James Kavanagh’s notion of ideology:
“Ideology designates a rich ‘system of representation,’ worked up in specific material practices, which helps form individuals into social subjects who ‘freely’ internalize an appropriate ‘picture’ of their social world and their place in it. Ideology offers the social subject not a set of narrowly ‘political’ ideas but a fundamental framework of assumptions that defines the parameters of the real and the self. . . Ideology is less tenacious as a ‘set of ideas’ than as a system of representations, perceptions, and images that precisely encourages men and women to ‘see’ their specific place in a historically peculiar social formation as inevitable, natural, a necessary function of the ‘real’ itself. ~James Kavanagh, “Ideology,” page 310.
Core Concepts of Ideology: A Synthesis
1. Representations and images in our culture’s “material practices” (art, literature, popular culture, etc.) catalogue or mirror commonly shared practices, ideologies and experiences.
2. In this sense, these arenas play a formative role in reifying and entrenching cultural practices and are seen to be expressions, often, of the collective (or dominant) will, hegemony or ideology. An advertisement, for example, might project gendered, classist, and even racial fears or fantasies; a film might catalogue the beliefs, assumptions, and prejudices of a particular historical moment.
3. People subsequently “‘freely’ internalize an appropriate ‘picture’ of their social world and their place in it.”
Considerations for applications in Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese:
a. What kind of “grammar of race,” to use Stuart Hall’s words, does Yang employ in the character of Chin-Kee? How is this caricature indicative of a “system of representation,” one that sets up a “framework of assumptions” for how the dominant cultural group views a minority group, -- as well as how minorities come to see their own “place” in the dominant social order? (Hint: go back to the introduction of Jin Wang’s storyline and his and Wei Chen’s experiences at Mayflower Elementary School, pages 30-40. The stereotypes Jin and Wei encounter in school later “congeal” in the character of Chin-Kee).
b. How does racist rhetoric / ideology lead to internalized self-loathing for any number of the characters? Does the text show intervention for a mind that has been colonized by false thinking?
c. According to Kavanagh, ideology is perpetuated through institutional apparatuses. Analyze Jin’s educational experiences in the formal academic setting, from third grade to middle school. How is education shown to be a medium of ideology in that it “encourages [individuals] to ‘see’ their specific place in a historically peculiar social formation as inevitable, natural, a necessary function of the ‘real’ itself”?
d. If, according to Kavanagh, “Ideology designates a rich ‘system of representation,’ worked up in specific material practices,” then popular culture is another apparatus in the construction of ideology, particularly in the construction of racial representations. What role does media/popular culture play in the novel in the transmission of ideology?
Consider, for example: By setting up the Chin-Kee storyline as a type of sitcom, complete with its own laugh track, Yang reveals how racist rhetoric is transmitted and assisted through reiterative cultural practices in the mass media that seem “harmless.” If Chin-Kee is part of the legacy of the American mass media, what does the novel convey about the efforts of the minority group to claim control over their own image?