Between a myth and a dream: The Model Minority myth, the American Dream, and Asian Americans in consumer culture

Charles Park, Purdue University

Abstract

This dissertation examines the "Model Minority" myth of Asian Americans as it intersects with American consumer culture. Numerous scholars have written about the "Model Minority" myth as racially and politically motivated and as a part of a system that maintains the narrative of the United States as a nation where anybody can attain the American Dream through hard work and effort, regardless of history of oppression or systematic racism. This dissertation builds on this scholarship and argues that the "Model Minority" can only exist in a consumer culture where the American Dream—the upward socioeconomic mobility of people—is made visible by the goods and services accumulated and consumed. This positioning of the myth affects the ways that "Asian American" as a category of identification is viewed in the popular media and how it interact with other identity categories as they come in contact with one another. This dissertation dissects how these popular, mainstream characterizations of minoritized identities (Asian American, black, gay, etc.) are underscored by—and often framed around—the assumptions made of these groups' (in)abilities to be "competent" consumers. Not only are these groups' practices compared to hegemonic consumer practices, they are compared to one another to distinguish between "good" minorities and "bad" minorities, "model" minorities and "problem" minorities. Furthermore, this dissertation argues that these comparisons are not merely limited to the physical borders of the United States, but also extends to the rest of the world where the consumer potentials of nations is an inducement for transnational corporations to make investments. In the process, this project demonstrates that identity categories—and indeed, even national identities—are framed around consumption in the twenty-first century.^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

Susan Curtis, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American Studies|Asian American Studies|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

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