Strange Future

Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

Strange Future

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 17 b&w photos, 2 figures Published: November 2005

Author: Min Hyoung Song

American Studies, Asian American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Sometime near the start of the 1990s, the future became a place of national decline. The United States had entered a period of great anxiety fueled by the shrinking of the white middle class, the increasingly visible misery of poor urban blacks, and the mass immigration of nonwhites. Perhaps more than any other event marking the passage through these dark years, the 1992 Los Angeles riots have sparked imaginative and critical works reacting to this profound pessimism. Focusing on a wide range of these creative works, Min Hyoung Song shows how the L.A. riots have become a cultural-literary event—an important reference and resource for imagining the social problems plaguing the United States and its possible futures.

Song considers works that address the riots and often the traumatic place of the Korean American community within them: the independent documentary Sa-I-Gu (Korean for April 29, the date the riots began), Chang-rae Lee’s novel Native Speaker, the commercial film Strange Days, and the experimental drama of Anna Deavere Smith, among many others. He describes how cultural producers have used the riots to examine the narrative of national decline, manipulating language and visual elements, borrowing and refashioning familiar tropes, and, perhaps most significantly, repeatedly turning to metaphors of bodily suffering to convey a sense of an unraveling social fabric. Song argues that these aesthetic experiments offer ways of revisiting the traumas of the past in order to imagine more survivable futures.


“’The strange’ in the works Song addresses can help create new ways of thinking about the past and the future, though possible pathways to optimism about that future are left largely undiscovered.” — Stacey Peebles, American Literature

Strange Future, and its texts, demand and deserve our full attention.” — Nancy Abelmann, Journal of Social History

“[T]he author’s historical observations are both sensible and provocative. . . .” — Leo J. Mahoney, Multicultural Review

“[T]his book is an important contribution to Asian American studies. Not only scholars in Asian American literature but also social scientists studying Asian Americans can learn a great deal from this book about how to analyze social and political problems affecting Asian American experiences by reviewing major cultural products.”
— Pyong Gap Min, Journal of Asian American Studies

"Clearly-written." — Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

“Min Hyoung Song’s Strange Future asks of us—a public formed by the Los Angeles riots of 1992—what is to be done with the will to revolution in light of the injustices mounting since the 1990s? Clearing precious critical space, Song exemplifies our capture by and necessary revisitation of 1992, as neither fatalism nor melancholy, but a careful hermeneutic of the event and its aftermath: a working-through that is a provision for a possible future. This is a thoughtful work for our serious times.” — Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics

“This is one of the most enjoyable, well-written Asian American studies books I have read in the last few years. Min Hyoung Song’s work is a testament to writing well when saying something important.” — Kent Ono, coauthor of Shifting Borders: Rhetoric, Immigration, and California's Proposition 187


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Min Hyoung Song is Associate Professor of English at Boston College. He is a coeditor of Asian American Studies: A Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Introduction: When the Strange Erupts in Culture 1

1. Racial Geography of Southern California 27

2. The Black Body in Pain: Rodney King and Strange Days 68

3. Culture of Wounding: The Riots and Twilight 100

4. Mourning Los Angeles 134

5. A Diasporic Future? Historical Trauma and Native Speaker 165

Epilogue: Bearer of Bad News 199

Notes 215

Works Cited 257

Filmography 271

Index 273
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3592-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3579-5
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