Archive for December 16, 2019

Social Media Influencer: Lilly Singh – Karen Song (Post #3)

Lilly Singh is a Canadian influencer and comedian who gained immense popularity as a Youtuber with her channel IISuperwomanII. Her fanbase of younger viewers, including myself, quickly grew as she rose to fame with her relatable personality and parodic videos. She gained popularity for her distinct voice and commentary on her Indian heritage, and in 2017, she became one of the top 10 highest paid influencers on the platform. This all changed in March 2019, when NBC announced that she would be hosting their new late night talk show: A Little Late with Lilly Singh. Although much of the shift in her public persona and perception can be attributed to the stark contrast in the two platforms – one being an independent Youtube channel, and the other being a program on a major American channel – viewers soon began to individually criticize her for adopting a new voice that only served to appease network television’s superficial desire for greater diversity. Below, I’ve attached a screenshot of the first page of results that appear when you search for “Lilly Singh Late Show Review” on Youtube today.

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The response is stunningly negative, with some stating that she is simply not funny or skilled enough to take on the mantle of a late night talk show host, and others diving deeper into her behavior which propels a “problematic” liberal agenda. What’s worth noting here is how the critique comes from all angles, including her fans and people of intersecting minority groups as well as those who feel attacked by her extreme stance against cis-het white men. Much of the issue that audiences have lies in how she has constructed her host personality around her identity as a bisexual woman of color and participates in what some have called “oppression olympics,” wherein she continuously emphasizes how she is less privileged than her competitors as a primary marketing strategy. Before the show premiered, promo videos began to circulate the internet which mostly consisted of her stating that she was the first person of color or LGBTQ identifying host of a talk show, which in turn led people to comment on how she ignored the revolutionary work of Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres. This all begs the question, how has Lilly Singh and her new show contributed to the state of Asian American representation today?

In her text in The Routledge Companion to Asian American Media, Professor Kido Lopez discusses how Asian Americans have often only been able to break into the mainstream through depictions of “violent heteromasculinity and bourgeois materialism,” though they can also exaggerate these qualities in a satirical manner to “remind viewers that Asian American bodies are so often denied access to these kinds of roles” (Lopez, 163). In this same vein, Lilly Singh has tried to challenge the hegemonic norms of late night television by performing a hypermasculine archetype in the name of parodic comedy. Though her aim is clear – to subvert the dominant narrative and characters seen on late night TV whilst emphasizing her distinct minority status – the execution of this vision has further alienated audiences, both progressive and conservative. We see this in the cold open of her first ever episode, wherein she goes to extreme lengths to show how she stands out from the cis-het white men who dominate network and cable late night talk shows. In the intro, she asserts that she is different from all the “Jimmy”s (referencing Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and James Corden), whilst wearing a power suit, showering the table with cash, and exhibiting power through violence (swinging a bat, kicking her white coworkers out of their seats, and throwing shoes at them). She does this all through a rap performance and music video – which also elucidates another common criticism that people have about her use of AAVE and appropriation of Black culture. All of this goes to show how her distinct and previously relatable voice as a QPOC is now being masked by her extreme performativity as she navigates this new space. 

A Little Late with Lilly Singh Intro

What I personally find unfortunate about this situation, as a fan of Singh’s old Youtube channel, is how her performative behavior and the backlash against it has completely overwhelmed the narrative of an Asian American being represented on late night television, which is worth celebrating. There was and still is so much potential for positive representation on these platforms where Asian Americans have previously not broken into, and this first season of A Little Late should not put a dampener on that. Lilly Singh gained a following on Youtube through her comedic take on her cultural identity that resonated with her fans, many of whom were excited to see themselves represented in one of the top-grossing influencers of the decade. On one hand, I feel it is unfair to judge her by the same standards, seeing as her comedy and style might not translate directly onto this new platform. On the other hand, I agree with her critics and hope that, along with the other creators working on the program behind the scenes, she can grow and strengthen her voice as a trailblazer for underrepresented communities with a more nuanced approach.

December 16, 2019 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

Reflection: Film/Festival Presentations – Karen Song (Post #2)

The two group presentations in this course allowed me to recognize the extent to which film and film studies is a collaborative medium. Primarily, the film presentation (Mississippi Masala) shed light on how people of different backgrounds and beliefs will view and analyze the same material differently. Of course, this is a given in film and other artforms where audience interpretation and response is just as crucial to the work as the creator’s intent. Through our discussion on the film and some of its debatable or problematic moments in representation, I could see how we collectively tried to find a balance between the message the filmmaker intended to convey and how that came across in its execution. For instance, my group and the class as a whole criticized how the protagonist in our film was presented to be an “exotic blend of spices,” but we also acknowledged how, although some of this was an intentional choice made by the director, much of it could also be attributed to decisions made by outside distributors or marketers unrelated to the filmmaker. Accordingly, the importance of a multi-faceted approach to film studies and critique was made very clear to me. I find that in popular culture it is difficult to curate this environment because much of the public discussion is based on first impressions and surface assessments. As a result, I also see the significance of being able to have these moments in this shared classroom setting through an intersectional, academic lens. 

With regard to the film festival project later in the semester, what I realized most profoundly was how film is ultimately a business industry like any other. Throughout the process, we emphasized the need to highlight “untold stories” and break ground on new representation in the arena of Asian American media, whilst simultaneously bearing in mind the importance of widespread market appeal and promotion techniques that would draw in the greatest audience. Though our festival was not designed for financial profit, we had to weigh the “profit” and our potential for “success,” based on how many people would attend and listen to the narratives that we hoped to share. This led us to take advantage of the hypothetical aspect of the assignment and devise a program featuring recognizable stars and cater activities to have a wider reach for our college audience. In addition to the experience of marketing, the film festival project also opened my eyes to the world of small independent cinema, even within the vastly underrepresented sphere of Asian American film. Had it not been for this class and our access to Visual Communications’ resources, I don’t know if I would have been organically exposed to the work of these lesser known filmmakers and creatives in the industry. This revelation was somewhat discouraging at first, as someone who hopes to work in this field, but it also empowered me to fight for greater representation and encouraged me to contribute to more creative projects, both financially through fundraisers and as an audience member by attending more festivals. Our group’s proposed festival was centered on one cultural group, and resultantly we had to produce a strong case for the potentially limiting program. To combat this, I felt it was necessary to showcase how the narratives, even within Korean American film, had diverse themes and distinct qualities. This was evident in the culturally specific motifs that we extracted from each selected film as well as the broad range of mediums being presented (narrative, documentary, animation). What was unique about my personal experience, in both the film presentation and working on the festival program, was that I was the only Asian American identifying member in our presentation on an Asian American film and the only Korean American identifying member in our presentation on a Korean American festival. I had no issue with this whatsoever throughout the process, as my peers and I contributed equally and worked well alongside each other, but it did lead me to feel a heightened sense of responsibility in the way I conveyed material to the class, given that this is an Asian American studies course. I feel as though it goes back to our larger class discussion on what Asian American representation in the media means, not only on screen, but also in who is presenting, financing, and campaigning for these diverse films to be seen by a wider audience – which often underscores a desire for authenticity. I recognize that viewers, including myself, feel more comfortable with narratives that highlight a certain culture or give a voice to underrepresented groups when these stories are presented by people who reflect that narrative and culture. That being said, there is inherent value to sharing these experiences with people of all backgrounds, and I maintain my belief that working with a diverse group – even in a culturally specific setting – is imperative to having better quality representation in the media.

December 16, 2019 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

Asian Americans in TV– Fresh Off the Boat (Alissa Final)

This semester we have analyzed how many films have set negative precedents towards the portrayal of Asian Americans today. The lack of Asian American representation in media causes many to struggle to find their identity since Asians are predominantly presented in two types of images: Asians as generic model minorities who excel in everything academic-related and or, perpetually foreign characters that are typically shown as “awkward” and those who do not fit in. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have only begun to open up and provide an even more accessible way for creators to get their voices heard regarding Asian and Asian American experiences. 

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Fresh Off the Boat is a family sitcom inspired by Eddie Huang’s autobiography of the same name. In Huang’s 2013 memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, Huang discusses and shares insight regarding themes of culture and identity by exploring how a Taiwanese-American family navigates themselves in hardcore suburban Florida. ABC’s television series, Fresh Off the Boat is one of the very few shows that challenge the Hollywood status quo with its Asian American majority cast and multi-dimensional characters that captivate how it is possible to negotiate cultural citizenship as both Asian and American. 

Huang and the creators of Fresh Off the Boat successfully created a platform in which they can share Asian and Asian American experiences by drawing inherent humor that stems from culture clashes, but never makes cultural differences the central part of the joke. By satirically presenting many Asian stereotypes to the viewer’s urgers the audience to witness and experience culture clash, racism against the Asian American community, stereotypes, and misrepresentation, in a casual, playful, and undemanding way.

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Most of the culture clash within this television series takes place between Eddie Huang and his parents or various members of the mostly white oriented societies and neighborhood. While this show challenges many racial stereotypes and common misconceptions of Asians and Asian Americans, there are still racial stereotypes at work in this television series. However, all the characters in Fresh Off the Boat carefully function to subvert common stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans while also humanizing Asian-American immigrant parents and immigrant experiences. 

Many scenes in Fresh Off the Boat poke fun at numerous themes that although might be controversial, have helped to normalize conversations surrounding the topics of race, stereotypes, and popular culture, making it more accessible to everyone. Some of these examples include the humor and utter astonishment viewers experience when witnessing clueless white neighbors insensitively “compliment” Eddie on his good English, regardless of the fact that it was his first language. Or perhaps the rollerblading suburban white mothers that are shocked to hear that one of the main characters, Jessica’s name is non-exotic. 

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In the episode, “Home Sweet Home-School” Jessica Huang is represented as an Asian “tiger mom”, which is a common Asian stereotype. While some may interpret the choice of representing Jessica’s character as a “tiger mom” as one of the shows many stereotypical tropes, others firmly believe and remind us that stereotypes do not always have to be negative. In this very case, Jessica’s unapologetic confidence shows the true message of how Fresh Off the Boat combats racial stereotypes—by not hiding behind them but instead, facing them head-on. Throughout the episode, we see that Jessica can be at times an overbearing “tiger mom” when it comes to grades. However, the audience also witnesses the reasoning for which this stems from—her care, love, and drive for her family. Although the show satirically intertwines a common stereotype of Asian parents being overly obsessed with grades, the show also manages to pinpoint the reasoning for why depicting Jessica as a three-dimensional character that can be understood and related to. 

Asian Americans have witnessed time and time again that media represents Asian Americans in stereotypical ways, pushing them into a box, and manifesting inaccurate representations of Asian Americans in viewers’ minds that affect the way they view the minority group long into the future. However, Fresh Off the Boat, through its humor and wit, caters to both general audiences, Asian-Americans, and second-generation immigrants, all while simultaneously urging the audience to witness and experience culture clash, racism against the Asian-American community, stereotypes, and misrepresentation, in a casual and undemanding way. Eddie Huang as well as the producers, actors, and actresses of the show attempt to continue the discourse surrounding the plethora of difficulties that most immigrants and their families experience in assimilating and Americanizing themselves while also struggling to keep hold of their own ethnic heritage, practices, and beliefs. Fresh Off the Boat captures the essence of why diversity in media matters.

 

Fresh Off the Boat. Produced by Rich Blomquist, Eddie Huang, and Justin McEwen, season 1-3, ABC, 4 Feb. 2015.
Jen, Gish. “’Fresh Off the Boat,’ by Eddie Huang.”The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Mar. 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/books/review/fresh-off-the-boat-by-eddie-huang.html

December 16, 2019 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

Social Media Group Film Presentation – Isha Singh

Having done this presentation in collaboration with Maddie, Katie, and Kenzo, this theme that we studied in Asian American media was incredibly interesting and brought up many questions about representation in the social media world.

Social media platforms have risen in popularity over the last decade at an overwhelming rate. That being said, the use of such platforms by individuals with different messages to spread out into the digital world has also skyrocketed. More specifically, social media has allowed for people of color and other minority populations in the Western world to increase their public presence.

However, in our presentation we wanted to analyze whether or not such individuals were helping to break the stereotypes placed upon minority populations, specifically towards Asian Americans, or if there was an increased divide between “old” culture and Western culture.

Through the multiple readings to prepare for discussion in the presentation, we found that it was common for Asian American influencers to represent themselves as either being extremely “Asian” in accordance to society’s opinion of what that explicitly means or extremely Western. This posed the question of can there be a hybrid identity of representation by Asian influencers? And if there is, is that because of an intentional self-representation or is it by accident? Would having a specific intention behind the public display help to draw awareness to breaking those very limiting stereotypes?

Such questions allowed for very thorough and insightful discussions during the week of our presentation, and makes me continue to question the representation of Asian Americans across various social media platforms.

December 16, 2019 at 8:41 pm Leave a comment

AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (4/4)

This is post 4 of 4 in a series of posts about Asian American male portrayal in popular media, specifically romantic comedies, for my final. 

Asian American male portrayal in popular media has reinforced the idea that they are not as physically attractive as their white counterparts. Because of this, Asian men are less likely to be in romantic relationships as women (or other men) aren’t initially physically attracted to them. This parallels the increase in interracial marriages in the United States, jumping from 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015. This roughly translates into 11 million people who are intermarried (Livingston). Even though the portrayal of Asian American men in media and the rise in interracial relationships still requires more studies to prove a solid link, there is a connection between these two topics. 

Unfortunately, in media, there is a “colour neutral” standard where the plot ignores race and background history, choosing to celebrate individuals for their identity separate to their race (Washington). This gives off the façade of racial representation in media, but this “colour blindness” is technically no better than zero representation. By ignoring the history of certain characters, media reinforces that we are ‘all equal,’ giving the illusion that our cultural background has no influence on the decisions we make. However, this is false. The “colour neutral” standard could shed light on why there is a lack of Asian American men portrayed as the main interests in romantic comedies, as this signals that regardless of the actor playing the romantic interest, “all races are the same” and you could substitute any race for the main character. However, more research is needed to come to this conclusion. 

Potential exceptions to negative AA male representation in media include the popular Crazy Rich Asians, which portrays Henry Golding as Nick Young as an extremely desirable romantic candidate. Netflix has also created more inclusive romantic comedies such as Always Be My Maybe (2019) and Ali’s Wedding (2017) which changes the narrative from white males to Asian American males. Hopefully the increase in positive Asian male representation in popular media will extend to romantic comedies, specifically portraying interracial relationships where the Asian male is the focus of the film and not an unruly sidekick.  

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John Cho appearing in popular movie posters #StarringJohnCho

Livingston, Gretchen, and Anna Brown. “Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 8 Sept. 2017, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/intermarriage-in-the-u-s-50-years-after-loving-v-virginia/. 

December 16, 2019 at 8:39 pm 1 comment

AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (3/4)

This is post 3 of 4 in a series of posts about Asian American male portrayal in popular media, specifically romantic comedies, for my final. 

As mentioned before, I will evaluate the media portrayal of Asian American men in popular films. These films have been selected for their cultural relevance and release date, as I wanted to evaluate current media perception and portrayal of Asian American men. Furthermore, both films are romantic comedies, which reinforce how there is a lack of Asian American male leads in romantic relationships.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a 2018 romantic comedy based on the book of the same name and is directed by Susan Johnson. Lara Jean Covey is the Korean American protagonist in this Netflix original. In the film, she is portrayed to have five overwhelming crushes: Peter Kavinsky, Josh Sanderson, John Ambrose McClaren, Lucas Krapf, and Kenny Donati. Four of the five boys are white, with Lucas being the only person of colour represented. In the film, it is described that she writes letters to the boys when she has a crush that is so overwhelming it consumes her. The letters are ‘accidentally’ mailed to each of her five crushes, and the subsequent drama that follows. The film mainly focuses on Josh Sanderson, Lara Jean’s ex-best friend and her sister’s ex-boyfriend and Peter Kavinsky, her ‘pretend’ boyfriend throughout the film. Both love interests are white males. Although the film normalises the existence of interracial relationships, Lara Jean Covey never displays any romantic interest towards an Asian male. This is especially problematic as you can see Asian males roaming the halls of her high school in the background of certain scenes, confirming their existence in the cinematic universe. However, Lara Jean is solely interested in white males, and her interest in Lucas, the only POC love interest, was solely based on when he asked her to a middle school dance.

In the film Lara Jean is seen watching Golden Girls with her sister Kitty on a Saturday night and, using social cognitive theory, we can conclude that her ‘romantic preference’ for non-Asian males is dominated by the media she chooses to consume. Specifically, Golden Girls follows four older single women as they live their day to day lives, which include some ‘flashback’ scenes where the characters romanticise white men. Therefore, Lara Jean grew up watching popular media that viewed white males as romantically desirable and internalised this romantic preference. It manifested into her five overwhelming crushes, as previously mentioned, who are almost all white.

The lack of Asian American men as Lara Jean’s romantic interests is problematic. As aforementioned, Asian American men exist in the cinematic universe that is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; however, zero of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American. This shows that Lara Jean’s taste in media has influenced her taste and preferences in males, resulting in her not finding any Asian American males attractive. The lack of diversified representation as Lara Jean’s crushes reinforces the idea that white males are the most romantically desirable.

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Peter Kavinsky

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Josh Sanderson

 

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

The Edge of Seventeen is a 2016 comedy-drama directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. It follows the story of high school junior Nadine as she navigates through friendship and romantic drama. More specifically, Nadine is seen to ‘lose’ her best friend Krista to her older brother Darian, and she is determined to prove that she is not as awkward as she is portrayed to be. In a desperate attempt not to feel alone, Nadine ends up befriending Erwin Kim, an Asian American male who has a crush on her, even though she has a crush on older student Nick Mossman. Nadine often passes up Erwin’s attempts because she is solely romantically focused on Nick.

Nick Mossman

Throughout the film, Nadine’s often teases Erwin, most noticeably when the pair are swimming in Erwin’s pool. Nadine is shown to be standing under a waterfall in Erwin’s heated pool. She looks over at him, while provocatively touching her bikini straps, and says “do you want to have sex right now?” Erwin, stunned, looks back at her and stammers “Okay.” Nadine immediately laughs and replies “I’m just kidding. I was just—You know that I was just playing out the movie scene.” Even though Erwin is muscular and physically attractive, as proven to the audience with a well-placed shirtless shot seconds before he enters the pool, the thought of being romantically involved with Erwin makes Nadine laugh. Although Erwin is interested in media and filmmaking which would categorize him as ‘nerdy,’ he doesn’t fall into the physical body shape of Asian males portrayed in media. However, despite his physical attraction, Nadine views him as just a friend and continues to pursue Nick, a senior out of her league.

The movie ends with Nadine realising her interest in Erwin, but the two are never shown to have any on-screen romance like Nadine had with Nick. Nadine also only realises her feelings for Erwin after getting to know him, whereas her interest in Nick was purely overwhelming physical attraction, reinforcing the idea that Asian Americans are not as physically attractive or romantically desirable as their white counterparts. 

 

Personal Narrative

I myself have been victim to internalising the popular media I consume. Growing up in Hong Kong, I prided myself heavily on my dual identity of being a Chinse American. I would often use the term ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’ to brag about my American identity and talk in length about my summer trips to America to visit family and friends. I also mainly consumed American media, and I grew up watching romantic comedies like Ten Things I Hate About YouDear JohnThe Fault in Our Stars, and 90210. My choice in media, coupled with the pedestal my friends put non-Asian males on, has resulted in my romanticising of white males over all other racial groups. Although I don’t initially dismiss Asian males because of their race, I have noticed that my preference parallels the popular media I consume, and that I gravitate romantically towards white males. In the popular media I consume, Asian males are often seen as the nerdy friend, helping the protagonist achieve her goal of obtaining the white male’s heart. They are used as ‘token’ representation characters, never appearing on screen for more than a few laughs or to drive the plot along. By having Asian males in romantic comedies strictly as friends, it characterises APIA males as undesirable to be in a relationship with. Because the only Asian representation in romantic comedies seem to be for the ‘comedy’ portion of the film instead of the ‘romantic’ portion of the film, I have noticed that I mainly have Asian males as friends and not romantic interests.

December 16, 2019 at 8:37 pm 1 comment

AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (2/4)

This is post 2 of 4 in a series of posts about Asian American male portrayal in popular media, specifically romantic comedies, for my final. 

Because Asian American males are portrayed as not sexually desirable, Asian American women gravitate romantically to other races. This is known in psychology as social cognitive theory, which states that “people learn based on observation of social experiences” (Yuen, 7). Since a portion of an individual’s knowledge relies on media portrayal, if popular media portrays Asian American men as not romantically desirable, society will internalise this belief and act accordingly. Therefore, if the media inaccurately portrays minorities and interactions, society will inaccurately learn how to treat and interact with these groups (Yuen, 8). In Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism, author Darrell Hamamoto uses Anna May Wong as a case study to reiterate social cognitive theory, stating that “the dominant culture’s views of Asians in America […] come to control […] what it is that Asian Americans themselves are purported to think, say, and do” (Haramoto, 25). Social cognitive theory depends heavily on the media an individual chooses to watch, as different genres in popular television will portray different stereotypes. This blog post will be discussing the portrayal of Asian American males specifically in romantic comedies, comedy, and dramas.

Why do we internalise the stereotypes of Asian American males we see on television? In short, cultivation theory. This psychological theory analyses the long-term effects of television and concludes that the messages transmitted through popular television media has heavily influenced our perceptions of the world. Since Asian American males have often been portrayed as effeminate, isolated, and nerdy, society has internalised those stereotypes and push them, consciously or not, onto the Asian Americans they interact with in real life (Zhang). Although more research is needed, the direct result of unfavourable portrayal of Asian American males in media is the rise of interracial relationships and the romanticizing of other races. According to the study by Tsunokai, McGrath, and Kavanagh, “Asian American women date and marry white partners at a greater frequency compared to their heterosexual male counterparts” (Tsunokai et al). Since white males are portrayed as the ultimate love interest in media, there is a societal belief that dating a white male is dating ‘up’ and dating an Asian male is dating ‘down’ for any women (Tsunokai et al). Rarely do we see any women ‘thirst’ after an Asian American male, and if we do, they often have ‘white’ traits or are not fully Asian themselves. This further reinforces that Asian American males are undesirable unless they can adopt attractive white traits, thus perpetuating the stereotype of undesirable Asian American males. However, Asian American women in relationships with white males are not as stigmatized, as there is seen to be no change in the ‘social hierarchy’ because of the hypersexualisation of Asian American women in the media. To contrast, when a white woman is in a relationship with a POC man, the POC man is seen to have attained a ‘higher’ social status because of the relationship (Washington). The internalisation of media stereotypes has had a negative effect on Asian American males and their ability to form romantic relationships.

Furthermore, media portrays interactions between races and demonstrates how we should see and treat those in a different race. Asian Americans have embodied the model minority stereotype in popular media since they first immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans portrays them as successful and living the ‘American Dream.’ In prime-time television, APIA characters often have “high status occupations, many of which require advanced degrees” (Yuen, 154). This gives the illusion that APIA have overcome all barriers, especially racial, to ultimately achieve the “American Dream.” This idea is further perpetuated because APIA individuals are never portrayed as neighbours, only colleagues in high paying professions. In contrast, white males are often portrayed as neighbours, which reinforces the idea that they are friendly and approachable (Yuen). Social cognitive theory explains that the actions and interactions seen on television become the ‘expectation’ for the race or group they are stereotyping, which means that white males are approachable and Asian males are studious and asexual. Although Asians are depicted as successful, which is a positive characterization, they are often still physically skinny and undesirable regardless of their wealth. A study conducted by Fisman, Iyengar, Kamenica, and Simonson in 2008 reaffirmed these two psychological theories by concluding that Asian women find white, black, and Hispanic men to be more attractive than Asian men (Tsunokai et al).

Psychology explains why we tend to internalise media stereotypes and portrayals of certain groups and project these stereotypes onto the interactions we have with said groups in real life. Due to the asexual stereotype of Asian American males, Asian American women are more likely to date and marry outside of their race. Interracial romantic relationships between white males and Asian American females have also been normalised in popular media, which further perpetuates the bachelorhood of Asian American males. We have learned how to interact with different races through popular media, and the constant portrayal of well-educated but sexually undesirable men hinder Asian American men from entering romantic relationships of any sort.

Some examples of the stereotypes Asian American males have in popular culture are included below. These tweets have been selected for their message and originate from strangers.

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Hamamoto, Darrell Y., and Sandra Liu. Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. Temple University Press, 2000.

Tsunokai, Glenn T., et al. “Online Dating Preferences of Asian Americans.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 31, no. 6, 2013, pp. 796–814., doi:10.1177/0265407513505925.

Washington, Myra. “Interracial Intimacy: Hegemonic Construction of Asian American and Black Relationships on TV Medical Dramas.” Howard Journal of Communications, vol. 23, no. 3, 20 July 2012, pp. 253–271., doi:10.1080/10646175.2012.695637.

Yuen, Nancy Wang. “Missing in Action: ‘Framing’ Race on Prime-Time Television.” Bioloa University, Faculty Articles and Research, 2008, doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f.

Zhang, Qin. “Asian Americans Beyond the Model Minority Stereotype: The Nerdy and the Left Out.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, vol. 3, no. 1, 7 Jan. 2010, pp. 20–37., doi:10.1080/17513050903428109.

December 16, 2019 at 8:32 pm 1 comment

AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (1/4)

This is post 1 of 4 in a series of posts about Asian American male portrayal in popular media, specifically romantic comedies, for my final. 

Interracial heterosexual relationships between Asian American women and non-Asian American males have steadily increased. Although culturally controversial, Asian Americans have the highest interracial heterosexual marriage percentage of all recorded marriages in the United States (Washington). This series of blog posts will evaluate how the media perception of Asian American men has negatively impacted their intimate relationships by portraying them as less sexually desirable. Although subjective, the negative portrayal of Asian American men in the media has led to a rise of interracial relationships between Asian American women and men of other races. To understand how the rise of interracial relationships was brought about, we must first understand what the media has stereotyped Asian Americans.

Asian American men have often been portrayed as flat, two dimensional asexual characters in blockbuster movies and television shows alike. They are often side roles in romantic comedies and have rarely been shown with onscreen romantic interests. This lack of desirability perpetrated by Hollywood is called “racial castration” and specifically touches on the aspect of race and sexuality in Asian Americans (Eng). Coined by David L. Eng, a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, ‘racial castration’ refers to the subjectivity of male sexuality in terms of their race; in effect, Asian American males are ‘castrated’ from any sexual desirability due to their race (Eng, 150). When analysing data from a popular online dating site Match.com, Tsunokai, McGrath, and Kavanagh concluded that “race is a potent factor in the perceptions of sexual desirability and attractiveness” (Tsunokai et al). Media portrayal has damaged our perception of Asian American men to the point where interracial relationships and romantic interests between white males and Asian women have become statistically significant. The increase of stereotypical portrayal of Asian American men on popular television and in blockbuster movies has paralleled a sharp increase in romantic relationships between white males and Asian American females and a lack of romantic interest in Asian American males. Although more research is required, social scientists and media scholars have concluded that media portrayal shapes adolescent perception of romance, which influences dating preferences in later years (Bogt et al).

The following blog posts will analyse cultivation theory and the psychological effect of media on our perceptions, as well as looking into specific films and television shows where the detrimental Asian American male representation is present. I will mainly be focusing on heterosexual relationships, as there is little research about the impact of Asian American male portrayal in queer relationships. I acknowledge that because this blog post is focusing on heterosexual relationships, it assumes heteronormativity and the impact of Asian American male representation only affects the views of Asian American woman on Asian American men. However, this is untrue. Unfortunately there is a lack of research on Asian American queer relationships to make four complete blog posts about the subject.

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Bogt, Tom F. M. Ter, et al. “‘Shake It Baby, Shake It’: Media Preferences, Sexual Attitudes and Gender Stereotypes Among Adolescents.” Sex Roles, vol. 63, no. 11-12, 27 Aug. 2010, pp. 844–859., doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9815-1.

Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Duke University Press, 2007.

Tsunokai, Glenn T., et al. “Online Dating Preferences of Asian Americans.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 31, no. 6, 2013, pp. 796–814., doi:10.1177/0265407513505925.

Washington, Myra. “Interracial Intimacy: Hegemonic Construction of Asian American and Black Relationships on TV Medical Dramas.” Howard Journal of Communications, vol. 23, no. 3, 20 July 2012, pp. 253–271., doi:10.1080/10646175.2012.695637.

December 16, 2019 at 8:27 pm 1 comment

White Washing– Broken Blossoms to Avatar the Last Airbender (Alissa Final)

Boiled down to stereotypes and historical images in contemporary media, Asian Americans struggle to obtain a diverse representation that encompasses the vast population of cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities that are all defined under a single identity. The absence of accurate portrayals of Asian Americans in media is quite apparent. There are many factors that result in the under-representation and misrepresentation of Asian and Asian Americans such as “Hollywood whitewashing”, which is the act of casting white actors in the roles of non-white people. Broken Blossoms is one of the first films that we watched this semester that demonstrates the issues of Hollywood-whitewashing and the effect on Asian American portrayal.

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The movie, Broken Blossoms (1919)  was derived from Thomas Burke’s short story, The Chink and the Girl and followed the story of a love between an immigrant Chinese man and a young white girl. Lillian Gish played 15-year-old Lucy Burrows who lives with her abusive father, Battling Burrows played by Donald Crisp. “The Yellow Man”, Cheng Huan who was played by Richard Barthelmess was portrayed as a man of peace and honor while the white protagonist, Battling Burrows was seen as an incredibly evil and viscous Anglo-Saxon due to his uncaring nature and his brutality when it came to his daughter, Lucy. Broken Blossoms is considered to be one of the first depictions of Asians sympathetically. However, it also limits Asian American representation due to the whitewashing at play. Cheng Huan, or “The Yellow Man” was not played by an Asian American and rather, played by a person, not of Asian descent, in yellowface. In Robert G. Lee’s book, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture he writes, “Yellowface marks the Asian body as unmistakably Oriental; it sharply defines the Oriental in a racial opposition to whiteness… Yellowface exaggerates ‘racial’ features that have been designated ‘Oriental,’ such as ‘slanted’ eyes, overbite, and mustard-yellow skin color”. These common stereotypes of Asian Americans are clearly depicted in the whitewashed character, Cheng Huan. The action of whitewashing results in an Asian American being regarded as not seen and unheard, without a place in this society.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/opinion/why-wont-hollywood-cast-asian-actors.html

In 2008, producers of the film adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender (the original animated show is absolutely amazing… a must-see!) got heat when they announced their casting decisions for the main roles. As a small child, I used to watch this cartoon as I loved the powerful messages behind the goofy scenes. Avatar was set in a world that comprised of four different “nations”, each nation having the ability to control another element (earth, water, fire, and air).

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The nations that were depicted in this show clearly drew inspiration from a variety of Asian and Inuit people’s culture.  There are four main characters– Aang Katara, Sokka, and Zuko. However, many fans were enraged when they saw that the beloved characters from the television show were extremely adapted and white-washed. Aang, Katara, and Sokka were played by white actors and the show’s villain Zuko was played by a brown actor.  You can see the differences from the actual depictions of characters in the cartoon and the actors and actresses that were cast as them. Clearly, the pictures on the left of each cartoon show the film’s desire for whiteness. There was an exception for the bad-guy Fire Nation characters who were dark-skinned. Still, Hollywood continues to use white skin to represent “good” and dark skin, or non-Caucasian, as “bad”. Movie critics have said that, “Airbender’s casting is just the latest example of a long history in Hollywood of demeaning people of colour– from having white actors in makeup portray minorities to sidelining them in second-tier roles to replacing them entirely…” (read that here https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/last-airbender-movie-blasted-for-whitewashing-1.918316)

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

 

“The Last Airbender”

 

Now, the hashtag #whitewashedOUT is being used to criticize recent casting choices of white actors playing Asian characters. Asian American community members such as Margaret Cho have taken action to try and publicly address the problematic aspects of whitewashing. A campaign against whitewashing was popular in 2016 due to Asian American communities being distraught in the lack of representation in media. Although whitewashing is still happening to our most beloved characters, many people are taking a stance to not just complain about whitewashing but to hopefully enact change. 

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Hollywood. Do. Better.

 

“Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man & the Girl (1919).” Counter, 17 June 2013, http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/06/broken-blossoms-or-the-yellow-man-and-the-girl-1919/.
Cheng, Susan. “Inside The Hashtag Protest Of Hollywood’s Asian-American Problem.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 5 May 2016, http://www.buzzfeed.com/susancheng/whitewashedout.
Chow, Keith. “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Apr. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/opinion/why-wont-hollywood-cast-asian-actors.html.
“Last Airbender Movie Blasted for ‘Whitewashing’ | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 25 May 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/last-airbender-movie-blasted-for-whitewashing-1.918316.
Rose, Steve. “’The Idea That It’s Good Business Is a Myth’ – Why Hollywood Whitewashing Has Become Toxic.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Aug. 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/29/the-idea-that-its-good-business-is-a-myth-why-hollywood-whitewashing-has-become-toxic.

December 16, 2019 at 6:43 pm 1 comment

Asian American Experiences of Beauty Standards: First Generation (2/3)

by Emma Li

When I first watched First Generation (2017), a short film directed by Andrew Yuyi Truong and Jeannie Nguyen, a lot of the sentiments I felt about whitewashed advertising in China began to resurface. The short begins with a 90s television advertisement promoting blue contact lenses “for even the darkest brown eyes.” As this ad and other ads play, the camera slowly zooms out farther away from the television to show more of a living room wall with Asian decor, from a glowing portrait of Guan Yin the Buddhist bodhisattva to red electronic candles. The television’s content stands in stark contrast to the rest of the setting, which is further emphasized when an off-screen voice speaking Vietnamese demands the television be turned off.

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The protagonist, My-Linh, is a young Vietnamese American woman aspiring to be a model. After the television ad scene, we see her wearing and taking off blue contact lenses. The diegetic sounds of her removing the lenses are turned up through foley. The extreme close-up of her eyeball and her wincing facial expression amplify the sense of discomfort created by the sounds. The width of the frame also narrows to pull the viewers even closer. This scene confronts the logistics of striving towards the beauty standards promoted in the earlier ad.

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The TV model flashes a smile with her “sparkling blue eyes,” but the film reveals the uncomfortable reality of wearing contact lenses. I’m reminded of the tear-inducing frustration I felt in middle school when I tried to jam a pair of color contact lenses I bought online into my disobedient eyeball. Retrospectively, I’m glad I never got it to work. If I had, I might’ve gone down the “beauty” rabbit hole the film’s protagonist dives through, trying to achieve the looks I saw in ads every day.

My-Linh then bleaches her hair blonde (well, more orange than blonde) at the hands of her friend Jenny. The sense of discomfort from the contact lens removal scene is returned in this scene through the squeaky noise of putting on the pink rubber gloves and the mushy sound of the hair paste. This solidifies associations of working towards beauty standards with discomfort and unease.

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The short is largely told through My-Linh’s internal monologue, which demonstrates the tension she feels between these beauty standards and her natural beauty. As the bleach is slapped on, My-Linh narrates, “I want to do this and I don’t. It’s as if I’m living two different lives through the view of two different eyes.” Flipping through a magazine, the film presents viewers with a montage of the models featured, all of whom were white women with blonde hair and blue eyes until My-Linh stumbles upon Scarlett Johansson. The short was released on May 1, 2017, right after Johansson’s controversial role as an Asian character in Ghost in the Shell was released. In the magazine montage, the only model with dark hair and dark eyes was still a white model; in the film industry, one of the only Asian roles still went to a white actress.

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My-Linh struggles with her beauty decisions throughout the film. When her friend Linda questions her hair change, My-Linh narrates, “Sometimes, we need to change how we look to feel comfortable in our own skin.” The theme of comfort is examined throughout the film, especially as it relates to one’s appearance and societal beauty standards. Through various cinematic techniques, the short generates feelings of discomfort with advertised beauty standards and with the procedures needed to (try to) reach those standards.

Near the end, the film also grants its characters and viewers some sense of comfort in the results of those procedures. In a montage of the three Asian models posing, the upbeat music, the playful facial expressions, and the purple-yellow lighting celebrate the women and their appearance. They seem to be comfortable in their own skin. However, this comfort only appears to exist through the lens of the camera and consumerism. They appear at ease within the frame of the purple backdrop in order to advertise and sell the products (presumably the clothes they’re wearing).

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As soon as the posing montage ends, My-Linh once again displays signs of discomfort upon seeing the results of the photoshoot. She self-consciously grabs her hair and furrows her brows at the photos. As a model, her image is used to sell a fantasy about how happy and desireable one will be if one purchases the clothes she models, but, as film scholar Celine Parreñas Shimizu writes, “fantasy does not belong to the powerful alone but may be manipulated to express dissatisfaction and other critique” (146). The film ends on a montage of My-Linh drenched in black hair-dye, a television (that advertised white beauty standards) smashed on the ground, and a blooming orchid. This montage is a fantasy of completely subverting toxic beauty standards and having pride in one’s Asian qualities. The montage provides a sense of catharsis, but it only exists in My-Linh’s imagination as she closes her eyes to cope with the discomfort generated by her photos. When she opens her eyes again, the TVs and the magazines advertising blonde hair and blue eyes will still be there, in her living room and everyone else’s.

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(All images’ source: First Generation)

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December 16, 2019 at 8:28 am 1 comment

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