INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Tempest Over Pop Star’s Asian BF Reveals a Shift

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johnstonBy GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

So I’m with my kids getting some pizza on a recent Saturday at the new Bristol Farms grocery on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. We were in the dining area eating and as I glance around at my fellow patrons, I notice that three couples among the other people are “mixed.”

To be more specific, they’re mixed Asian-Caucasian couples. I don’t know if they’re married, going steady or just platonic friends — but their respective body language indicated a comfort level beyond just friends. In Southern California, of course, couples in which one person is of Asian descent and the other is not is neither new nor unusual. Outside the confines of the West Coast and Hawaii or big cities like NYC, though, maybe such couples are still a novelty.

Most of the time in these mixed-couple scenarios, while we may tend to think it’s the male who’s white, black or even Middle Eastern or Latino, and the female Asian, on this particular day all three couples happened to be Asian male-white female.

From my perspective, though, it was no big deal. These sorts of pairings have been around for decades, whether it’s Chang and Eng — the conjoined “Siamese Twins” from what is now Thailand — who married white sisters Adelaide Yates and Sarah Anne Yates back in the 1800s; or the pairing of Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and white American writer Leonie Gilmour, who were the unmarried parents of acclaimed artist Isamu Noguchi, or Fred Korematsu and Kathryn (Pearson) Korematsu, or deceased martial artist Bruce Lee and Linda Emery.

Seeing those Asian male-white female couples came to mind, nevertheless, after reading news stories about the Internet-based tempest caused by the news that pop newcomer (and Caucasian female) Lorde, aka Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, had a boyfriend named James Lowe, 24, an Asian male.

Lorde, 17, who hails from New Zealand, issued an arresting single titled “Royals” earlier this year that really stood out to my pop-jaded ears. Though sonically different, hearing it reminded me of the first time I heard hearing Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know” on the radio. I had the same reaction: What is this song and who is singing it?

After tweets and other Internet-related racist rants directed at Lorde and Lowe, targeting him because he was skinny, a bit nerdy-looking and most of all, an Asian male, news outlets began covering the situation. Some of what I’ve read said the reaction came about because of blunt comments she allegedly made about Justin Bieber or the group One Direction. Other reports said she never said anything derogatory about either of these parties.

Regardless, Lorde and Lowe became the targets of some vile commentary, allegedly from fans of those aforementioned acts. Lowe’s race, of course, became a lightning rod.

Lorde and James Lowe (Instagram)

Lorde and James Lowe (Instagram)

Whether Lorde and Lowe are actually a couple or whether it’s a contrivance designed to keep her in the spotlight, I don’t know. It almost doesn’t even matter. The disconcerting thing to me about this situation is that Lowe’s race is an issue at all.

Part of me is somewhat incredulous that such a reaction could still occur in late 2013. But I’m also cognizant that the Asian male is still a lightning rod, too. I guess every generation still needs to get through it and get over it. It also shows we still have a way to go until we get to the point where it’s no big deal for a white woman to be attracted to an Asian man.

It seems that in this culture, the ideal and the standard for feminine pulchritude is the white female, especially the northern European variety. So, it goes without saying that the ideal of masculinity is the white male, and it must disturb and threaten some folks to think that a white woman might find someone outside her racial and ethnic category sexually attractive or desirable, even though it happens, just as it happens vice-versa.

Why any one person is attracted to another is just one of those mysteries of life. Yes, American popular media images still don’t generally depict Asian men with any sort of women of any background. Yet there are women of all backgrounds who can and do find Asian men attractive. (Incidentally, Japan’s NHK is casting for an upcoming TV series titled “Massan”; they need a white actress to play the Scottish wife of Nikka Whisky founder Masataka Taketsuru, who in the early 20th century studied whiskey-making in Scotland, where he met his future wife, Jessie Roberta Cowan, nicknamed Rita. I told you this stuff way goes back.)

It to me shows the fallacy of people who blame media brainwashing for making Asian men unattractive to women and say the reason women in general reject Asian men is due to negative and nonexistent depictions. In other words, some guys overstate and overrate the power of media to brainwash all women into thinking an Asian man can’t be attractive.

Regardless, I’m glad that someone in the spotlight of the moment — in this case, Lorde — was able to use that exposure to show that a celebrity du jour can turn people’s expectations on their respective heads.

From a wider perspective, demographics tell me that in the near future, if it hasn’t already arrived, Asian and Asian American men are going to be involved in more relationships with women outside their traditional groups as they become more in demand.

At the risk of sounding like some dated caveman and in spite of progress in gender equality that has put women on a more equal footing with regard to work and pay, women still look for certain traits in the men they ultimately choose to spend their lives with.

In today’s modern society, someone who can provide security, protection and income needs to be able to deal with abstract concepts, information and technology, not just assembling widgets on an assembly line or milking goats. Heck, even blue-collar factory workers need these skills.

With Asians in America leading all other groups, including whites, in getting college educations, the men in this group are going to be the ones able to bring home the bacon, regardless of what some TV or movie may inaccurately represent. Recent news reports have also shown that worldwide, students in Asia led in tests in what is called STEM or science, technology, engineering and math. Meantime, in sports, we’ve seen the rise of Asian men in golf, baseball and basketball, et al, and in entertainment, Psy and Kenichi Ebina have shown that Asian men can dance. In other words, Asian men have shown the disbelievers they have brains and body.

Now I don’t know if this description specifically fits young men like Lorde’s boyfriend or those Asian men-white women couples I observed. It does, however, bode well for the ascent of the Asian male in the coming years.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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(George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2013 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.)

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  1. Its American xenophobia. I see plenty of east Asian kiwi/Maori/Pacifica pairups on the streets in Wellington, NZ. I think Indians and east Asians make up about 15% of the population here, more in Auckland.

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