By Oliver Wang, asianavenue.com
June 22, 2001
Kip Fulbeck’s plants his feet in a jigsaw world. At any given moment, he can be an artist/academic/author/actor/auteur/lifeguard (yes, lifeguard).
Now a professor at UC Santa Barbara, Fulbeck first came to prominence with a series of film shorts focusing on everything from hapa identity (Banana Split) to interracial relationships (Some Questions for 28 Kisses) to kung-fu fetishizing (Sex, Love and Kung Fu) as well as his solo performance, I Hope You Don’t Mind Me Asking, But…
Fulbeck’s latest project is his first book, Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography (University of Washington Press, 2001) where he fashions a new Kip Fulbeck—an invented doppelganger of his imagination.
Like his artistic works, Paper Bullets reflects many of the same issues that Fulbeck has long meditated over—sex, love, masculinity and race. These have been major concerns reflected over by other Asian American authors, notably David Mura, Joy Kogawa and Shawn Wong, but Fulbeck drives to hit a rawer nerve.
He deliberately pushes for the reader’s reactions to the confessions of his exploits which include getting massaged by a prostitute, indulging in a white-only dating phase and watching a man drown while doing nothing to help.
The fact that the Kip Fulbeck in Paper Bullets is as much fiction as fact can be frustrating at times—the book’s character can come off as shockingly arrogant and slyly sexist, yet it’d be premature to assume that “Fulbeck” is indeed, Fulbeck.
As the book’s sometimes antagonizing protagonist says about his artwork, “I want it to f-ck my audience.” Consider yourself warned.
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How does one sit down and write a fictional autobiography? What do you choose to keep from your life? What do you choose to embellish?
“The biggest thing about the fictional biography is I think we create our own fictions anyway. We all have a uncle or grandparent that tells the same story at every New Year’s and gradually the story becomes family myth and just becomes legend. I think most people writing memoirs embellish things all the time. I just tended to embellish some of the negative stuff more.”
Which means what?
“Trying to create the character that was really me but not me got really difficult after a while. It got hard because there were times that I really didn’t like him.
“I remember doing a reading for a class one time and I was at that part about grading the women’s butts coming in the door of [an] amusement park. I had to stop reading and apologize to the class because I felt like such an a–hole reading it in first person.”
Are you worried at all that people will think the Kip Fulbeck in the book is what you’re actually like?
“It’s just one of those things where I just said I have to write without fear. I want the book to be a positive experience and I think if you read the surface level of the “me” character, it’s offensive. He offends me at times, he’s really sexist, but we don’t get anywhere in this world if we articulate very politely and then go back to our respective cliques and start talking our own smack again.
“I notice that teaching Asian American Studies, we’d have these issues about interracial dating or gender depictions on screen and it’d be really polite and people would try to sound smart. After class, these guys would come up and be trying to do the “brother” thing, [saying], “Yo, that was f-cked up” and [I’d ask], “Why didn’t you say that in class?” “I just don’t think we get anywhere that way.”
Let me ask then—you spend a good deal of time in the book exploring issues of race and masculinity, especially for Asian men. What do you see as some of the fundamental problems?
“I think Asian men have tremendous masculinity as much as any other man in the world but we happen to live in a culture that dictates the way we measure masculinity because we’re brainwashed through media.”
Could you elaborate?
“The whole way that we measure male strength in this country is skewed against Eastern standards in some ways. We view strength here by how much you can control this, or how physically strong are you or how tall are you?
“I have a nephew that can recite pi … he can literally just spew it out. That’s kind of an odd thing, but the amount it takes to study to become a cellist like Yo Yo Ma or to master physics or to be a calculus wiz, these are things that Asian men, as a whole, have a proficiency for. They’re not equated with masculinity in the West and they’re not equated as measures of strength and that’s a big problem.”
One of the consequences is a great deal of Asian male anger—you must deal with this with your own students. What do you do with all that frustration and rage?
“I think the anger is a certain stage in your life that you have to get through. I certainly had that anger. I deal with these guys on a regular basis, people like I was—and trying to deal with that through anger and ripping on your sisters, it just digs you deeper into this hole that there’s no escape from.”
“Who would want to date a guy that’s just bitching and moaning all the time?”
Speaking of media images, I noticed that pop culture figures heavily into the book—you quote countless pieces of movie scripts throughout. Why such a big focus on films?
“It’s been my biggest teacher. It’s really cool that now I can talk about pop culture and not as many people roll their eyes because it’s become a legitimate form of academic surveying. My original preface to the book was a list of movies that I walked out of in my life, which was three pages. I can’t handle how stupid [movie studios] think I am. It’s just infuriating.”
In that case, what was the last movie to kick your ass?
“Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (A One and a Two…). The development of character in that was amazing.”
Obligatory Asian American question—what did you think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
“I liked Crouching Tiger. I think it’s really funny to hear people ejaculating all over it though, saying it’s the greatest film ever made. Have they never seen a kung fu movie? I grew up with this stuff. Crouching Tiger was cool, but nothing outrageous.”