XO magazine puts Asian-American men in a new light

August 01, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Just in for the hip Asian-American man is the new magazine XO, touted as the first national publication targeted at a readership often perceived as industrious, servile and square.

Varying parts Men's Health, Scientific American, Playboy and Omni, the first issue of the California-based magazine includes articles such as "Are Men Obsolete?" (a lengthy essay about women's empowerment fueling "a needless war between the sexes") and "Japan's Last Chance" (about the change required for the country to remain an economic powerhouse).

"We stay away from athletes and movie stars," says editor Tom Kagy. "We're more interested in things that have an effect on the way men live -- major socioeconomic shifts in the workplace that will change the standard of living and major social shifts."

XO's cover story, "Aloha Law," is a lighthearted question-and-answer about University of Hawaii senior Michele Wong. Besides being a college senior and aspiring lawyer, Ms. Wong is a two-time beauty pageant winner and swimsuit model. Along with the insightful questions -- "Are you a beach person?" "Are your parents tall?" -- are eight pictures of her in skimpy swimwear and lingerie.

"I don't think there's getting around the value of sex appeal," says Mr. Kagy, a Korean-American. "I think we go beyond that. In terms of the intellectual part of the magazine, I think you'll admit [sex] is just a small part of the magazine. It's sort of a visual foil for the serious intellectual topics."

Sales are brisk in California, says Mr. Kagy, where Asian-Americans comprise nearly 10 percent of the state's population. Baltimore-area readers can order the magazine through subscription only.

Advocacy groups say the time has come for more Asian-American-oriented magazines. There are more than 20 publications around the country, mainly with regional readership.

"Unfortunately, Asian-American and Pacific-Islander men are portrayed with negative stereotypes," says Daphne Kwok, executive director of the Washington-based Organization of Chinese-Americans. "They belong to gangs. They work in the service industries. Or, on the other end, they are all scientists and mathematicians and doing extremely well -- the whole model minority myth.

"I hope that XO will be a positive force for Asian-American men," she says. "I hope it will be substantive and that it would not be one that stereotypes Asians."

The Asian-American population in the United States has more than doubled in the past 10 years, going from 3.5 million in 1980 to 7.2 million in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority of Asian-Americans are of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese descent.

While mainstream America portrays Asian men as bespectacled nerds, industrious geniuses and busy workers toiling in factories, XO's version is quite the opposite. Articles center on Asian men as being seductive, hot-blooded and on the cutting edge.

"We've taken the step of breaking free of the social restrictions that have hampered Asian magazines or the Asian media from taking chances, from taking gambles, from being bold, from presenting the truth as Asians see it," says Mr. Kagy.

"I think now there is getting to be quite a sizable audience of Asian men who identify themselves more as Americans," he says, "so they prefer to read English-speaking magazines more than [those in] their native tongue."

Each issue of XO promises to show success strategies for "fast, visible results and rewards," as well as "techniques for awakening your physical, emotional, intellectual and sexual powers" and analyses of "emerging social shifts that are restructuring our lives."

The magazine is for the "intelligent, well-educated, forward-looking but very red-blooded man," Mr. Kagy says. "He's still interested in the basic animal, like sex, like money. He would like to be powerful. He would like to be strong and wealthy. We sort of promote it as a manual for men's power."

In addition to XO, Malibu, Calif.-based Transpacific Media Inc. publishes Transpacific and the 2-year-old Face, a counterpart magazine for Asian women that covers traditional issues such as health and beauty.

Transpacific, the company's gender-neutral, general interest magazine, began six years ago as a venture by a Russian-American lawyer and five Asian-American entrepreneurs, including actor George Takei of "Star Trek" fame.

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