking like the Mayans after week one of 2013.
Here’s all you need to know.
Love the trailers, until…
You know those hilarious fake trailers before Tropic Thunder? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we got some of the brightest young Asian American faces and let them go nuts and pitch the most ridonkulous ideas in trailer form? Sung Kang as a crime-fighting acting teacher! Ryan Higa as a judge on an American Idol-ripoff contest for aspiring YouTube stars! Co-starring Al from Step-By-Step!
Ah, good laughs and high-fives all around, fellas.
Well, you know what’s next. Those ain’t fake trailers. That’s the content. Sorry subscribers, you just slipped on the bananapocalypse: the joke’s on you.
The YOMYOMF channel takes YouTube very seriously…
That shouldn’t be surprising because YouTube is YOMYOMF’s major partner and YouTube has long been something of a utopia for young aspiring Asian American artists. And YOMYOMF is a mutually-beneficial project that allows YouTube to domesticate those vloggers and short filmmakers and “raise” them to the level of mainstream pop, for better or worse.
Check out Internet Icon, Ryan Higa’s talent competition that turned out to be real. One of YouTube’s major impediments to being taken seriously is that there are so few good critics who can raise the bar. (Well, KIDS REACT is pretty great.) So the idea of a competition show that creates some kind of critical self-reflexivity seems like a very good thing.
But Internet Icon is not so interested in criticism. The clips presented to the judges are heavily abridged (into 2- to 10-second snippets) so that we can’t judge them, and the criticisms are so hackneyed (“I love his personality!”) that it makes me wonder if Ryan Higa even knows why he’s so popular. Meanwhile, the judges agree on everything (at least in episode one) and seem to have the exact same taste, so what’s being proposed isn’t criticism so much as doctrine. Because what we want on YouTube is more of the same.
Speaking of which…
I guess it’s funny, but that’s the same joke…
You know the one. Two men walk into a bar and we watch them squirm as they get accidentally homoerotic. There might be a glimmer of this in some of the male-male duos in Internet Icon, but I’m too scared to click refresh to find out. But certainly in episode one of Acting for Action w/ Sung Kang, the joke, which runs for about five minutes (plus outtakes) of the six-minute episode, is that Sung Kang, Ryan Higa, and co-star Antonio Alvarez find ways to groom, fondle, and kiss each other in different positions.
And then there’s Blueberry, the 2008 short film to inaugurate Anderson Le’s The Short List show. It features the ever-out-of-water Randall Park discovering that his $73 hooker looks like Chris Kattan. On their own, Acting for Action and Blueberry are funny in a five-minute viral video sort of way. But as the sole jokes of two of YOMYOMF’s five series premieres, they make that “Asian guys can be funny too!” rhetoric look kind of flaccid.
It should be noted that one of the other five premieres, Mandarin Time, pins its comedic hopes on the assumption that misogyny is funnier when it is in another language and when it’s done by puppets.
You offend us and our family. We get it. It’s just strange to see mild homophobia and misogyny be the jokes of choice from a blog that consistently finds the most clever, informed, and convincing ways to dissect race while being attuned to the interests of artists and industries. The YOMYOMF blog features some of the sharpest and funniest commentary on subjects in and around Asian America. It’s depressing that the site of Philip, Beverly, Elaine, Roger, and mutha-fuckin’ David Henry Hwang has no bite behind the camera.
“Not trying” is bad SAT advice, but…
Leave it to KevJumba to make the best episode of the week, simply by making a KevJumba video. The Bananapocalypse trailer featured special effects, Hollywood celebrities, costumes, and color, and YOMYOMF Week One delivered with CGI (Drone), talking puppets (Mandarin Time), and prime-time lighting and wind machines (Internet Icon).
Kevjumba’s video, “KevJumba Takes the SAT w/Felicia Day” does feature an internet star guest, but its real bursts of joy come from the simple pleasures of documentary realism and celebrities doing mundane things. As the title suggests, the video follows KevJumba and Felicia Day to an SAT prep class where they face off in three rounds of a mock SAT.
It’s got a single hook just like Mandarin Time and Acting for Action, but it’s not built around a single joke. As the situation plays out, with genuinely unpredictable results, we take joy watching them confront anxieties about their own abilities, the standards by which we measure ourselves, and how we’re defined. It’s six minutes of light, spirited fun, and is even anarchic enough to fit the You-Offend-Me brand.
And it’s all so effortless, like just another day for KevJumba. In other words, it’s what’s made Kevin Wu such an infectious online sensation: intimate, self-deprecating, adorable, and even bold.
“Acting for Action w/Sung Kang trailer”
Moderately weird, and silly Sung is better than furious Sung.
“Internet Icon Trailer”
A- (when I thought it was fake)
D (when I realized it was real)
Smells awfully like a female, more renegade version of Better Luck Tomorrow. I’ll give it a chance when it’s out.
“Internet Icon Ep 1 – The Search” (in two parts)
The whole thing just strikes me as wrong. Mimicking TV (with all of its glittery clichés) to validate YouTube? Internet artists seeking Internet Icon status from anybody other than their users? Doesn’t this kind of celebrity-endowed validation go against the idea of the internet as being democratic? Or maybe this is a tongue-in-cheek critique of the corporatization of YouTube?
“DRONE Teaser Trailer”
I’m not the target demographic, so don’t mind me when I say I wanted to laugh repeatedly.
“Acting for Action w/Sung Kang – Lesson 1”
“KevJumba Takes the SAT w/ Felicia day”
“Blueberry (YOMYOMF Short List)”
B- (for the film)
A (for the concept of the series)
I love that they’re carving out a space for short films. Programming shorts for the internet isn’t the same as programming for a festival, but there are few people I trust more for the task than Anderson Le.