Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid: Platitudes on Passion in Asian America

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The buzzwords “passion”, “amazing”, and “awesome” are commonly used by people to describe themselves or what they do. As Louis CK says, many words have lost meaning. The danger of the constant use of words like “passion” is that passion is fuel–without a place to direct it, the platitudes of “chasing your dreams” and “being yourself” don’t help much–it’s like having a full tank of fuel but not knowing where to drive, and being told by everyone as long as your tank is full, you can go anywhere. Not that that’s a bad position to be in, but energy not used towards a meaningful end is the same as energy being wasted.

Without passion, life is nothing. – Unknown

Over the past few years, I’ve also seen a lot of crap packaged as art put out by people, Asian America included but not exclusively, covered up with the whole “But they are following their passions” or “You just don’t have enough passion to see their passion” arguments.

I don’t know about you, but that self-rationalizing, buzzword band-aid applied to everything sure as hell isn’t “passion” as I know it to be; the whole “Fuck off, I do what I want” kind of gonzo attitude that completely sheds the skin of self-consciousness and makes no attempt to exude the pheromones that call for attention and self-validation seems to be absent. Instead, we find obstreperous-yet-hollow calls for attention full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Let’s try to differentiate what I say is passion versus what a common (mis)conception of passion is. An old piece I read four years ago shows a few examples of what being and living passionately are. Going with that criteria, passion, as I glean, is that it is okay to be you–whatever “you” are.

Contrastingly, the “passion” I see far more commonly these days is more along the lines of acting juvenile and passing it off as (bad) humor, then denouncing people who don’t “appreciate” them as having no humor or “passion”, and “haters (are) gonna hate” as that forgettable documentary Uploaded seems to convey. (It is also a shining example of gratuitous sycophancy, shameless self-promotion, and a damned embarrassment for the few people featured there who actually do extraordinary work for being associated with that garbage production.)

Or, when discussing Invisible Children and their Kony Campaign, the common argument I heard back from people in support of IC was “At least they are raising awareness, and they are passionate about what they do!”

Res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself. To “raise awareness” by promoting lies and misinformation and describe their work as “passionate” does not legitimize their actions, nor does “passion” give anyone authority the way that fallacious (lack of) reasoning does. Besides: those self-righteous and delusional “good guys” drive luxury cars yet possess neither the wit nor care for the cause they supposedly promote through their pyramid marketing, a la Ponzi and Count Victor Lustig.

“Johnny C, you’re an asshole for shitting on these young people’s dreams!” Actually, I call it tough love: if one has resilience and confidence, there is nary a fuck to be given for what I or any other critic says–in other words, if one is that passionately committed to what one aspires to, one will do it with such conviction (and perhaps hubris) that nothing will sway them from achieving their aims. But again: one must always be open to consideration that being passionate can make one blind and stubborn, unwilling to realize no matter how much one can commit with extreme dedication, there is always room for improvement and a margin of error.

Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do for you. – Johnny Depp

But before we dismiss this missive as nothing but pure, unadulterated hate for the pillars of Asian America’s pop culture corner, let me shift from criticism to encouragement towards a direction we could all stand to benefit from, instead of the abuse and misuse of the concept of “passion” here.

Passion, when directed towards a clear goal that is tangibly attainable by your actions and efforts, isn’t merely congratulating yourself or seeking a pat on the back from others for what you have yet to achieve and feel self-entitled to–that kind of approach is popularly known as masturbation, which, contrary to the teachings of Tyler Durden, is not self-improvement.

A common example I love referring to: with Asian America’s obsession with race and the call for more visibility and recognition of people’s talents, there is a greater tendency amongst our community’s media to highlight people on account of how they look rather than their actual abilities, and more often than not, they’re all friends. Brief clarification on definitions: having worked in entertainment before, the best definition of “talent” I heard before was hard work, not someone’s innate ability to be perceived as a prodigy or a “natural” in any shape or form.

Do I want Asian America to be better? Contrary to what my critical tone seemingly implies, yes. Tribalism is common on this planet, but if this is war, appearing “good” doesn’t win conflicts or arguments, actions do. Beating your chest and yelling, standing menacingly, calling for everyone to recognize your potential for being a great fighter–I don’t care about that, show me through actions, win an actual match first, then we’ll talk. Play the goddamn Rocky training theme as you prepare and don’t obsess with getting recognized as great, focus on being the most able-person for the task to challenge Apollo Creed. There is more respect for those who take defeat with humility rather than boasting pridefully over having never lost a fight (because they haven’t been in any fights). Besides: fighting’s done with fists, not words. 

Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt. – Unknown

I remember watching The Goonies when I was a child. It was a great film, a classic. Was the character Data my favorite? Nope: all of them were equally endearing characters. It was only when I came to the university and pop culture circles of Asian America did I begin to encounter people who noted Data was the token Asian in the cast. I never noticed or cared, I just thought he was a funny and cool character who performed great and was well-written. I don’t think of Data as the token Asian character, I think of him as, well, Data. The passion there is he does a fine job working hard to present to us a loveable James Bond fan with his own leitmotif played every time he uses his gadgets. Do we need to scream, point, and let everyone know that he’s an Asian kid in the film? The character himself is memorable for being him and what he does, he just happens to be Asian–his character speaks for himself.

“But we need to have more roles written for Asians!” How about we have more people telling themselves to actually, you know, do and say something intelligent? To aim to be the best in what we do rather than settling for that “good enough” approach? Don’t take my word for it, The Oatmeal said it too.

Passion (your raison d’etre) shines through talent (hard work), and you don’t have to be amazing, just strive to be awesome as you would for yourself as though nobody were watching rather than doing so merely for attention. I advocate that by meeting (and beating) your own personal standard, there will be no need to shout it loud and proud or ask your friends to promote you–strangers will appreciate it and do it of their own volition.

Be thankful to your fans, too. You won’t get anywhere without them, and if your relationship and “fame” comes from a lot of friends marketing you, piss them off, and you are left with your skills and work. If your work and skills don’t speak for themselves, it will show, and you will know who your real fans are and just how much you are worth. A good thing to meditate on is to differentiate between achievement and success when seeking to live out your dreams:

ACHIEVEMENT: Knowing you’ve studied, worked hard and done your best. Forget the haters; you’ve pleased yourself!

SUCCESS: Being praised by others, but not as important or satisfying. You can do a half-assed effort and still be rewarded with a handjob for it by your friends.

Which of these do you aspire to? Don’t tell me you’re passionate–be passionate. Besides: it’s a dead word when putting it in your headlines for your CV nowadays.

You know you’re good when even your enemies have to admit that you make great art even as they are constantly waiting (oftentimes, even pushing) for you to go to hell.

That being said, I’ll see you in hell, cupcakes.

photo credit: wolfgangfoto via photopin cc

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About JohnnyC

Johnny C is a self-described Accidental Asian American: born in California and raised in Hong Kong and Manila, he spends his days traveling as a freelancer for various NGOs in development and human rights. An idealist and adventurer, his travels are both for work and fun, while sharing stories through his pictures, videos, and writing. When he's not dance-walking to indie rock songs on his iPod in cities around the world, he's usually got himself engrossed in a science fiction novel traversing the portals of reality.
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