I am afraid to go to China. I watched The Karate Kid (2010), and now I know I won’t be able to defend myself when a band of children jump me. One scene in particular stands out, and this is when Dre Parker is confronted by his bullies in the street. When Mr. Han comes to Dre’s defense, the viewer sees that these kids are for real. Mr. Han, a Kung Fu master, has to pull out his best moves to defend himself and Dre against these middle schoolers’ vicious onslaught of Kung Fu mania. My skills are not nearly as developed as Mr. Han’s, –I am more Po than Kung Fu Panda– and I would easily be disposed of and tossed into a garbage can by this band of prepubescent sixth graders.
Is this necessarily what would happen if I visited China? No. But I cannot escape feeling unprepared. I counsel myself at times, daydreaming about walking through the market. “I’ll take an octopus,” I tell the cashier and then walk about the streets enjoying my delicious cephalopod. I take in the sights and sounds of the street. Children playing Dance Dance Revolution. Fathers scolding their children. Yo Yo Ma playing Bach’s cello Suite No. 1. I know Asian cultures are stereotyped in American Cinema, and not every person walking around Hong Kong is a walking death machine. Then they come, a whole flock of flying kicks, karate chops and bad voice dubbing. I am quickly robbed and knocked unconscious by a roundhouse kick to my teeth. I wake up days later in garment factory with a large infected wound on the side of my body. I stumble into a buddhist monastery and spend months recovering. My daydreams are not very comforting.
Where do I get these ideas? Did they happen in a vacuum? Have I made them up? No. They have ingrained themselves into my mind through mindless consumption movies and television shows. I am not alone. In our world today, we mindlessly consume media in incredible amounts. Our constant contact with entertainment leaves us no time for reflection about what the stories say about our world, and they say a lot. As we watch them, we gradually and subconsciously accept their messages as truth. This is normal, as it is a function of narrative, and because of that we need to become critical consumers of story.