Asian Americans in Popular Culture

Asian Americans in popular culture are both underrepresented and misrepresented. Asians are often portrayed negatively in the media. They are portrayed very differently from actual Asian Americans. The common Asian stereotype is that Asians are smart, nerdy, unpopular, and foreign. It is rare to see an Asian American as a lead character. Asian Americans are usually seen as supporting characters or background characters. There is a lack of Asian Americans in popular culture. Movie and television roles are dominated by Caucasians. Since Asians are underrepresented in popular culture, society’s perceptions of Asians are greatly influenced by the media. They gain an idea of how Asians act and speak by what they see in the media. A negative portrayal of Asian Americans gives society the wrong idea of how Asian Americans really are. It influences society to gain negative opinions and assumptions about Asian Americans. Asian Americans are just like everyone else. They shouldn’t constantly be represented as over-achievers, unattractive, geeky, socially awkward, and weird. The media needs to improve the representation of Asian Americans and stray away from using stereotypes.

The media often portrays Asian Americans as foreign. The television show 2 Broke Girls has an Asian character that speaks in a foreign accent. A common Asian stereotype is that Asians are foreign, have accents, and have ethnic names. In the movie Mean Girls, the Asian characters didn’t speak English. Asian Americans often portray characters that act like they haven’t adapted to American culture. The media’s representation of Asians being foreign gives society the idea that all Asians are foreigners.

Asian Americans in popular culture are usually not taken seriously and their characters are less significant compared to Caucasian characters. In 2 Broke Girls, the lead characters constantly make fun of the Asian character “Han” because he is socially awkward, weird, and foreign. The lead characters are superior to him and he is an outsider. The lead characters would make racist jokes about “Han” and he would not defend himself. This sends out a negative message. It gives the idea that there is nothing wrong about making racial jokes. It is common to see Asian Americans portray characters that don’t fit in with the rest of the group. Their characters are often belittled and ridiculed by the lead characters. It is rare to see an Asian character that is popular, attractive, and well liked.

It is common to see Asian Americans being portrayed as villains. The movie The Hangover has an Asian character named “Mr.Chow” who portrays the villain. It is common to see Caucasian characters portray the good guy and Asian characters portray the enemy. It is rare to see an Asian American being portrayed as the hero. Also, all the lead characters are Caucasian. Asian Americans are often supporting characters and rarely lead characters in movies and television shows. Not many Asian Americans can be seen as role models because of the way they are being represented in the media. There are not enough Asians being represented positively. Asians are underrepresented in popular culture.

Asian Americans in the media are often seen as being intelligent, geeky, and perfectionists. The movie The Internship has an Asian character named “Yo-Yo Santos” who is a nerdy over-achiever. Asian Americans in popular culture normally only have one side to their character. They only flaunt their intelligence, but their character doesn’t have much of a personality. Their characters aren’t well developed. Asian characters aren’t seen as interesting and appealing as non-Asian characters. The non-Asian characters have more of a personality and are well liked. “Yo-Yo Santos” has a peculiar personality compared to the other characters. “Yo-Yo Santos” constantly punishes himself whenever he makes a mistake because he doesn’t want to disappoint his mother. Asian Americans are normally seen as having tradition Asian families in popular culture. Asian families are depicted as being conservative, strict, and foreign. Asian families in popular culture aren’t seen as being Americanized. The media has a poor representation of Asian American families. My parents grew up in a different country, but they speak English well and have adapted to American culture. They aren’t extremely conservative and strict like the Asian parents portrayed in the media. They don’t expect me to be an over-achiever. The media over exaggerates the way Asian families behave.

Another misrepresentation of Asian Americans is that they are seen as the “model minority”. Asian Americans are often perceived as being affluent, well educated, and highly intelligent. “A consumer study tested the response of non-Asian consumers when shown an advertisement featuring an Asian model and a specific product category.  The study’s initial hypothesis suggested that products associated with expensive up-to-date technology are more favorably received when presented with an Asian model than with a non-Asian model (Cohen, 1992). The results reasonably demonstrated that the “model minority” stereotype influenced the consumer attitudes toward Asian models in product specific advertising.  Consumer reactions were in fact more favorable toward Asian models than non-Asian models in technology specific advertising (Cohen, 1992)”. The “model minority” puts Asians on a pedestal and depicts them as being perfect. The portrayal of Asians as the “model minority” is unrealistic. It is rare to see Asian Americans portray average characters in popular culture. Asian American characters normally stand out and are very different from the Caucasian characters. Although, a high percentage of Asian Americans are well educated, it doesn’t mean that they have a nerdy personality. I know many Asian Americans who are very studios, but can also fit into different stereotypes such as party-goers, jocks, musicians, fraternity boys, sorority girls, etc. Smart Asians shouldn’t always have to be portrayed as being geeky and unpopular.

The YouTube channel Wong Fu Productions represents Asian Americans well in their videos. They produce comedy sketches and short films. Their cast is primarily Asian Americans. They portray different characters such as dancers, teenagers, college students, parents, professionals, etc. Wong Fu Productions doesn’t have any of the characters portray Asian stereotypes. They don’t portray characters that have foreign accents like the Asian characters seen in popular culture. None of the characters are shown being belittled or ridiculed. They are shown as being equal to one another unlike how Asians are represented in movies and television shows. Their characters are well developed and have interesting personalities. The characters in Wong Fu Productions are far more realistic than the Asian characters that are shown in the media. With Asians being underrepresented in the media, it’s great to see an all-Asian cast. Positive portrayals of Asian Americans would prevent society from perceiving Asian Americans negatively. I think Wong Fu Productions is a great example of how Asian Americans should be portrayed in the media.

The stereotypes of Asian Americans portrayed in popular culture influences how society perceives Asian Americans. Enforcing Asian stereotypes in the media can cause negative effects. Negative portrayals of Asian Americans in the media can promote racism and ignorance. I have encountered people who judged me based on Asian stereotypes. I have had people ask me if my parents speak English because they assume my family is foreign and that they haven’t adapted to American culture. It is common in popular culture to see Asian families who are foreign and the parents don’t speak English. I have also had people assume that I’m great at math just because I’m Asian. I’m not good at math and I know many other Asians who struggle in school. Most people assume that Asians are over-achievers and flawless when it comes to academics. I feel that the entertainment industry needs to improve the portrayal of Asian Americans. There should be more Asian Americans as lead characters and have roles where they break out of the Asian stereotype. A new television series from ABC called Fresh off Boat will be premiering this year. Fresh off the Boat is about a Taiwanese family adjusting to living in America. It is the first television series that features an Asian family in American television. This is the first time that all the lead characters are Asian. I think this a great improvement in the media because Asian Americans have been underrepresented for so long. There should be more shows in the future that have Asian Americans as lead characters. Hopefully, Fresh off The Boat will represent Asian Americans well and send out a positive message.

Works Cited

2 Broke Girls. “2 Broke Girls – Mama Han”. Youtube. 4 November 2013. Web. April 20 2014.

Cohen, J. (1992). White consumer response to Asian models in adverting. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 9(2), 17-27.

LolHangoverMoments. “The Hangover – Mr. Chow Meet Up”. YouTube. January 10 2010. Web. April 20 2014.

Media Action Network for Asian Americans. Restrictive Portrayals of Asians in the Media and How to Balance Them. N.p. Web. 15 May 2014.

National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. (2005). Asian pacific Americans in prime time: Lights camera and little action, 1-13.

Taylor, C. & Stern, B. (1997).  Asian-Americans: Television advertising and the “model minority” stereotype.  Journal of Advertising, 26(2), 47-61.

The Internship. Dir.Shawn Levy. Perf. Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson. 20th Century Fox, 2013. Film.

Wong Fu Productions. “Is it Creepy or Romantic?”. YouTube. February 19 2014. Web. May 26 2014.


4 thoughts on “Asian Americans in Popular Culture

  1. Hey Jleano,

    What a great essay! As an Asian American, I was nodding my head while reading your essay and was like — yup, yup, totally. My parents and I were not born in the US but we have been here for more than 10 years, and are nowhere close to the Asian stereotypes portrayed in the media. Personally, I can empathize with you – people assume that I am good at math and will become a doctor/lawyer or a prestige occupation. I hate math and science and am not good at them at all, and I am not an academic achiever either. B’s are good enough for me. I know my Asian girlfriend is one though, she gotta get all them A’s, but she’s an international student who grew up in Asia and came here to study so she can’t waste her parents’ money – that I can understand; but still she hates math and sciences too :-).

    When you mentioned about the Asian character in the movies being foreign and can’t speak the language, the first character I thought was the guy Toshi in American Dad animated series. He is Japanese and never speaks English, who always needs subtitles and isn’t a main character either. And other characters never really care what he has to say. I also watched The Hangover and The Internship and noticed the typical stereotypes being portrayed. Do you know that Mr. Chow is actually a doctor/surgeon in real life and really smart? I was surprised to learn more about him.

    I watched Wong Fu production’s videos and I really like them. I also watched others such as JustKidding Film, NigaHiga, and other Youtube channels that belong to the younger generation who are far from the typical stereotypes Asian portrayed in the media. I hope that as the new generation of Asian-Americans enter the media market, there would be positive changes in how Asian-Americans are portrayed in the media.

  2. Hey there!
    Great essay! I was skimming through the essay and my eyes caught your essay because you talk about Asian American. Reading into your essay made me think about my essay where i talk about Asian America Stereotype and how we are misrepresented. I believe we should have a step up in American TV Shows. From my Knowledge, that there is a new TV series that puts Asian American on the front of a new TV show (not sure of the name) but overall your essay is awesome, I saw that you put Wong Fu and NigaHiga, and JustKidding Film. All I have to say we have a true Asian here! Good job and keep up the good work!

    • Update*** Sorry, I got mixed up with the reply and your essay, I mixed up some information.
      Again Sorry!

  3. Thanks for the comments! I’m glad you all enjoyed reading my essay. Asian Americans are underrepresented in the media and hopefully this will change in the future. It would be great to see more Asian Americans as lead characters who portray characters that break out of the Asian stereotype. I like that we all have watched videos from Wong Fu Productions because they represent Asians well and are a good example of how the media should represent Asians.

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