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

December 16, 2019 at 8:32 pm 1 comment

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.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (1/4) AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (3/4)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 24, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    While I agree for the most part with your observations on media stereotypes of Asian American men, I think your discussion here could really benefit from considerations of scholarship or cultural criticism from Asian American feminist and queer positions. Interestingly, the most innovative work done from these positions, in relationship to media representation, is in porn studies. While you are focusing on romantic comedies in your final project, there are lessons from studying porn’s generic conventions that can also be applied to the RomCom genre. I suggest reading Parreñas Shimizu’s critique of Hamamoto’s Asian American heterosexual porn project. There are other critiques of social cognitive theory, but Parreñas Shimizu is a good start from an Asian American feminist perspective.

    Prof Ma


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