Asian Americans in Television

April 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm 1 comment

When I asked Arthur Dong about Asian American stereotypes seen today, he pointed out that following the O.J. Simpson trial, Asian Americans were given the roles of scientists/medical personnel in television shows. When I thought about what he said, I was intrigued by this notion. This course is more a survey of media in terms of film, so we have been looking into films, but I have never really thought about the portrayal of Asian Americans in television.

I thought of the numerous television shows I watch: 30 Rock, Lost, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, My Boys, and Friends. I watch these shows on a regular basis, so I know them and their characters fairly well. When I think hard, the only examples of Asian Americans in these shows I can find are Julie (Friends season 2), Dr. Wen (Scrubs), and Jin and Sun (Lost). Among these characters, only Jin and Sun have major roles. Julie only appears for a short amount of episodes as Ross’ girlfriend and Dr. Wen only appears in certain episodes throughout the series. It is great to see Jin and Sun having a major role on a premier television show, but they only have their roles because their parts were specifically designated for Koreans. Had the writers at Lost chosen another nationality, these Asian Americans may not have had the opportunity to shine. On the other shows I watch Asian Americans appear in random parts of episodes, but none of the characters have a major role and do not stick with the audience as memorable characters.  

On other shows today, such as Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, we see Asian Americans occupying important roles, but as scientists/medical personnel, just as Dong pointed out. Even the great Asian American star Lucy Liu was on television last year in Cashmere Mafia, but the show was cancelled after one season. Looking at these few television shows, I cannot understand why Asian Americans are not given major roles. The only other show I can think of with Asian Americans filling major roles is Heroes.

It is not a question of acting ability, but does this reflect simply on the fact that they are Asian American? Why do we not see more Asian Americans filling major roles on television shows? Are there other examples of Asian Americans in television who defy the stereotype of scientists/medical personnel?

– Tommy Meyer

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Guest Speaker Arthur Dong and “Hollywood Chinese” Year of the Dragon Presentation (Matthew Park and Steven Pankratz

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Matthew Park  |  April 6, 2009 at 5:14 am

    I completely agree on your idea that Asian Americans have a very limited scope in terms of the character mold they fill on TV. Even though Asian Americans do play major roles in Lost and Heroes, the characters Jin, and Hiro and Ando of the respective shows are strongly emphasized to be foreigners with their obvious accent and limited understanding of Western culture. Those characters who are actually well versed in English and do not strongly carry the foreigner label are Dr Wen in Scrubs and Sandra Oh in Grey’s Anatomy. However both fulfill the stereotypical Asian Doctor character. I thought that there was some definite correlation between how Western the Asian American character was to how wealthy or accomplished they are. (Sun in Lost has a wealthy father, Dr Wen and Yang are both doctors). I wanted to ask the followup question which do you think is a cause of which? In terms of how the media decides to portray them, Is the fact that they are so assimilated into Western culture the reason for their success? Or is their success what eliminated them from being a foreigner?

    Reply

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