Love and Capitalism class brings Crazy Rich Asians to Tulane

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We have all heard about the new and fascinating story taking the world by storm: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. To put our newfound interest to good use, the English Department’s Love and Capitalism class, taught by Assistant Professor of English Cheryl Naruse, will be using the book as a lens to understand the workings of romance in a capitalist world.

In an interview with The Hullabaloo, Naruse discussed which aspects of the story the Love and Capitalist class will focus on, and things for non-Singaporeans who are not in the class to keep in mind when reading the book.

Since the story’s popularity is fairly new, many of us may be under the misconception that the novel and movie are all about the lifestyle of the elite on the other side of the world when it is in actuality also a love story.

“Nick and Rachel come from very different class backgrounds and are both idealized figures in the context of the national economies they come from,” Naruse said. “We will be thinking what about the coupling of Nick and Rachel (and the things that prevent their betrothal) is supposed to suggest about the gendered and racial workings of what is sometimes described as the ‘Asian Century.’”

So why do we have this obsession with Crazy Rich Asians? The story follows the lifestyle of people from a country many of us didn’t know existed, and who isn’t even just a little fascinated with royalty? The film has also received praise for straying from the typical American, Hollywood storyline and debuts a cast that is, finally, predominantly Asian.

But can we fully understand the beginnings of Eastern, more specifically Singaporean, culture just from one novel or movie?

“…I continue to have many reservations about it, though I recognize its importance for Asian Americans,” Naruse said. “I guess I would just say that like all Hollywood films, it’s out to make money, so it has limitations and it’s not a film that you should look to for an understanding of Singaporean culture.”

Naruse also mentioned the fact that people who are not familiar with Singaporean culture, will not be able to understand much of the satire laced into the literature. An example would be the maids being nameless and only referred to by their origin and labor, which is a commentary on the elite in Singapore and their reliance on maids. 

In an interview with PRI, Naruse also commented on the lack of representation of actual Singaporeans in the cast.

“I understand the joy that comes with Asian Americans finally getting to see themselves on screen, but if Asian American joy is staged on the backs of Singaporeans, that’s a very colonial model,” Naruse said in the interview. “I think Asian Americans, because they’re contextualizing themselves as minorities, are not remembering that they’re a minority in one of the most powerful countries in the world. Just because we’re talking about Asian Americans — as opposed to white Americans — erasing our history, doesn’t make it less problematic. ”

Though problems like these are things to keep in mind when reading the book or watching the movie, students still may get a kick out of the storyline.

“If you’re looking to learn about Singaporean culture, this isn’t a book I’d recommend,” Naruse said. “But, it’s certainly an entertaining read and I think its appeal tells us something about western readers and our current economic moment.”

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