Ethnic and Cultural Identity The Disappearing Act
Mainstream media has created an audience that has come to expect relatable content regardless of its source and reliability. This becomes prevalent within ethnic communities online as they downplay race as a factor in establishing the authenticity of their work. However, in some cases, content creators such as social media influencers will come together to form online pan-ethnic communities to specifically attract audiences that prefer more culturally relatable content. This formation of a public within the community creates a sense of authenticity with the viewers. When content creators choose to use racial identity as a way to create relationships with their audience, they run the risk of sacrificing visibility to a larger group of people. Moreover, they sometimes become distant from their cultural identity through online personas which oftentimes play into racial stereotypes. On the other hand, they become visible to a smaller and more niche group of people. They are then able to create more personal and intimate connections with those who seek the type of work they produce. Ultimately, it is difficult for people of color to succeed through social media, using their cultural identity, in a white-dominated society because they must appeal to a universal audience rather than specific ethnic groups in order to gain popularity.
Within the community of online entrepreneurs and artists, self-branding has become a primary tactic for gaining visibility through social media. In Alice Marwick's book, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, & Branding in the Social Media Age, the author discusses, in her fourth chapter, the importance of self-branding in a modern day technological society where social media and online presence is a determining factor in how an individual climbs towards fame. According to Marwick, self branding is a set of practices and a mindset, a way of thinking about the self as a salable commodity that can tempt a potential employer (Marwick 166). More specifically, it is how these content creators choose to sell and present themselves to prospective clients. They lose their humanity and are no longer seen as individuals, rather they are seen as a set tools and utilities for companies to use for their own personal gain and prosperity. The author does not fail to mention how self-branding has become an essential Web 2.0 strategy, and is firmly instilled in modern business culture (165). Due to the development of the Web and its ability for anyone to create a website, one can now make themselves and their content open to the public. Moreover, a person's brand is distinguished by mediocrity from quality, therefore successfully branding yourself online will put yourself in a great bargaining position for next season's free-agency market (165). Branding oneself in a positive light will often open more doors and often give better career opportunities to candidates social media influencers, content creators, entrepreneurs, etc trying to make a living through the means of their own work.
Social media influencers are commonly seen editing their online profiles in a manner that allows them to keep parts of their identity hidden. Marwick further mentions the art of maintaining the Edited Self, an image that is kept by filtering out information that may hurt an individual's brand. Social media allows users to strategically form an identity in ways that can allow oneself to be autonomous and constantly upgrading. The Edited Self must remain business-friendly and carefully observed, despite social media culture's advocacy of transparency and openness. Furthermore, YouTube and Instagram are two social media platforms where success relies heavily on popularity and a marketable persona. Therefore, those within the community, such as social media influencers, have to rely greatly on creating a profile that is nuanced in specific ways. Whilst the persona must be "genuine," it must also be "commercial". Simultaneously, a "marketable" persona means that they would need to fit safely into current business culture however, there are some cases in which individuals make their fame off being controversial. This is present within the Asian American musicking community where hip-hop artists move away from their own cultural heritage and feed into urban street culture. It is often read as cultural appropriation and often raises racial tensions between groups online due to misinterpretation.
Self-branding and maintaining the perfect image of one's Edited Self in a successful manner may often lead to the birth of mico-celebrities. Alice Marwick defines a micro-celebrity as the state of being famous to a niche group of people, but it is also a behavior: the presentation of oneself as a celebrity regardless of who is paying attention (114). The author further discusses the presence of lesser-known artists who have managed to gain a significant amount of popularity and followers on the internet. She analyzes micro-celebrities as well as their impact on the modern age. Micro-celebrities are celebrated for their authenticity and their achievements in the tech industry. When looking at Asian American artists on YouTube, those who do not turn away from their ethnic identity and embrace the culture can be recognized as micro-celebrities. While they are not creating work tailored towards to specific audience, they are maintaining authenticity within themselves and the work they produce. Marwick begins to argue that there are several ways to define of authenticity, however in the case of micro-celebrities, she defines their legitimacy as attaining personal relationships with their fans. The main discrepancy between micro-celebrities and regular celebrities is that micro-celebrities have smaller fan-bases and work rigorously to maintain personal, intimate connections with their fans. Asian American musicians on YouTube often fall under the category of micro-celebrity due to their inability to reach a large widespread audience.
Youtube has developed into an online platform where emerging artists can earn recognition for the content they produce. In Eileen Regullano's article, Asian American Internet Musicking, the author discusses issues concerning the Asian American music community on Youtube. She notes how many hip-hop entertainers within the community feed into urban culture, which in turn separates them from their own racialized identities (Regullano 80). This occurs when musicians attempt to appeal to an ideal 'universal' audience by adhering and paying homage to accepted standards of hip-hop, a genre identified as African American (80). Due to society's preconceived idea of hip-hop culture as something claimed by African Americans, there is a bold disconnect when Asian American artists perform this genre as it often reads as cultural appropriation and/or unnatural to watch. In various attempts to skyrocket their careers, Asian American Youtube artists will often downplay racialization and promote their talent to achieve success on YouTube that is otherwise unattainable through traditional media (80). Many of these artists perform under urban stereotypes and influences as a self-branding/marketing technique to reach target audiences. Traphik (Timothy DeLaGhetto), an Asian American musician, established his position as a rapper on MTV2's hip-hop comedy reality series Wild Out. He is known to [play] general tropes of hip-hop??¦ [and] stereotyped notions of black hypermasculinity??¦ [thus] challenging the trope of Asian American men as hypomasculine (83). By breaking into mainstream media, Traphik's stage character may assist in preempting the stereotypes seen in mainstream typecasting of Asian men being feminine and socially inept. While DeLaGhetto has earned great success on his platform as an Asian American artist, he [illustrates] how playing into the misogynist stereotypes of rap music in general serves to bolster success by serving mainstream values (83). In other words, it is hard to thrive in an industry where success is greatly correlated with conforming to mainstream ideals and its delivery. Ultimately, it is imperative for artists of color to brand themselves in a way that keeps viewers engaged in order to be visible and financially stable.
Eileen Regullano further discusses the opposite party on YouTube, artists who choose to band together and combat the stigmas and racial stereotypes set upon them by mainstream media. By doing so, they are maintaining a somewhat more authentic aspect to their work because they are not filtering out what the general public would find unrelatable or uninteresting. Consequently, they often remain as underground artists waiting for the right moment to break out and are commonly unreceived by the mainstream. Within these groups, panethnicity [introduced by] social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, where the term Asian American coalesced different ethnicities under a single category to contest shared racisms encountered in the United States, to claim cultural and political citizenship emerges along with the construction of inter-ethnic bridges among the Asian American YouTube community (82). Panethnicity is a method used by channels, like Wong Fu Productions, in an attempt to combat the invisibility and social tropes faced by Asian Americans within mainstream media. Moreover, it is activated in order to promote and expand the space in which these artists are being heard in order to have their presence grow. In the musicking industry on YouTube, Asian American artists will often build inter-ethnic bridges among themselves and their fans??¦ [to] gain traction??¦ as a step toward mainstream success (82). Many artists are continuously trying to gain fame through radio and broadcast media however, it appears that YouTube has been their only source of audibility and success. The online video streaming website has turned into a more equalized platform, lending a hand to social media influencers and marginalized communities [who] find a voice through YouTube's democratized atmosphere (81).
While YouTube provides visibility and a place for Asian American musicians to share their work, it seems that they are still being overshadowed by what mainstream audiences are looking for. The site has opened up very minimal doors for these artists as it acts as an agent for marginalizing Asian American musicians as Internet acts, while simultaneously illustrating the limited avenues available to them in mainstream media: (82). Moreover, they are solely being recognized as Internet Musicians a type of artist in which someone would only associate their success and work exclusively through the internet rather than a musician in general. This is clearly visible when Asian American Youtube artists perform covers of popular songs by mainstream artists, and view counts of these cover videos far outstrip those for their original music (83). Mainstream audiences are more interested in how these smaller artists are associating themselves with their favorites rather than the work produced by them. The large contrast in views when comparing original and cover videos further demonstrate the obstacles and struggles of achieving recognition for original songs [and]... breaking out of the long-established patterns for Asian American YouTube cover artists (83). Thus strengthening the argument, presented by Marwick, in which self-branding becomes a vital part of an individual's career, or else they risk being overlooked by society because they are not creating content that attracts a more universal audience. Eileen Regulano's article, Asian American Internet Musicking examines the presence of Asian American YouTube artists on the video streaming website and their methods to climb towards mainstream popularity. The Asian American musicking community on YouTube is composed of artists who either distance themselves away from their cultural heritage in order to attain mainstream status or artists who come together in collaboration to combat social tropes and invisibility.
Becoming popular and acquiring fame through social media has proven to be challenging in a modern day social age. Moreover, it is difficult for artists to obtain a fan-base without appealing to a general audience. People of color struggle with succeeding on social media when using their cultural heritage and ethnic identity to attract a fan-base because they must adhere to a more universal audience in a white dominating society to gain popularity. Although creating personal relationships with niche groups of fans may seem like a dream, artists are limiting their visibility/audibility by not promoting themselves to a widespread crowd. However, when artists attempt to conform to mainstream media they tend to sacrifice authenticity within their work. More specifically, when Asian American hip-hop musicians create personas influenced by urban and street culture, they further distance themselves away from the community and culture in which they came from. Often times, ethnic communities online downplay race as a factor in establishing the authenticity of their work. Ultimately, the effect that mainstream media has on modern society has led audiences around the globe to expect content that is congenial despite its source as well as reliability.