in Search of A Voice
Karaoke and the Construction of Identity in Chinese America
Routledge – 1996 – 144 pages
Series: Everyday Communication Series
Originating in Japan early in the 1970s as a simple sing-along technology, karaoke has become a hybrid media form designed to integrate mass-mediated popular music, video images, computer graphics, and the live musical performance of its human users. Not only has karaoke become a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry, its varied uses have also evolved into diverse popular cultural and social practices among many people around the world. Based on a two-year ethnographic study, this book offers a penetrating analysis of how karaoke is used in the expression, maintenance, and (re)construction of social identity as part of the Chinese American experience. It also explores the theoretical implications of interaction between the media audience and karaoke as both an electronic communication technology and a cultural practice.
This book analyzes the social origins of karaoke and the dramaturgical characteristics of karaoke events, and explains how various musical genres are reframed as karaoke music. It also visits the numerous karaoke scenes in their natural context -- the sites of the actual consumption of media products, such as expensive private homes and fancy hotel ballrooms in the affluent suburbs of New Jersey, working-class restaurants and nightclubs in the multiethnic neighborhoods in Flushing, Queens, and Cantonese opera music clubs in New York's Chinatown. Finally, the book offers an intimate analysis of how karaoke has been adopted by several interpretive communities of first-generation Chinese immigrants not only as popular entertainment but also as a means to help (re)define their social identity and way of life.
"This book is part of an ongoing research program on the cultural history of Chinese-language media in the United States, which includes three earlier publications by Lum."
"Lum specializes in communication and is knowledgeable about Chinese American communities. He fully understands the power of this new combination of culture and technology, yet is able to approach the topic objectively. This book is useful to those who study Amercian immigrant history, anthropology, Asian and Asian American studies, Chinese and Chinese American studies, communications, ethnomusicology, history of technology, intercultural studies, psychology, and sociology."
"In Search of a Voice will certainly prove to be valuable as supplemental reading in both introductory and advanced courses in interpersonal, mass mediated and intercultural communication and, hopefully in the not too distant future, courses in music as a form of communication."
—The New Jersey Journal of Communication
"…an admirable job putting forth an insightful analysis of musical processes, media, and socio-economic institutions involved in the history of the Chinese American immigrant experience.
—1997 Yearbook for Traditional Music
"…karaoke is one form of musical participation, very prevalent in some settings, and this ethnographic study addresses a number of issues of more general concern in the study of popular music."
—Review and Criticism
"With its unique subject matter and its in-depth discussions of the communities, this highly informative and very readable book is a timely and valuable contribution to the small but steadily growing body of cultural studies of Chinese Americans and Asian Americans."
"With its unique subject matter and its in-depth discussions of the communities, this highly informative and very readable book is a timely and valuable contribution to the small but steadily growing body of cultural studies in Chinese Americans and Asian Americans."
—Asian Music: Fall/Winter 1998/1999
Contents: N. Postman, Foreword. Series Editors' Preface. Understanding Karaoke as Communication. Media in the Chinese American Experience: The Formation and Mediation of the Diaspora. Karaoke as Cultural Connection and Translation: The Voice of a Hong Kong Cantonese Community in New York's Chinatown. Karaoke as Status Symbol: The Voice of a Taiwanese Community in the Affluent Suburbs of New Jersey. Karaoke as Escape: The Voice of a Malaysian Chinese Community in Flushing, New York. Karaoke and the Construction of Identity. Appendix: Notes on Methodology.