This combined video interview and visual essay explores the video and film works of Asian American feminist filmmaker Valerie Soe through the concept of détournement, an aesthetics of appropriation, reuse, and remix articulated by Guy Debord and the Situationists.1 Following Debord's observation that “spectacle is not a collection of images” but rather “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images,” Soe's creative output over the past thirty years deepens and complicates our understanding of the Asian American community's experiences with racism and alienation.2 By recontextualizing popular film and television images, Soe hijacks and reroutes the spectacularization of gendered Asian bodies as mediatized “image-objects” in films like Picturing Oriental Girls: A (Re)Educational Videotape (1999), Cynsin: An American Princess (1991), and Snapshot: Six Months of the Korean American Male (2007). Soe's documentary works, including Mixed Blood (1992), The Chinese Gardens (2012), and The Oak Park Story (2010), as well as the experimental video All Orientals Look the Same (1986), generate dialectics of newly produced and popularly circulated media images, simultaneously informing and defamiliarizing the spectator about issues of Asian American discrimination, displacement, and marginalization.
With an ethics of détournement in mind, Zuo and Soe here revisit the latter's oeuvre, applying a punk aesthetics of play. Interweaving fragments from Soe's participation in Alexandra Juhasz's documentary film Women of Vision: 18 Histories in Feminist Film and Video (1998) with a new interview conducted over Skype between the coauthors, the essay contributes another audiovisual texture to Soe's palimpsests that intertwines the author's own voice with her praxis—an approach she once called “fighting fire with fire.”3 Finally, the piece addresses the question of intergenerational Asian American feminist activism by interrogating the possibilities of détournement in today's society of the (racial) spectacle, taking into account that our present moment is saturated with user-generated digital selfies, and YouTube and social media activisms. From Reaganism to Trumpism, what challenges have we faced and continue to face as intersectional Asian American feminists? How can we envisage, through the production of images, forms of irrecoverable resistance against contemporary capitalist spectacularizations of nonwhite bodies?