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Words: 1943 |
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Published: Aug 14, 2023
Words: 1943|Pages: 4|10 min read
Always Be My Maybe, released on Netflix in 2019, features the lives of two Asian-American characters. The movie stars Ali Wong and Randal Park play Sasha Tran, a culinary chef, and Marcus Kim the pot-smoking lead singer of a band that started in high school, respectively. Marcus and Sasha are neighbors and childhood best friends and teenage lovers who had awkward sex, but their lives took different paths. Marcus is a quintessential man living with his father in his San Francisco home and working in the family business. Sasha, on the other hand, turned into a celebrity chef. The two Asian American characters are depicted in a different view as compared to the traditionally successful or educated citizens in model jobs such as doctors or lawyers. Marcus’ Asian American character as a low achiever is groundbreaking, while Sasha’s character of a person lost in the world of fancy, especially when she refers to her cuisine as ‘trans-denominational’ brings out the social commentary. As such, this paper applies sociological concepts to explain this social commentary portrayed in the movie. Further, based on the lives of the two characters, this paper analyses the theoretical perspectives that emerge and social imagination, especially the cultural appropriation that emerges from Sasha’s complacency. Finally, the paper proposes research that can be conducted from the social commentary of the movie.
Currently, the Asian-American group has a 39% median income as compared to any other racial group in America, including the White. Indeed, Asian Americans earn respect because of their careers and achievements in America. As such, the Asian American population can be defined as overachievers in the American society and others. This definition can be explained through the theory of symbolic interactionism. According to the theory of symbolic interactionism, people’s social life is dependent on the ways they define themselves and others. The theory’s main tenet is the use of symbols, which are defined as the things that people attach meaning to. For the Asian American community, achievement and careers are symbols that define a group. For Sasha, her achievement is an exemplification of these symbols with her achievement and her doing well in her career as a chef. In a way, the story of Sasha as brought out in Always Be My Maybe is a story of many Asian Americans who go from middle-class upbringings to having successful careers.
According to social interactionism, the symbols of achievement and careers put pressure on Asian Americans. The society respects Asian Americans as the model minority group for the fact that they are the socioeconomic success achievers. This stereotype is challenged in always Be My Maybe by portraying Marcus as an Asian American underachiever, which is indeed groundbreaking. The symbol of success is brought out in the character of Sasha, but these symbols associated with Asian Americans put pressure on them. From the reaction of Sasha when Marcus comes to repair the AC, she is surprised that Marcus has underachieved as he still drives the old high school car, lives with his father, and plays with his band from high school. The underachievement does not symbolize the Asian American group. Marcus strays from the symbols that Asian Americans are defined and respected with, the symbols that make them the model minorities.
The lives of Marcus and Sasha can also be explained using the conflict theory. According to Henslin, conflict theory provides a social perspective of life that the society is made up of groups competing for the limited resources available. There are opposing interests that are in different groups in society. Further, as cited by Henslin, sociologist Lewis Coser posits that conflict is most likely to be seen in people in close relationships. In Always Be My Maybe, conflict is evident in different instances, from the conflict that makes Sasha have an estranged relationship with her parents. However, where conflict perspective comes to life in the movie is the conflict that comes from both Marcus and Sasha straying away from a model minority in their respective roles. The change from a model minority for Marcus, which makes him an Asian misfit, is a conflict with the Asian American group’s arrangement.
On the other hand, Sasha leaves behind her past, strays from the Asian American past, and in pursuit of and competition for resources in the culinary field goes on to make ‘trans-denominational’ cuisines. Indeed, Marcus points out that Sasha has abandoned her traditions as she strives for more power in the culinary scene and has grown less inclined to following the Asian American way. However, as conflict theorists explain such conflicts mean that Sasha is making headway as an international chef with diverse cuisines, but do not mean her Asian American perspective has weakened.
The Asian American culture that the two characters portray shows how it affects their lives. The sociological examination of the Asian American culture from the lives of Marcus and Sasha can help identify how it affects their lives. Henslin posits that culture is the customs, beliefs, gestures, and speech of a person’s life. Sasha’s success as a celebrity chef emanates from the Korean food she cooked with Marcus’ mother. Despite the lack of authenticity, as Marcus refers to Sasha’s imaginative versions in her high-end restaurants, Sasha still serves rice, seafood, kimchi, and dumplings same as ones from the Korean culture.
Marcus and Sasha were brought up in San Francisco, a region that the Asian culture is prevalent due to the large numbers of the group. Having stayed in the area, Marcus attaches to the cultural history of the Asians and looks down on Sasha for trying to change away from the culture of the community she grew. This is an example of ethnocentrism described by Henslin, which he describes as using the way a group does things as a measure to judge any other way things are done. Marcus accuses Sasha of donning a ‘white voice’ and whitewashing the Asian food by calling it an elevated Asian cuisine. From Marcus’ point of view, this is stripping the Asian culture off its ethnicity. It is important to note the suggestion that a change in location for Sasha from her roots in San Francisco to her success in a diverse world brings her closer to whiteness and erasure of the Asian identity. As a matter of fact, if this assumption holds true, then living in another part of America with a diverse population means that the characters would not attach to their Asian culture.
First is social structure, which is described as the society that is around us, relations between the people, and direction that this framework gives us, which influence our behaviors. Marcus and Sasha had a society that they met laid out before them that had typical patterns and relationships. Such patterns can be seen in the way Marcus’ mother taught Sasha how to cook the Korean way. The relationship between men and women in the homes is seen by Marcus hanging out with his father, while Sasha spends time with Marcus’ mother. The social structure of a family is seen and the power differential evident.
A component of social structures and an important sociological concept that comes up is social class. Social class can be described as a group of people with the same education and income and working in comparable jobs in terms of prestige. The movie shows the different social classes in the Asian American community. There is a literal distance between the working-class Asian community in San Francisco. Sasha is in a social class of the extremely wealthy, while there is another social class of the working class in San Francisco that includes Marcus that is of the middle class.
Finally, Always Be My Maybe debunks the concept of stereotypes for the Asian community. Stereotypes are described as assumptions people make about other people. The major stereotype debunked is that Asian food needs elevation in classy restaurants so that it's more desirable to other groups. Sasha ultimately realizes the importance of authenticity in her newest restaurant that serves comforting, authentic, and unchanged Korean cuisine. This reminds the viewer that there is no need to Westernize Asian foods to make them valuable. Another stereotype is that Asian parents are harsh and overly demanding. However, this method is neither subscribed to by neither the Trans nor the Kims.
Based on the social statuses that make Sasha push boundaries of what the Whites, as the dominant culture, see as valuable, I would propose a research study on: the impacts of social classes in preserving Asian American cultures and their cultural authenticity in America.
The dominant culture erodes the uniqueness of Asian brands as seen in the cuisines developed by Sasha for the White culture. This is seen in the higher social class as they are slowly assimilated by the dominant culture. However, there is evidence that back in San Francisco, because Marcus lived through the middle class, he preserved his culture and uniqueness. As such, this study will identify the impact of different social classes on Asian American cultures and cultural authenticity. The study’s null hypothesis will be: The higher social class of Asian Americans has no cultural authenticity.
The study will employ a survey as a research method. The survey method will use a stratified random sample, which will divide the population into high, middle, and low social classes followed by random samples with the groups' responses. This survey method is advantageous because it gathers important qualitative feedback from the questions, is more direct, and is low cost. However, interviews could be biased and there could lack objective responses. The cons can be reduced by identifying questions that could have bias and discarding them. The observation method could be used but it does not give enough qualitative feedback. However, it is independent of biased answers from respondents.
Always Be My Maybe is a movie that depicts culture, social classes, and gentrification as the main social forces. The culture brought out in the movie is that of Asian Americans. The social classes of the Asian Americans have a literal distance with the extremely rich, middle class, and low class. The characters of Sasha and Marcus show the different, yet real experiences of the social classes in the Asian Americans and the difference in the cultural authenticity in these classes. Sasha’s gentrification is evident as she moves from the middle class to the higher class, which is a mirror to the identity of the Asian American community. Indeed, the movie evokes a number of sociological questions on minority groups' identity, cultural authenticity, social class, cultural groups, ethnic resistance, impacts of dominant cultures in eroding the culture of minority groups, stereotypes, among other sociological concepts and perspectives.
Trinh, Crystal. 'The Significance of 'Always Be My Maybe': An Asian American Rom-Com.' Publication: The Harvard Crimson, June 2, 2019. URL: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/6/2/always-be-my-maybe/
Kim, Lorraine. 'Netflix's 'Always Be My Maybe' Is a Milestone for Asian Americans in Hollywood.' Publication: NBC News, May 30, 2019. URL: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/netflix-s-always-be-my-maybe-milestone-asian-americans-hollywood-n1010671
Kiang, Jessica. 'Film Review: 'Always Be My Maybe.'' Publication: Variety, May 29, 2019. URL: https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/always-be-my-maybe-review-ali-wong-1203233408/
Sharma, Dhruv. 'What 'Always Be My Maybe' Means for Asian Representation.' Publication: VICE, May 31, 2019. URL: https://www.vice.com/en/article/mb8n9k/always-be-my-maybe-netflix-movie-always-be-my-maybe-ali-wong-randall-park
Mallenbaum, Carly. 'Ali Wong, Randall Park on 'Always Be My Maybe' and Asian American Visibility: 'We Don't See That Often.'' Publication: USA TODAY, May 31, 2019. URL: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/05/31/always-be-my-maybe-ali-wong-and-randall-park-asian-american-rom-com/1299413001/
Tseng, Ada. ''Always Be My Maybe': Behind-the-Scenes of Ali Wong and Randall Park's Unapologetically Asian American Rom-Com.' Publication: The Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2019. URL: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-ca-mn-always-be-my-maybe-making-of-20190530-story.html
Rose, Steve. 'Ali Wong and Randall Park: 'We're Not Here to Be Props.'' Publication: The Guardian, May 30, 2019. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/may/30/ali-wong-and-randall-park-were-not-here-to-be-props-always-be-my-maybe
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