How Intimacy and Dependence are marketed

In Kimberly Kay Hoang’s Dealing In Desire, various bars are examined for their involvement in sex work. The ethnography explores the way in which the hostesses or sex workers market their bodies and, beyond that, their emotional intimacy to achieve the best outcome from their career. The four bars in Hoang’s paper are differentiated along a hierarchy of purchasing power, with Vietnamese businessmen attending the most elite of these bars, Viet Kieu or US-based Vietnamese descendants attending the next tier, Western businessmen at more public less restrictive locations, and ‘Western’ backpackers frequenting the most unregulated and cheapest of the establishments. In each bar, the rules of interaction between customers and sex workers were different, as were the ways in which the women marketed their bodies, some transforming their appearance through cosmetic surgery and tanning (or an avoidance of). Different projections of gender were thus performed, negotiated and exchanged with money. In the high-end bar, Khong Sao, hostesses underwent plastic surgery to achieve an ideal of Asian beauty that corresponded to the image of a new global elite that Vietnamese and Asian businessmen aspire to embody. Some women took on more long-term positions as escorts and accompanied businessmen on vacations. In Lavender, the bar for Viet Kieu men, women embody a submissive and traditionalist imaginary of Vietnamese femininity to allow men to assert their masculinity. This is not dissimilar to Secrets and Naughty Girls where women try to assert an image of poverty and dependence, allowing men to embody masculinity as saviors and beneficiaries of the foreign women and to reaffirm the idea of Western supremacy. The women do this with a level of skill and cunning, considering themselves shrewd entrepreneurs conning their customers to gain unseen benefits of their career path such as regular money transfers or men looking for more long-term company. While many women seek to take advantage of the emotions that come with intimacy, many women end up believing their own artifice and thus make the choice to leave sex work for a man, only to be left within months.


We Have Different Goals…

Vietnamese people do not mess around when it comes to dealing with Westerners. The Vietnamese men, women and westerners have very different goals when in HCMC. The Vietnamese, of course, have the upper hand from being in home territory. It creates confusion for the westerners, who believe that their first world status can give them access to everything. When it comes to Vietnamese men, the Westerners think they’ll be able to trick these 3rd world countrymen into doing what they want but get ultimately blindsided by Vietnamese men’s self-confidence and patriotism. When it comes to Vietnamese women, they think they’re just getting a paid session for sex but in reality, the women are plotting how to get the most money from them.

Vietnamese men use the space as a center for business deals and use the women to sweeten the pot. They try to dominate/ shame Westerners in different ways, asserting their own dominance in their home country. They prefer cash over credit, credit being a very Western monetary system. Essentially saying “I have disposable income readily available, unlike you”. The Vietnamese also make Westerners stand in line for these bars and clubs but allow Vietnamese clientele to go right into the clubs, showing that Westerners are secondary players. They even go so far as to invite Westerners to meetings, knowing they’ll say no to show dominance and that Vietnam doesn’t need them. Vietnamese men aim to show off Vietnam’s wealth and ascendancy in the global economy, finding it necessary to lower Westerners in order to drive that point home. With the Western and Vietnamese men clashing, it creates a sort of “pissing contests” in Vietnam: which region’s men will come out on top.

Vietnamese women use the space and their physical appearance in sexual transactions. For these women, prostitution is much better than working in a factory, which is where they would be since the vast majority of them are from poor rural families. This profession allows them to become breadwinners, something that is not very traditional but much more liberating for them. They take advantage of Westerners fetishizing them due to the shift of the racialized dynamic of Western dominance. They are able to form paid relationships with these Westerners, posing as “girlfriends” to accompany them to events and on vacations. They can ask for gifts to sell them on the black market, to openly ask for money to help them in fake crises. When Western men and Vietnamese women come together, they play damsels in distress and wrap the Westerners around their fingers.

The Vietnamese broker power, developing a reputation to uplift HCMC. As a secondary global city because of its travel destination and sex markets, the Vietnamese seeks to put HCMC on the primary global map. With these different bars, they cater to niche groups, increasing reputation and ability to play in global market. They create a certain kind of presence of self that is dependent on producing a shifting of racialized order, playing the role of underdogs in order to surprisingly come out on top. Vietnamese men are even crafting new forms of masculinity, where the Vietnamese born get the most beautiful women in these bars. They are trying to commodify all things Vietnamese, something they view as necessary for global respectability.

Cosmo Canopies and Social Cocoons

In Anderson’s piece on the Cosmopolitan Canopy, he introduces the idea of folk ethnography and the power and implications of ephemeral place making. In many ways, millennial mindsets are dominated by the tenets of the cosmo canopy. In the ever growing urban metropolis it is hard to find moments of community that involve heterogeneous mixes of people. Racial, class and social divides seem to dissipate within the cosmo canopy and though there is an understanding that it is ephemeral, it is still important to understanding how folk ethnography can operate as an agent of mutual societal exposure and acceptance. In a way, the concept of the Cosmopolitan canopy is to yield a kind of social cocoon. How? Well, a cocoon is an enclosed area in which transformation and growth happens. The expectation is that a caterpillar goes in and comes out a butterfly. The same is true of cosmo canopies. Participants go in and engage in what is expected to be a positive, inclusive experience (one that has the power to bypass and exist despite the myriad of socio-economic and socio-cultural hindrances inherent in society), most of which is not visible to those outside the canopy. After a period of time, the participants come out butterflies, momentarily enriched by the experience.

The material that binds the social cocoon of the cosmo canopy together is civility. The process tha takes place within the social cocoon is folk ethnography. Participants enter what Anderson considers a “neutral space”, a place with no apparent owner. However, in a way I want to challenge that notion of a neutral space. I think of Bowdoin College when I think of the cosmo canopy. Bowdoin in theory wants to operate like an extended cosmo canopy. Bowdoin prides intellectual fearlessness and champions the common good over all else. Whether it succeeds in this mission or not is something I am curious to know.The two mottos of our school challenge us as students to conduct responsible folk ethnography and work towards building an inclusive community. In my opinion Bowdoin can’t necessarily succeed in being a cosmo canopy because the time spent here is too long. The cosmo canopy depends on its fleeting and ephemeral nature to yield best results.

As optimistic as the cosmo canopy is to alleviating some of society’s issues, roadblocks persist. In hunter’s piece on black nightlife we see the ways in which black bodies can derive their meaning and advance their place in social situation despite the connotations of the color of their skin. In a similar sense, the Spot (nightclub) acts as destination in which a kind of Cosmo canopy can be experimented in. Social capital (clout) is leveraged in these spaces and can be used as a means towards upward mobility. The concepts addressed in both of these pieces deal with the ways social capital, social interactions and engagement with other social groups can act as a way of temporarily suspending society’s greater issues. The participants, drawn together by unspoken codes of civility and “neutrality” , use social environments as the even playing field to evaluate and test the validity of their perceptions

Considering the Fetishization of HCMC

In our discussion of global cities, there was a lot of back and forth on whether the women in HCMC who engaged in sex work were liberated in any way. On the one hand, the women were claiming agency as entrepreneurs offering up certain services. More specifically, the act of entertaining visitors of the bars and engaging in nuanced social interactions that bolstered Vietnam’s global reputation served as a form of social and emotional labor that surpassed the associated acts of prostitution. In this way, the sex work seemed to be simply a factor of the women’s job as important Vietnamese citizens. This was contrasted with ideas that regardless of the economic or social capital the women might gain through this work, it could never be seen as liberating because the women never truly gained enough capital to move beyond the realm of sex work. Even the women who acquired significant financial means often used it to open their own bar, thereby keeping them in the business to some extent. Moreover, it was suggested that even though these women might be doing a national service to some capacity, they were still constrained by the fact that the country is commodifying women’s bodies and claiming ownership of them.

For me, the fetishization of Asian women was what struck me as the least liberating aspect, as it reinforced racialized and gendered stereotypes that seemed like they would inherently limit the agency of the workers. I thought it was interesting to consider the similar scenario of Brazilian male sex workers, who also primarily cater to tourists. In this case, the male sex workers view their work solely as a job, and their actions are rationalized, rather than judged, based on their ability to provide an income to these men. While I agree with comments made in class about how the history of subordination and objectification of women changes some of the dynamics of sex work, I think these Brazilian men could potentially be subjected to similar levels of fetishization as the Vietnamese women. Their ability to manipulate the system to their benefit, in this case, could be seen as liberating. Likewise, in the Vietnamese bars that catered to Western men, the women darkened their skin and wore heavy makeup and inexpensive clothing to emphasize an identity as poor Vietnamese women in need of saving (49). These women seemed to perform less of the emotional labor described in the other bars, and made the majority of their money from direct sex-for-money exchanges (50). Interestingly, these women were subjected to the least fluctuations in economic status over time (160). In this way, the women who could best manipulate Western fetishes were the most economically stable, so perhaps fetishization plays a more complex role in my understanding of liberating practices in the city than I had originally thought.

As I started thinking more about the manipulation of fetishes, I began to consider creative class consumption more generally. In previous lectures, we talked extensively about the rise of the creative class commodifying certain cultures in the city. For example, I was thinking about the Boyle Heights community gentrification. One particular instance I was reminded of was white landowners rebranding an apartment complex as “Mariachi Crossing”. Mariachis already lived in and used these spaces for their own purposes, and the white ownership of the space and titles seemed to be threatening to the local identity. Is it possible that the local Mariachis could have capitalized on the appeal of this gentrifying area to white tourists, in the same way the Vietnamese women did? If so, and if it served an economic purpose, would we still consider the rebranding as threatening to local identity? Is this situation totally different because it is not in a global city, or is there significant cross-over in the ways that global cities and creative class cities function? Conversely, should we consider whether the sex work in Vietnam is a ‘disneyfication’ of both Vietnamese culture and women, in the same way that consumer culture has ‘disneyfied’ many U.S. neighborhoods? This discussion has left me with many questions about how we can consider these types of practices that occur within the city, and I think this speaks to the difficulties in articulating who has the right to claim agency or ownership in many of these placemaking situations.

Placemaking in Identity Politics

Immigration trends and immigrant communities in America have taken on different on different forms. The three main waves of immigration all involved different groups and people and reacted to national and world phenomena. As America’s immigration changed and different groups moved in, the process of place making has also taken different forms. For some communities place making consisted of staying steadfast in cultural practices and being weary of assimilatory practices. In these readings, “Staying Vietnamese” and “Illegality and Spaces of Sanctuary” we see the ways in which communities of the newer waves of immigration attempt to make sense of changing identities. Ruiz’s piece deals with place making through the lens of illegality. It deals with issues of citizenship and how to some cultures that practice goes beyond documentation and nationality. To the residents of South Central LA, place making takes on the form of community gardens, and deals with how the physical transformation and re-appropriation of space deemed undesirable can be symbolic of the people who are performing the place making. To put in simply, the space becomes a symbol of the struggle of those trying to derive meaning and culture from it.

In my question, I pondered of where resistance identities would play into this process. If we think of the process of place making as an extension of identity politics then violence and  discrimination against the physical space can extend to be an attack on identity. When the land was razed and subsequently bulldozed, the subtle implications were that its cultivators lacked the necessary legal claims to the land, and thus lacked legal claims to express their culture and “citizenship”. The implications and cultural benefit of creating a space reminiscent of their home country were attacked, with the attack of the physical space. In many ways, the issues that these residents faced, stemmed from the illegality. Because in many ways their community was a minority (not necessarily in numbers but more in access to capital and cultural markets), attacks and eradication of culture can be understood in a Darwinian sense. Cultural practices of minority communities that are not lucrative or economically profitable are unrecognizable and thus justifiably “othered”.

On the flip side, place making in the Vietnamese communities of orange county took on a different look. The Vietnamese community culture is highly visible and recognizable to everyone in and around the neighborhood because of recognizable commercial businesses. In that community, place making has been relatively simple compared to their counterparts on the east coast in Boston. While in many ways the Boston community has the elements and ability to form distinct Vietnamese space, the process has been hindered by the lack of actual physical space. However, two distinct road blocks that Boston communities have is the lack of gaining a monopoly on the capital of that area and the lack of having a monopoly on the physical space in Boston (both in competition with other Asian communities, namely Chinatown).

In conclusion, place making plays a huge role in identity politics because it is influenced and deemed recognizable by a number of other factors, namely economic ones. Profitability and marketability play bigger roles in determining how culture is received in a given area, rather than individual,independent acts of the residents themselves

Effectiveness of Protests and Hashtag Activism

After reviewing the articles written by Bonilla and Rosa as well as Michael Rosenfeld’s study on the Chicago Bulls riot of 1992 I started to question the effectiveness of protests. All of the readings highlighted specific cases where police brutality was evident causing many Americans to dispute our legal system and demand that officers receive a just punishment for their actions. Although the readings all provided specific examples, I tended to think of protests in a more general sense and analyze the efficacy of hashtag activism and grass roots campaigns. Bonilla and Rosa are very persuasive when conveying the effectiveness of Twitter and how it allows the “average” person to partake and voice their opinion on a matter they feel passionate about. However, there is certainly something to be said about the effectiveness of Twitter and hashtag activism and on the ground protests.

In some ways, hashtag activism fails to facilitate protests. Specifically, millions of users on social media permit the cycle of rumors and potentially false accounts of legal cases. In addition, while Twitter is brilliant when attempting to spread the word about cases such as Ferguson or the #Handsupdontshoot campaigns they may not be as effective as a mass demonstration where people are raising awareness and feel productive with their actions. In Bonilla and Rosa’s article, they report the emotions of a 25-year-old protestor named Johnetta Elzie. She claims, “We saw it with Trayvon Martin. We saw it with Jordan Davis—but I always felt away from everything. Then I saw Brown’s body laying out there, and I said, ‘Damn, they did it again!’ but now that it happened in my home, I’m not just going to tweet about it from the comfort of my bed. So I went down there” (Bonilla and Rosa, 10). Instances like these are what propel me to believe grassroots campaigns are far more effective than hashtag activism and it seems as though the people involved feel the same way. Johnetta felt that Brown’s body laying on the street was the last straw and believed she had to act in a way that more effective than sitting behind a computer. Johnetta felt a moral obligation to get out of her bed and stand for something that she believes in. It is important to note that Johnetta felt she was creating a greater impact by protesting with the masses opposed to voicing her opinions and concerns on Twitter.

Lastly, throughout history we have seen protests on the brink of riots and in some cases tip into spaces of chaos filled with crime and outrage. I am curious to know what is the tipping point where a protest is considered a riot? Is it always because of an increase in violence or does it go deeper than that?

Social Media Protesting

While Twitter and other social media platforms increase the awareness of issues and events in the United States, I am not convinced by their effectiveness.  Gaining awareness is great, and Twitter allows you to keep updated, but I think it decreases the connection between people and the whatever the issue may be.  With #Ferguson, many people took to Twitter to protest police brutality against African Americans.  Using the hashtag, people could see other people’s thoughts on the issue and any updates regarding the riots.  One point that was brought up in class was that Twitter can also act as a wormhole.  It is a useful and easy way to stay updated, but there is so much fake news out there and it is easy to get caught up in something that may not even be true.

Social media has changed the way people protest, and it makes “protesting” more accessible, but I don’t believe it is more effective than a traditional grass-roots campaign.  Social media can provide scale to a protest, but it does not ignite the same emotion and passion as being part of a grass-roots campaign.  Social media movements lack the organization and structure that every protest needs to be effective.  Communicating via social media will also never be a substitute for human interaction because the connection is so limited.  My issue with social media protests is that they garner all this excitement, which eventually wears out as soon as the next big issue comes up, which people move on to.  People will sit at their computer and phone and post something and then go on with their day.  What is that actually doing to help the situation?  If you want to see or be part of significant change in the world, hiding behind a phone will achieve nothing except back-and-forth arguing down a wormhole of posts.  It is natural to want other people to hear out your opinion, but as cliché as it is, actions will always speak louder than words on a screen.

Despite my cynical view of #hashtag activism, there has been some success due to protests, like #Ferguson and #OscarsSoWhite, which have produced progress in the right directions.  This past week, Michael Slager was sentenced to twenty years in prison for shooting Walter Scott, who was unarmed and running away.  The millions of social media posts have played a part because everyone is aware of how bad it really is.  While twenty years is an extremely light sentence for murder, it is far better than officers not even getting convicted.

Growth of the Suburbs – consciously created

The reading Federal Subsidy and the Suburban Dream: How Washington Changed the American Market” provided a historical account to how federal policies like the  Federal Highway System and the Home Owner’s loan Corporation (HOLC) role in developing the suburban housing market — a market which favored and was more accessible to a certain demographic of the population  (hint, white homeowners).  

My expert question asked the class to compare these two quotes:

“Personal tastes and convenience, vocational and economic interests, infallibly tend to segregate and thus to classify the populations of great cities. In this way, the city acquires an organization which is neither designed nor controlled” ” (Park 1915: 579).

“The middle-class suburban family with the new house and a long-term fixed rate, FHA insured mortgage became a symbol, and perhaps a stereotype, of the American way of life.” (Gans, 206)

I asked this question because for me I saw a low of similarities between Ernest Burgess concentric circle model (invasion, competition, succession) and the ways in which consumer personal preference can drive urban change — in this instance a preference for decentralized residences and desire for a different “community”  as well as economic incentives led to the large move to the suburbs. The middle-class family had a “personal taste” that the urban policy fulfilled. I wondered if then this move and homogeneous makeup of the suburbs was purely constructed through urban policy or represented to a degree  “natural growth” as well.  

For today, we also read the piece by Gans who attempted to dig into some of the “myths of the homogeneity of the suburbs” in order to ask whether suburbs are really as homogeneous as they may appear, and the role of quasi-primary ties in the community.

Quasi-primary ties are often thought and written about in quite a negative connotation, due to the fact that these ties while more intimate that secondary ties, are more guarded than primary ties.  In the suburbs, Gans argues that these quasi-primary ties ( like the relationship one makes out of shared interests — kids PTA meeting) are the ‘glue that holds the community together. These are the everyday interactions that make you think you “know” people while maintaining privacy. People are able to be social, yet “stay out of each other’s business”. As I discussed in class, to me this felt familiar to last weeks readings about the role anonymity plays in the urban setting between residence in apartment buildings. On September 4th we discussed how George Simmel found cities to be anonymous settlements where relationships often serve vital functions, and are highly individualistic in nature. People build relationships that benefit them. Therefore, could it be fair to say there is a level of conditionality to all relationships within communities or relationships in general?


The Survival Strategies of Working Class Whites

Jennifer Sherman’s work in Golden Valley was focused on studying the effect of poverty, industrial restructuring, and rapid job loss on a mostly white rural community.  This was in order to observe the ways in which declining life changes can lead to the evolution of specific cultural and moral discourses that help people adjust to their changing circumstances and compensate for their inabilities to achieve success through more traditional avenues ( 30). Sherman’s work was especially interesting due to the fact that white poverty, especially in the urban sense is seldom discussed and studied, and is interesting to compare white rural poverty to the theories of hypersegregation and the creation of the iconic ghetto in cities we have discussed in class, which focussed on predominately black and minority ethnic groups. What Sherman found is that community setting can affect behavior of the poor in a number of ways, for instance, Sherman argues that a rural setting allows for a greater range of survival tools and strategies that are acceptable within separate sub-cultural spheres (65).  And that the evidence from Golden Valley suggests that rural areas may operate according to very different social rules than urban areas, and in order to alleviate poverty we must first understand the different “social milieus” in which poverty is prevalent and the ways in which setting interacts with culture and behavior (99) .

Sherman’s work was interesting to discuss in class following the past two lectures which had focused on the creation of the hypersegregation theories presented  that sought to explain the formation of the urban (predominantly black) ghetto. Particularly, how similarities arise between the forces, particularly institutional, and ways in which industrialization have constructed what appears to be parallels to ‘the inherited ghetto’ theory. My question hopes to draw out these similarities and differences around the structural forces that led to poverty becoming concentrated within the urban and rural context, as well as the tools/ resources each group had to combat such obstacles.

What I was left thinking about after the discussion where a few things. First, thinking about the structural challenges that differ between an urban and rural setting, and how this can affect the tools and resources available to the citizens (if one does not consider race).  In Golden Valley the use of federal aid was not a taboo. Meanwhile in the urban setting, aide is regularly used. Does this have to do with the structural anonymity that is associated with city life verse a small rural town where there are few stores? Or is it a difference in cultural values? Or perhaps a difference in the who they blame for poverty and whether they feel deserving of “help”. Second, the type of survival strategies that develop in order to combat poverty. In Golden Valley, white citizens appear to develop an “us v them” mentality, and social capital becomes in ways more valuable than economic. How people view you (race, whether you receive aid, civic participation) matters a great deal more to one’s membership into society than the size of their waller. Lastly, the centrality of place. I saw a lot of parallels to the idea of “inheriting” where one was from. We talked about how many of us could see growing up our own desire to “get out” of the small town, city, suburb, etc we were from. There is an inherent desire for the “different” when we have the capital to choose for ourselves, however there is a pattern that people return to where they are from, or at least a similar place. Which could explain why those seem to remain in “ghetto” or “poverty” classified places. There appears to be an identity and value mapped onto these places that hold a special value.

Finally, the class discussion raised an interesting connection to the most recent Presidential election. In the  last election, Trump was able to mobilize a significant population of populist and postmaterialist votes. People who were skeptical of outsiders, which sounds familiar to the concerns of the people of Golden Valley. Similar to the ways in which white poverty is “forgotten”, this  voting block in the election felt their needs and values had been unheard by past elites. People were angry and wanted to be payed attention to. We weren’t able to discuss this much further, but it is an interesting idea and parallel. 


“It’s not a statement on their character but it is what it is”

I think the overall response to my question as to whether or not gentrification could exist at the individual level is interesting. On one hand, we talked about it perhaps not being important to label, as ‘consciously or unconsciously’ someone is gentrifying. On the other, we built on previous questions raised by Lucia and others and featured in professor Greene’s work- that of vicarious citizenship.

Funnily enough, neither train of thought was quite what I was expecting when it came to responses to this question. In my mind, I was thinking about the possibility of a ‘gentrification tipping point’ whereby it becomes clear that a neighborhood is now gentrifying. In Silicon Valley it was more clear when this was taking place – wine, cheese, and all – than perhaps the beginning stages of a neighborhood undergoing change.

That said, it is interesting to consider how vicarious citizenship or the assumption of resistance identities can produce varying levels of visibility. When I consider my ’17 friends who moved to the city and are most definitely gentrifying, I think about how they’re living very differently to some of the people we see in Boyle Heights, or on the street corner of Boystown. Less visibility has stemmed from them being able to go to work, come home, and live their lives in a combination of ‘elsewheres’. They’re not opening art galleries or supporting avocado latte cafes, and they “take up space” in a much less spatial way.

I think, therefore, even though my question has been answered, it has also been made more complex – what does it mean when different groups of individuals have differing abilities to engage in urban change without protest. Sure, some will be both endowed by resource and visual, like our artists, and others will have no backing but still be seen as problematic. How do these dynamics intersect with the very real , statistical question of concentration – residential or institutional – and how can these combine to create a singular understanding of the degree to which an environment has been affected by change.