so im on spring break which means im just lounging about, you know just chillin…and lots of random web surfing. these days in general, thanks to that random ucla girls rant about asians in the library, it seems the theme is asian americans in media (which means mostly unknown-by-the-masses web stuff).
so one of the things that i rant about is the lack of as well as the stereotypical portrayal of asian americans (especially males) in popular media. well, part of that may be our fault as a race because pursuing a career in the entertainment/biz/arts is not exactly encouraged in most asian homes (okay im going to be writing a lot of generalizations, i know). but that issue aside, the lack of exposure and well-rounded portrayals of asian americans in popular media has bothered me for some time. unless someone actually spends significant time with an asian, popular media and stereotypes are the default ideas of asians. so here’s a little outline of where im going with this (for the lazy readers and for the list-making thinker in me):
i. the stereotypes
ii. the asian american man
iii. some steps forward
iv. random stuff ive found
I. THE STEREOTYPES
– all asians are chinese (yeah the new “karate kid” about KUNG-FU in CHINA, not KARATE in JAPAN, didnt help with that)
– all asians can’t drive (okay this may be partly true. but think about it, what kind of car do you drive? just wondering. has anyone been in a car in japan? man, they drive in both directions down a street that is the size of one of our lanes in america, with bikes, pedestrians, and sometimes with a rice paddy on the side!)
– all asians are good at math (im not. im an english teacher. my wife would say its not so much that we are naturally good at it but that we had to work a lot at it. you know brain research says that you can actually grow your intelligence with lots of practice. actually the reason why many asians are good at math is because our parents would beat us if we have mediocre grades.)
– all asians know martial arts (i mean it would be awesome if we all did, but seriously? asians aren’t necessarily known for their athleticism. its not like that dreyers ice cream commerical with the old man, where we can suddenly bust out into flips and stuff. but go jeremy lin!)
– asian women are submissive exotic sexual creatures (you know that lucy liu dominatrix dragon lady stuff. in terms of submissive, doode, have you watched any asian dramas lately? they are boss! they are definitely not all submissive…if anything more sassy and abusive. asian americans girls are even less submissive because…they live in AMERICA! yeah, asian girls dont know any special tricks anymore than the next person. they are definitely beautiful but they still have snot, fart, and get messed up hair and all that other very human stuff. although its a stereotype, i guess in the general sense asian females are seen as attractive. not so their counter-parts, which leads to the next major point.)
II. THE ASIAN AMERICAN MAN
unfortunately, asian american men are still cast in stereotypical roles and are largely portrayed as:
– inarticulate (still unable to speak to english, or if they do they are unable to speak powerfully)
– asexual (or not sexually attractive to the opposite sex)
– or just fricken weird
now i actually like some of the hard work these actors have done, but really america? is that the only way we can see asian american men?
as an asian american boy growing up and even as a man now it was challenging not to see any more well rounded portrayals of asian american men. especially, in those awkward teen years not to see anyone that looked like you in anything you watched on television and movies…not anything cool and desirable anyway. in media in asia there are asian men that are seen as SEXY! gasp! so how come when they live in a different country, especially a country that boasts of a melting pot, they are not only seen as aliens in the figurative sense but actually portrayed as looking and acting like physical aliens…as in from another planet and as something to run from rather than run toward?
but there has been some progress…
III. SOME STEPS FORWARD
– i dunno if you remember this short lived tv mini-series called “vanishing son.” even though he was only half asian, he was an asian american that was actually protrayed as speaking english and was desirable to women. that was a big step.
– “better luck tomorrow.” this movie was big for asian american males and asian americans in general. it actually protrayed asian americans in america and didnt even focus on the race/ethnicity thing. it just told a story that cast asian american actors. it showed the good and the bad side of asian americans. it was even loosely based on true events. many people just couldnt accept this type of portrayal of asian americans doing deviant things. even roger ebert had to stand up for us! now i know it wasnt a totally positive portrayal…but it was human. i remember even some of my asian american friends didnt want to see this movie. they felt it too weird to see asians americans on screen. i was like wtheck!?! it was like this internalized racism. if asian americans arent ready and willing to see asian americans on screen how could we expect the rest of america to be willing?
– john cho. i like this guy. he’s one of the few asian american men that i feel have really made it to the mainstream. he’s funny, down to earth, good-looking, speaks english clearly, and is an asian american. he started off on side roles but then he was actually cast as a romantic lead (granted it was beta-guy-comedy) in a film that many people in america actually watched.
– sung kang. from fast and furious fame. he is the “cool” asian guy. thats cool.
– daniel dae kim. he is an example of the man in transition as a metaphor for the asian american man in transition of portrayals. in “lost” (i miss that show so much!) he went from the korean wife suppressor that didnt speak english to learning english and showing his tenderness. he still hasnt moved off the island of hawaii in his roles (well he did do work before in tv, who knows that stuff right?) but now in “hawaii-five-0” (with grace park!) he is shown as a pretty competent english speaking, supporting lead law enforcer. he can solve crimes and he rides a pretty bad motorcycle. to me he’s not really good looking (but im a guy so what does my opinion matter in that area…some people love him!) but america is getting more used to him. thats good.
IV. RANDOM STUFF I’VE FOUND
lastly, i’d like to share with you some asian american media stuff i’ve found, which is still relatively niche in terms of general pop knowledge that has grown outside of the asian american bubble. but heres a step to circulate it more broadly and get some word out.
ON THE INTERNET:
– kevjumba. he’s a youtube star, that even jessica alba knows. haha. he’s not amazing hilarious but he seems like a pretty entertaining guy who doesnt take himself too seriously.
– nigahiga. he’s also big on youtube but what makes him a little different is he’s apparently a little more photogenic and came out in a short film.
ON TV (ok, i know most of this stuff is no longer on air and is pretty mainstream but i just had to write about them):
– “lost” seriously, this show was so amazing, especially as a literature major. the characters were so well developed and examined, it was like you grew to know them intimately to the point where one could anticipate their responses to events. for example the kwons looked like a typical korean couple but so many layers were unearthed it turned the stereotypes inside out and revealed such a great story. the show also played with every conceivable way to tell a story in time (limited perspective with flashback – season 1, alternate perspective of the same time – season 2, past leading to present perspective – season 3, future leading to present perspectives – season 4, time travel perspectives – season 5, and parallel universe perspectives – final season).
– “battlestar galactica.” ok, hold back from your mind clips from “the office”, the campy original series, and geeky sci-fi stuff. this re-envisioning of the show was a great human drama that explored often taboo subjects such as religion, identity, death, ethics, and politics with such engaging complexity, style, and depth…the story just happened to be in outer space. the asian american on the show, grace park, is not only a hottie but plays two pretty important roles (dont want to give away too much).
– “outsourced” whats amazing about this show is that its set in another country and the majority of the cast is south asian…and its on a major american network! its a funny and endearing show to me. some people say it engenders stereotypes but it actually pokes fun at both worlds and gives you characters that you can care about.
ON “REALITY” TV (hopefully soon):
– “k-town.” theres been a lot of buzz about this show (which is like a “jersey shore” with asians) but i heard its been picked up. many asian americans are wincing about this show. i know it doesn’t portray asians in a positive light but it does what most shows don’t…it actually portrays them…in america. the model minority and fobby minority myths need to be broken down. any portrayal of a people group needs to be 3 dimensional, not just flat notions…that means the good, the bad, and the ugly.
– to learn a little about the k-town (korea town in los angeles) culture i found this web series to be educational and entertaining.
IN THE PROSE / BLOG WORLD:
– angry asian man by a guy.
– disgrasian by two girls.
IN THE PROSE / PRINT WORLD:
– “american born chinese” by gene luen yang. great story / fable / commentary / comic.
– no this isnt new by any means but it really rocked my world when i read it in college. no-no boy by john okada
– priscilla ahn. her sound is smooth with just enough quirky ness
– susie suh. soulful and deep. you seriously have to check her out.
– ken oak band. im not super into male vocalists so i havent really listened to him that much. but he seems well liked. he actually discipled my brother for a bit. sad thing i heard…some music industry people liked his sound but when they found out he was asian they were like nevermind. : (
unfortunately a lot of stuff that i’ve seen is just kind of so-so, apart from “better luck tomorrow.” but here is one that stands out in my mind.
– “charlotte sometimes.” its understated but pretty deep.
– “white on rice.” (<- thats the whole movie on hulu) i just had to throw this one in. not super amazing but entertaining. the main character is a little difficult to watch…think michael scott but more akward.
IN COMEDY (profanity warning):
– russell peters. this guy is hilarious…at least to the asians i know. he does so many great ethnic impersonations.
– joe wong. he is fobby and his delivery is so deadpan and akward…but super witty…you actually have to think a second to understand the punchlines.
– aiko tanaka. she is also fobby and random, but so charming and funny.
– david so. i found him through his web response to that UCLA girls racist rant about asians. his delivery is so hilarious, especially his facial expressions.
speaking of that racist ucla girls rant, this was one of the most endearing and loving responses…and a really catchy song.
and speaking of asians in the library. this site is interesting.
hope you had fun! and thanks for reading. please share any comments!