Techno-Orientalism Interview with Dr. David Roh

This month I sat down with Dr. David Roh from Old Dominion University to talk about Technoculture and Techno-Orientalism.

Our conversation focused on Techno-Orientalism as it relates to Technoculture as a whole. We also discussed how this topic relates to gender and how Techno-Orientalism is complicated by the east looking inward instead of the west looking east. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Also be sure to take a look at his upcoming book on Techno-Orientalism and his website at


That was a fascinating overview, Dr. R! 

I'm intrigued by the mixture of de-humanizing as well as elevation of skill that goes into a Western "admiration" of technological advances / embodiments --  even when spun positively as in, to grab a recent example, Big Hero 6.  The embodiment aspect seems crucial to me as a source of anxiety and power.  The friendly, caretaking, nanny-ishness and the setting of Sanfranyoko seem (and I've only seen trailers, so I may be very wrong)  to speak to a concern about loss of distinct national identity as well as individual identity in megacities even as the quality of life and safety is improved.  That, perhaps, our agency will be lost?  

Does Iwabuchi's idea of cultural odor  tie in productively to the techno-orientalist conversation, I wonder?  The fragrance of a geisha + the odorlessness of a cyborg

Your comments about labor practices and the treatment of Oriental workers as machine like reminded me of the movie I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay.  Admittedly, a confection of movie with Rain, but some striking moments nonetheless. 


Syd, I also thought of Big Hero 6 when I listened to Dr. Roh's interview. While the landscape of the San Fransokyo seemed to be a seamless melding of Japanese and American culture, with such examples as the Golden Gate Bridge topped with a pagoda style and the trolleys decorated with paper lanterns, the setting is in the United States rather than Japan and all of the characters are American. The main character, Hiro Hamada, may be Japanese-American, but he is depicted primarily as an American teenager, more interested in making money and looking cool (can't go to "nerd school" if he's going to be a hip, fighting-robot designer) than in putting his talents to use for the good of others. It is the character of the caretaker robot Baymax who displays the most "Japanese" characteristics as he is polite, puts the welfare of others first, and is ultimately trained in the art of karate (making him a ninja-warrior, despite his soft demeanor and build). Baymax starts to adapt to American culture (with much of it acting as comic relief rather than an examination of the process of acculturating) and is harnessed for Hiro's schemes, with the boy taking advantage of Baymax's naivety to pursue his own ends. For this film, though I completely adore it and am trying not to give spoilers, Japanese culture and stereotypes become a foundation upon which American-ness (in its characters and in the values they represent) comes to save the day.  

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