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Virtual OrientalismAsian Religions and American Popular Culture$
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Jane Iwamura

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738601.001.0001

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The Monk Goes Hollywood

The Monk Goes Hollywood

Kung Fu

(p.111) 4 The Monk Goes Hollywood
Virtual Orientalism

Jane Naomi Iwamura

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at the figure of Kwai Chang Caine and his Shaolin monk teachers in the popular 1970s TV series, Kung Fu. At this moment, a fictional Monk takes his place alongside representations of historical figures, making the hyperreal effect discussed in previous chapters complete. Kung Fu also marks the rise of a new generation into cultural power, whose attempts to selectively wed their parents’ ideals with their own counter-cultural values are clearly seen in America’s first “Eastern Western.” The racial politics of the show are specifically discussed, from the casting of David Carradine as the “half-Chinese, half-American” fugitive priest to the storylines that often feature minority characters. The way in which racial minorities are scripted into each episode reveals a potent commentary on contemporary race relations in the early 1970s. Ultimately, the show individualizes the politics of race and ideally configures a spiritual approach to social oppression.

Keywords:   Kung Fu, David Carradine, television, the Western, Shaolin, counterculture, hegemony, gender, China, race relations

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