For centuries, white people have traveled to Asian countries to gawk at how "exotic" the culture is there. This is still widely accepted behavior, and one you're likely to see on TikTok in the form of a white person making a video about how "cute" a Japanese convenience store is, for example. To a Japanese person, of course, it is simply a normal convenience store.
Asian Americans on TikTok are flipping the script on this new expression of Orientalism by turning it back on white Americans. In the "Americancore" hashtag, Asian people are now traveling to the far reaches of Walmart to show off how "aesthetic" American culture is.
Americans used to gawk at statues made from ivory, bamboo parasols, kimonos, and mah-jongg sets. Now they go to Asian grocery stores and make videos about the snacks they buy. This is especially evident when you check out hashtags like "asiancore" or "japancore" on Instagram or TikTok, which portray a mishmash of Japanese and Korean cultural exports as a Tumblr aesthetic for white people to participate in.
At least on TikTok, young Asian Americans are over it. In response, some TikTok users have created a new aesthetic: Americancore. You know what's really Americancore? Going to Walmart:
These videos are pretty much identical to videos of people going to their local Asian grocery stores, down to the pale, pastel pink filter and the music they use. According to Stitch, a freelance culture critic who has written on the complex role of race in western K-Pop fandom, the satire in these videos is a subversive reclaiming of a narrative of Asianness that is forced on Asian people.
"I’ve always side-eyed those videos of white vloggers/tourists going into Asian grocery stores or street markets and recording themselves basking in this 'exotic' but also generic fantasy-land experience. These videos, for many people, form a narrative that shapes what outsiders think a particular culture is like, and they’re not meant for Asian people at all in this case because they’re almost treated like museum exhibits," Stitch told Motherboard. "I find [Americancore] videos subversive and hilarious because white audiences never get that these videos couldn’t exist without the 'oh I went to my local Asian grocery today and was shocked at ____' videos. They’re reacting to a very modern form of Orientalism and mocking it right in front of its salad, on the platform it was popularized on."
Some people on TikTok are expanding Americancore videos beyond just mocking westerners that go to Asian grocery stores. Check out these people's favorite Americancore hobbies, like eating the traditional American hamburger, going to a traditional American rodeo, or starting a coup in a developing nation because they democratically elected a socialist leader.
Flattening the cultures of different Asian peoples into trends and aesthetics is nothing new. In fact, these ideas are at the basis of postcolonial studies academic Edward Said's foundational book Orientalism, which states that the tendency of the the Western world to turn other people and cultures into objects of study—without input from the people they're studying—reduces people into symbols, making it easier for western imperialists to control.