Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rest in power, the Minority Militant, a.k.a. Keon Enoy Munedouang

Keon Enoy Munedouang (1980-2016)

NOTE: A few more remembrances of the Minority Militant have surfaced online, in addition to the remembrances I linked to in my post below. One of his three sisters says goodbye to him and writes that "You lived your life through your convictions and didn't care what anyone thought of you. I had no idea, the extent in which your writing impacted the Asian American community." Slant Eye for the Round Eye's Adam Chau, who once made a guest appearance on this blog, has posted substantial excerpts from the best of the Minority Militant's cordoned-off Blogspot blog. Over at Reappropriate, Jenn Fang points out that though "TMM occupied a corner of the Asian American blogosphere that had little overlap with my own" and "we may not know one another offline," the Asian American blogosphere is close-knit, and his passing affects everyone in our community.

If you regularly read several blogs written by Asian American authors or you're active in the Asian American blogosphere, you're going to be hearing a lot in the next few days about a reclusive political blogger who wrote under the alias of the Minority Militant. From 2008 to 2010, the Chicago-based Keon Enoy Munedouang, a Laotian American military vet who was found dead last week in Montrose Harbor at the way-too-young age of 35, was one of my favorite Asian American bloggers, whether he was criticizing self-hating Asians who stupidly undergo plastic surgery to look more white, describing right-wing moron Michelle Malkin as a pundit who is "so far right she fell off the edge of a stoop and landed in a pile of jizz after a conservative gangbang convention" or mocking old Vietnamese American Republicans who supported the presidential campaign of Arizona senator John McCain, who had no qualms about continuing to refer to the Vietnamese in public as "gooks" due to the torture he experienced as a Vietnam War P.O.W.

While Phil Yu over at the much more popular blog Angry Asian Man was trying to make "That's racist!" a thing, Keon's favorite catchphrase over at TMM had him consigning the likes of Malkin, or as I like to call her, Uncle Ruckus, and extremely corny Iron Chef America host Mark Dacascos to "the chicken coop." Ken Jeong and former Entourage regular Rex Lee would have wanted to put a foot in Keon's ass for the negative things he wrote on his blog about the comedic (and sometimes controversial in Asian American circles) characters they've played. Jo Koy, a favorite stand-up of Keon's who agreed to a selfie with Keon after one of his shows, clearly didn't know what to make of Keon and ran as far the fuck away from Keon as he could when he requested to do an interview with him for his blog. Keon's drunken appearance at a panel for a 2009 Asian American blogger conference known as BANANA, an embryonic version of the annual L.A. digital media conference that's known today as V3con, alienated some of the other panelists and people in the USC campus audience who weren't familiar with his blog.

Keon's writing wasn't for everybody. It was highly opinionated and outspoken writing (he once wrote, "I am relentless about racism. I cuss like a foul-mouthed sailor"), and he was much more outspoken than Phil, who--while there's no disputing that Phil's a legend in the Asian American blogosphere who has done a lot of good in terms of Asian American representation, speaking out against Asian-bashing and promoting the work of other Asian American authors--has never really been as enjoyably scathing or as in-depth a writer as Keon (or someone like Emily Yoshida over at The Verge or my current favorite Asian American blogger, playwright Philip W. Chung over at YOMYOMF).

I never got to meet Keon face-to-face. All of our brief conversations took place only in comments sections and via e-mail. But I was a regular part of Keon's blog. I drew and designed the header that appeared every day at the top of his posts, back when I was in the middle of an ultimately unsuccessful phase in which I attempted to become a cartoonist and graphic designer. Keon was my only graphic design client.

The logo Keon commissioned me to draw for his blog

Keon was a fan of the webcomic I drew and posted for a couple of years over on this blog. In fact, he was the only fan of the webcomic. Not even I'm a fan of my own webcomic. In fact, I've been considering deleting almost all of the webcomic's installments from my blog. They're that embarrassing. But Keon was the only person--other than my parents and an online friend of mine, current DC Comics letterer Janice Chiang--who believed in my artwork at the time, and I'll always be grateful for that. While some asshole from the discontinued Asian American Movement blog was bashing some of my Minority Militant artwork over in some now-forgotten comments section somewhere, Keon always stood by my artwork.

I never agreed with Keon's choice for his blog header though. He wanted me to draw him wearing a hoodie emblazoned with "TMM," and out of all the header options I designed for him, he liked the one with him in a hoodie the most, but I never really cared for that one. I made Keon look too much like a Jules Feiffer cartoon. A header he rejected, in which I inserted a photo of a bruised and beaten Uncle Sam, was, to me, much more effective at reflecting the pugnaciousness and candidness of Keon's writing than the header he picked.

An unused header for Keon's blog

We were fans of each other's work. Keon and I had in common an urge to put Southeast Asians at the forefront of Asian American stories instead of the Chinese American or Japanese American characters who always get to be the lead characters in those narratives, whether it was in that webcomic of mine whose only fan in the world was Keon or a YouTube anthology show Keon wanted to produce and write but was never able to get off the ground. He had a lot of ideas for projects that never went anywhere. For instance, he wanted to self-publish a memoir about his time in the Navy. But that book, in addition to the YouTube webseries, never materialized because, as Byron Wong, an Asian American blogger who's one of many people who are weirdly allergic to my middle initial and was a friend of Keon's ever since their days as regulars at the memorably contentious Asian American online forum Fighting 44s, says during his remembrance of Keon, "TMM had some personal and financial issues during the last few years, but he never stopped working hard at whatever he was doing."

Keon wasn't comfortable with the spotlight, and he wanted his government name kept hidden from the blogosphere, a request I (and several others) went along with. He blotted out his own face in photos of himself and would refer to his girlfriend at the time only as "Lady Militant" on his blog. That unease about the spotlight had to be the reason for Keon's boozy appearance at USC.

Celebrities who hate to plug their TV projects or movies on talk shows often drink or do drugs to calm their nerves before they hit the couch. Harrison Ford is the most famous example of this. On Conan on TBS a few years ago, I couldn't tell if Han Solo smoked a bowl or took some E right before his vaguely hostile conversation with Conan O'Brien, but he was definitely as high as a Corellian kite. Keon was put on blast by many in the Asian American blogosphere for his incoherent behavior at the USC panel, which I didn't attend, but I understood why he was intoxicated like Ford was on Conan: public speaking can be really nerve-wracking, and Keon's way of calming his nerves and medicating that day was to drink. It's not my way of dealing with public speaking--booze is a stupid way to deal with it--but I wasn't surprised to find out that he drank that day.

"The guy from Militant Minority [sic] started off seated at the tables, added a few (mildly cogent) comments here and there, left to refill his drink, came back, moved off the stage to sit in the front row, moved back again to sit next to his friend, and then left the event entirely about an hour into it. Aside from being rude I couldn't help feeling like it was Puck-ish," wrote Jon Yang, who wasn't referring to Puck from Shakespeare and was referring to Puck from MTV's The Real World.

The negative feedback surrounding this rare public appearance from Keon at BANANA made him feel remorseful about his behavior. I have a feeling that his embarrassment about that day, the arguments Chung says Keon got into with other Asian American bloggers and maybe the hostile comments from racist trolls in the Minority Militant comments sections--unfortunately, any time you're an Asian American blogger speaking out against racist bullshit, haters come out to play-aaaay--all led Keon to set his blog to private and later completely withdraw from the Internet. I hate how the BANANA incident became the one thing Keon was best known for in the Asian American blogosphere, rather than for the tons of enjoyably scathing posts he wrote at TMM, which are all posts that can no longer be glimpsed online due to Keon blocking out his blog, unless you type his old URL into the Wayback Machine and click through archived snapshots of his blog over there.

The Keon at BANANA wasn't the Keon I knew. That was just one small side of him. The Keon I knew was a talented writer who, despite his discomfort with the public and perhaps some mental health issues that I suspect were related to PTSD, was passionate and eloquent about giving two underrepresented groups he belonged to--working-class Southeast Asians and Asian American military vets--a voice and making them feel less alone.

Keon didn't care for both the way the Asian American characters were written as being "dickless" and the way Clint Eastwood glamorized the racist attitudes of his own character in Eastwood's 2008 white savior movie Gran Torino.

I lost touch with Keon. My last e-mail exchange with him was in 2009. "Hope you find a job soon. I'm getting my certification in teaching in March and I hope things will normalize from then on. As of now, I'm living on government loans for school," he wrote to me in that final exchange. I still haven't found that job. As for Keon, I never knew if things normalized for him after he fled the Internet.

Thirty-five is too young an age for someone to die. Military vets experience an unimaginable pain many of us will never fully understand. They've seen terrible things we don't often think about. In Rushmore, Bill Murray referred to it as being "in the shit." Pinoy rapper Bambu is another Asian American military vet who had a rough life both before and in the shit, but he managed to survive that rough life, and he's still alive and kicking, plus he has the support of his domestic partner (rapper Rocky Rivera), their son Kahlil Bayani, other rappers and fans of his music to help him get through the pain he sometimes must be feeling due to his time in the military. I'm saddened by how Keon didn't have the kind of support system Bam is lucky to have.

The circumstances that led to Keon's death are currently unknown. I wish he overcame whatever mental health issues he was going through and became less insecure and less intimidated about continuing to take on the hostile nature of the Internet, because then he wouldn't have shut down his blog. I feel like he never really knew how much his readers enjoyed his writing. When Keon blocked out his blog, which resulted in the disappearance of past posts of his that I liked revisiting, and he turned away from his readers and never looked back, he cut himself off from a support system that might have helped in saving his life.

But I don't blame him for turning away from his readers and never looking back. The way he basically said "Bye, Felicia" to a stress-inducing and often heartless place like the Internet was kind of baller, now that I think about it. But the Asian American blogosphere became a slightly lesser place when he walked away from it. Keon's voice was unique and irreplaceable, but there are a few current Asian American personalities out there whose profane and frank voices are similar to the voice Keon left behind. Hari Kondabolu is my current favorite example of a minority militant. Frankly, I think Hari is way more skilled than Keon was at handling humor in regards to race--and laughing to keep from crying. Celebrity chef and Vice travel show host Eddie Huang may not have been as concerned with politics as Keon was back when Rich Homie Huang used to post his writing at Blogger like Keon did, but the Fresh Off the Boat author has in common with Keon a certain pugnaciousness when it comes to dealing with racist bullshit and the emasculation of Asian men. Yo, Is This Racist? podcast host Andrew Ti cusses way more than Keon did and is even more pop-culturally illiterate than Keon kind of was--I remember being amused and mildly irritated by how Keon would always erroneously refer to stand-up routines as "skits" (uh, they're not skits, they're called stand-up routines)--but whenever I see Ti slapping the shit out of the Republican Party over on Tumblr, I feel like Keon has returned to reopen the chicken coop.

Even though I was, in addition to being its logo designer, a regular reader of TMM, there are several pieces of writing from Keon I actually still haven't read, and that's how prolific and energetic a blogger Keon was from 2008 to 2010. While revisiting his blog via the Wayback Machine a few nights ago, I ran into an interview Keon did with a real-life Asian American male porn star who, surprisingly, is far from the kind of doofus I expected to see during the Q&A and has a lot more to say than "Uh, did somebody order a pizza?" A Q&A with an adult film star is the type of blog post you'd never see over at the more family-friendly Angry Asian Man. It was also a TMM post I never read before. It was as if Keon didn't die and he was back in my life again.

"I get angry when I see Asian males being ridiculed in media, and it bothers me when I see so many Asian women with white guys while we never see it the other way around. It bothers me not because I have anything against interracial dating but because I know it's happening for the wrong stereotypical and racist reasons. The only way anything is going to change is we have to raise awareness of the issues in American media and we have to be willing to support those who are out there fighting for our image," said the porn star, who's known professionally as Hung Lo, to Keon.

After Hung Lo discusses his urge to fight the countless ways Asian men are ridiculed, whether in the adult entertainment industry or outside of it, Keon's reply to Hung Lo beautifully sums up the defiant and humorous--as well as much-missed and irreplaceable--attitude of TMM.

"Are you guys hiring?"

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