Representations of Fu Manchu in Alias

December 12, 2012 at 1:37 am Leave a comment

I started watching Alias recently on Netflix instant view.  In one of the first episodes Sydney the protagonist is tortured by a Taiwanese torturer named “Dr. Lee”.  This man has creepy, strange methods of torture, an online summery of alias discusses them, “Lee told him that if he didn’t comply, he would pour an epoxy into his mouth which would expand into a solid and crush his organs and/or suffocate him.”  In another instance, “After calmly asking Sydney several times who her employers were, and getting no result, Lee proceeded to pull out her teeth.” His character reminded me of the stereotype of the terrifying and mysterious “Fu Manchu”.  The fact that he is described as calm and then uses horrifying chemical reactions in his torture recalls Fu Manchu who uses magic instead of a gun, something that emasculated his character.  The character, dr. lee from alias surrenders easily when he is captured, he is afraid of the same torture methods he exerted on others earlier on. I feel that this is a perpetuation of stereotypes about Asian men being weak or effeminate.  It upset me to see such stereotypes in a modern TV series (especially one that I liked so much).  To add onto this there are literally no other Asian characters in the show, just Dr. Lee.  He is an Orientalized caricature of yellow peril and there are no other characters to represent a real Asian or Asian American person.

It is frustrating that this popular show did not realize their perpetuation of cinematic racism, it is this typical racism in fact drove them to make this characters, dr. lee.  He is scary because he recalls yellow peril, a fear that is unfortunately culturally ingrained in American culture.  This probably because of its reoccurrence, Victor Turner says that gender is a “ritual social drama, social action requires a performance which is repeated.  This repletion is at once a reenactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established”. This is the same with racial stereotypes when they are repeated continually they almost become real.  The fear of Fu Manchu and the mysteries of china town are untrue; they were fabricated by white and Asian people in order to make money.  But they are dangerous for Asian Americans people; the real peril of yellow peril is that our modern societies will continue to see stereotypes as true when we should be destroying them with images of reality.

 

-Naomi

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