Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

The "Long-Feared Asiatic Colossus" Attacks America's Theaters

Fans awaiting the long-delayed remake of the Red Dawn reboot will have something to slake the thirst this weekend. The United States is finally getting a theatrical release of Tomorrow, When the War Began, the tale of Australian teenagers in armed rebellion against a national invasion.

Based on the wildly popular Tomorrow book series from the 1990s, Tomorrow, When the War Began updates one long-debated detail of the young adult novels. Now there is no doubt that the invaders are Asian.

It's a perfect film for the anxious American scene now, where a number of factors are colluding to expose just how far Asian stereotypes have hooks in the American mind.

Those familiar with Red Dawn will recognize the plot. Told from the perspective of a girl named Ellie, the Tomorrow series chronicles how a group of teenagers react when they return from a camping trip to discover their fictional hometown of Wirrawee has been invaded by a mysterious foreign army. The teens take it upon themselves to begin a guerrilla insurgency. The books sold millions of copies and have been translated into dozens of languages. (Sweden created a program that had the book translated and put into the hands of every teen available.)

Published between 1993 and 1999, the series bookended a real life insurgency in Australian politics. The period saw the rise of right-wing Pauline Hanson and the One Nation movement, peaking in 1998 when the "anti-multicultural" One Nation leaders won a significant number of legislative seats.

Any observer of the rise of America's Tea Party movement, the inflated "War on Christmas," the bellyaching about "political correctness" and the grotesquerie that's become the immigration debate would find a bizarroworld copy in Australia of the mid-1990s. For example, in 1996, in a speech that made her a household name, Hanson began, "I come here not as a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of life's knocks." She continued:

"My view on issues is based on commonsense, and my experience as a mother of four children, as a sole parent, and as a businesswoman running a fish and chip shop. I won the seat of Oxley largely on an issue that has resulted in me being called a racist…"

Hanson went on to deliver a punch that would form the base of her meteoric rise:

"I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40% of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country."

In the next decade, Hanson became the Sarah Palin of Australia, right down to the flubs. When she was asked by a newscaster if she was xenophobic, Hanson replied, "Please explain?" Later, Hanson said she would have "no problem" with "Christian Muslims."

By 1999, following financial malfeasance and other scandals, One Nation and Hanson were a wreckage. By the mid-2000s, Hanson had done Australia's "Dancing with the Stars." Most recently, Hanson announced she would flee to the U.K., and that her house was for sale. Ever herself, Hanson announced she had "no intention of selling my home to a Muslim" because "we are going to have problems with them in this country further down the track."

John Marsden's original novels make pains not to mention any ethnic or national details about Tomorrow's invaders, saying only that they are a coalition of some kind. The film version, of course, faced a harder time with this, settling finally on making them Asian, which, despite Marsden's protestations, everyone already assumed anyway. In a 2009 panel interview, with the movie version then only in pre-production, Marsden finally cracked a bit and said he thought it "not unreasonable for us to look around and consider that there might be some future danger to us."

In the mind of the neo-con, China's invasion threat to Australia was, and remains, a literal one. With Hanson and her 1990s tea party movement laughably in its dust, Australia has officially embraced China, and the region, as an ally. In July 2011, Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd said plainly in a speech, "We are part of Asia."

Beyond Hawaii, America will never be "part of Asia." But will Asians ever be truly part of it? Recent events show that when it comes to Asian relations, America is stuck in terms defined by World War II.

Michigan Senatorial candidate ‪Pete Hoekstra‬'s recent DebbieSpentItNow ad, like some hellish outtake from Full Metal Jacket, was immediately criticized. A sign of hope is that polls show the ad hurt the campaign.

But ‪Hoekstra‬'s effort was not so much different from the 2010 Citizens Against Government Waste ad that depicted a Chinese professor smirking about America's downfall and a classroom laughing about America's indentured workers.

Almost two and a half million views and counting.

The GOP campaign trail has not helped, spewing forth big anti-China rhetoric from little men powerless to enforce it. Santorum openly talks of war; Gingrich of war in space. Just last week, Romney's Wall Street Journal op-ed, predicted by Gore Vidal's 1986 Nation essay about the "long-feared Asiatic colossus," argues from a place of fear about a zero sum approach to the shared future.

Meanwhile, as exhilarating as Jeremy Lin's rise has been for basketball, it has been equally exasperating for race relations. There is the obvious stuff, of course. The "love me long time" statements, Madison Square Garden fortune cookie graphics, "chink" ESPN headlines and Fox Sports tiny penis jokes. Then there is Floyd Mayweather. There is that "doing it with his eyes closed" joke that won't go away. Then there is the more subtle stuff. The sports wonk statements about him being "deceptively quick" reveal more about the ones saying it than Lin himself, making him the Susan Boyle of basketball. Then there are all the other everyday indignities race-conscious people don't even realize but Asians have come to accept as part of life in America, like the Rebellious Asian meme. But then, what's to be expected in a country where "smallpox" chants are still all the rage at hockey games featuring Native American mascots?

While the "race angle" of the Jeremy Lin case is embraced for all of its joy and its heartbreak and pageviews, other cases of possible anti-Asian sentiment have gotten less attention, and offer no joy.

Landing on no news site's most-read list is the astounding, ongoing real-life A Few Good Men story about Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew. Lew committed suicide in a Afghanistan foxhole in after brutal hazing from fellow Marines. While it's unclear if Lew's case was one of racism, it's clear the case of Army Private Danny Chen was. Chen, who also shot himself while on duty, had complained repeatedly about being called a gook and a chink as well as being forced to speak Chinese for no good reason.

Both of these cases come as a recent UCLA study found Asian Americans to be the ethnic group most likely to be bullied in the classroom. Yes, UCLA, the same university that gave the world this.

America still has a new Red Dawn to look forward to later this year. The film, originally shot as a Chinese invasion and occupation of America, has been digitally reworked to make the baddies into North Koreans.

It should be noted that those who get no joy from an Asian invasion have other U.S.-invasion-related film options this week.

One Man's Terrorist is a three-part, 40-minute film based on a 2009 Ron Paul address colloquially known as his "Imagine" speech.

The film, made buy an Iraq war vet, takes as its plot the core of the Paul speech, imagining what would happen if a foreign power occupied Texas. The residents, Paul argues, would logically form an insurgency, be tortured, labeled terrorists, and create an unpopular, impossible military quagmire for the occupier. Dr. Paul is not know for his subtlety.

Indie Gogo-funded for just over $1,000, the movie is on the low budget end of low budgets. The first episode is out and the second is due February 22nd; the third and final episode is due February 29th.

It's ambitious, even if Paul's speech may seem nonsensically juvenile. So far, the film stars no Asians and, surprisingly, the presence of white-on-white occupation helps make the film's—and Paul's—point far more than it takes away from it.

Abe Sauer is the author of the book How to be: North Dakota. He is on Twitter. Email him at abesauer @ <

10 Comments / Post A Comment

melis (#1,854)

If nothing else, that first trailer confirms my suspicion that it is impossible for anyone with an Australian accent to sound serious.

@melis If there is one country since the fall of Apartheid that rivals the United States in terms of failing to be sympathetic it is Australia.

keisertroll (#1,117)

And yet when I wrote "Tomorrow When The Dingo Ate My Baby", I was the insensitive one.

HobbesTheTiger (#220,081)

In the books the invaders were from only one country. The invading coalition was invented by the filmmakers.

One of the interesting things about the novels is that they’re not really anti-Asian. The books are anti-anyone of who dares to impinge on personal freedom. Apart from the invaders this also includes big government and people who use their positions of power to prevent the main characters from living life on their own terms.

The books are not anti-immigrant or anti-refugee either. If the books are reflective of the author’s views refugees are people fleeing from oppression and persecution in their own countries to be part a society that isn’t any of these things and should be welcomed. One of the main characters in the series is son of refugee mother and an immigrant father who has grown up with stories of what it’s like to live in a country where freedom isn’t valued. As a result he has fewer qualms than his friends about the hard choices they have to make to defend their freedom. Pauline Hanson would not approve.

TimChuma (#9,158)

I have had a website related to the books in some form for 10+ years – (I lost all the traffic when I tried to redesign it.)

Australia has already been invaded in 1788, this is what is discussed in the book and to a lesser extent in the film.

Also the book points out that despite the ANZUS treaty, the USA does not directly intervene in the conflict (New Zealand has to do most of the fighting.)

The last name of the main character is not even revealed until the last book in the original series (there was a follow-up series also though not as popular.)

The first book did make it onto the school curriculum in Australia, although the series' popularity went down after Harry Potter.

joeclark (#651)

Mr. SAUER has a definitional problem to address here. How exactly is a fictional tale about an outside invasion supposed to function if the invaders aren’t foreigners (QED)?

I suppose if you need a racially comparable nation as a force invading Australia, you could imagine New Zealand doing it (in a kind of truculent North Korean show of overblown bravado). Or if you accepted that invaders could come from very far away, perhaps Canada.

But geopolitically, China makes more sense as an invader of Australian soil. That isn’t “racist” no matter how many Sarah Palins manquées you also include in the same article.

IIRC this is also the movie that will be available in every channel simultaneously – except here in Canada, apparently, otherwise I’d just rent it on the iTunes immediately just out of principle. Isn’t Mr. SAUER criticizing books and a movie he hasn’t read or seen yet?

Danzig! (#5,318)

@joeclark I don't get the name implication thing, here, but I'm going to roll the dice and conclude it's racist somehow

joeclark (#651)

@Danzig! Come again, Danzig?

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

"It's ambitious, even if Paul's speech may seem nonsensically juvenile."

It is rather astonishing that you can be so daft as to not understand the Ron Paul speech about Chinese military occupation of Texas. The speech was not, as you imply, some sort of xenophobic fantasy. To the contrary, Paul was explaining that Texans would form an insurgency against a Chinese occupation in the same way that Iraqis and Afghan's resist American/NATO occupation.

I thought the Paul speech was brilliant as it contextualized the allegedly "terrorist" resistance in a way that Red Staters can relate to.

Unfortunately, this must have gone over your head.

Matt Cornell (#8,797)

Speaking of Hollywood racism & Orientalism, who else is excited to see Sacha Baron Cohen's next comedy THE DICTATOR in which he dons brownface and a thick accent to portray a mixture of Gaddafi & Hussein? Not only do we wage illegal wars against them, we also celebrate our victory through mocking stereotypes.

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