Not So Subtle: Asian Meme Explosion

Picture of By Hahae Son

By Hahae Son

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]E[/mks_dropcap]ver heard of the Facebook groups “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens”, or “New Urbanist Memes For Transit-Oriented Teens”? In recent months, the attention has shifted from these groups to a new kid on the block. If you are a second-generation Asian young adult living overseas, the name “subtle asian traits” will ring a very loud bell in your mind. It consists of the fabric of the complex culture that has resulted from the modern intersection between East meets West. Started by a group of nine Chinese-Australian high school students from Melbourne in September of 2018, the innocent distraction from examinations quickly turned into a global subculture phenomenon.

The Facebook group turned into an online community for Asian diasporas, additionally inspiring spin-off groups such as “subtle asian dating”, “subtle curry traits”, and “subtle queer asian christian traits”. The respective names are indicative of the content and purpose of the groups. As of today, the original “subtle asian traits” stands at a staggering member count of 1076399 Asian diasporas from 99 different countries. Most posts are focused on the filtering of Asian culture when detached from its origins, propagated through the children of Asian migrants. Many memes point out oddities that are particularly specific to this subset of societies, a subset that can be recognized within many different contexts. A common source of humor can be found in memes about “Asian parents”, highlighting certain tendencies and making lighthearted, relatable content out of it

Not just about memes, the community also serves as a platform for sharing experiences as an Asian diaspora, as well as exploring the delicate balance between the two cultures to which these individuals are incessantly exposed. The New Yorker comments that the group interactions acutely reflect how meme culture has “become a platform for generational reflection”, especially considering the nature of this instance.

However, in every seed of good there is always a piece of bad. Criticism has been directed towards the nature of the content posted. The humor has been accused of catering to the lowest common denominator. The group itself has been called non inclusive, with members overwhelmingly of East Asian descent, excluding those of South Asian heritage. Ironically, it does not give much space for minority voices within a minority community. Despite this, “subtle asian traits” has provided a culturally confused collective of young people around the world a space where they are able to humorously discuss their joys and frustrations.

Cover: Unsplash/William Iven

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