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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Archive for the ‘Dissertation’ Category

The Road Goes Ever On

Charlie Chan Takes a Siesta

“Very old Chinese wise man once say, madness twin brother of genius because each live in world created by own ego — one sometimes mistaken for other.”

– Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) in Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

In addition to updating this blog and writing the occasional review for LoveHKFilm.com, a lot of my time has been dedicated to completing my doctoral dissertation in a timely fashion. To date, I’m about two-hundred-and-fifty pages into a first draft with at least three more chapters and an epilogue to go. I’ve mentioned the content of my dissertation before, so I won’t reiterate the details here, aside from saying that part of its focus has everything to do with the fictional character, Charlie Chan.

During this intensive research process, I have read every single Charlie Chan novel ever written (even those not written by original author Earl Derr Biggers), heard every surviving radio show, seen all of the Alfred Andriola comic strip, and perused every issue of the short-lived Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine. On top of that, I’ve watched all thirty-nine episodes of the 1957 television series, the sixteen episodes that comprise the Hannah Barbara cartoon, the never-before-released-on-home-video TV movie, and the final 1981 crapfest that ostensibly ended the franchise.

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The Specter of Charlie Chan

“What’s your dissertation about?” That’s a question I get asked fairly often when people learn I’m working towards my PhD in literature. With that in mind, I thought I’d use Ronin on Empty to address that very question. Usually, I like to play things close to the vest for fear that someone might steal my idea or some other similiar paranoid thought. But seeing as how I’m pretty far along in the project, and I’m actually declaring myself here “in print,” you’d have to be one bold bastard to try to rip me off. So, for those who are interested, here’s my dissertation concept:

 Specter of Charlie Chan

Who is Charlie Chan, and why does he remain such a controversial figure? Created by Earl Derr Biggers in the early 1920s, the Honolulu-based Chinese detective appeared in six widely popular mystery novels. And beginning in 1931, the Fox Film Corporation spearheaded the creation of an even more successful “Charlie Chan” film series – running nearly fifty movies in total – first starring Swedish actor Warner Oland and later American actors Sidney Toler and Roland Winters in the title role. Beloved by Depression-era viewers nationwide and hailed as a progressive depiction of a Chinese character amidst a sea of crass Orientalist stereotypes, Charlie Chan was far from the controversial figure he is today. Since the late 1960s, revivals of Chan, particularly on the silver screen, have drawn protests and condemnation from the Asian American community. Despite the tremendous success of the character prior to the end of World War II, Charlie Chan eventually lost his status as a beloved matinee icon, as his name alone became a kind of shorthand for the racist stereotyping of Asians in the popular American imaginary. In less than a half-century’s time, Chan has gone from celebrated hero to an object of scorn and ridicule. What accounts for his precipitous fall from grace? And how is it that an ostensibly moribund character such as Charlie Chan can persist in his refusal “to go gentle into that good night”?

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