The Portrayal of Asian-Americans in Popular Culture
My father is from Seoul, Korea and my mother grew up in the United States. I, too, was born and raised in the United States. I originally am from eastern Washington, and moved my freshman year in high school to Portland, Oregon. Both my sister and brother are adopted from Seoul, Korea as well. Being half Korean, I have always grown up with the common stereotypes that come along with being Asian. Not only from my peers at school, but I have always seen it portrayed through different types of media. Popular culture portrays Asian-Americans as being very “foreign”. By this I mean that they are usually shown with a very thick Asian accent, they may be dressed in their very traditional clothing, etc. Asian-Americans parents are often portrayed as being very strict and the children are typically shown as smart and “over-achievers”. Looking more specifically at Asian-American women, they are more than often portrayed as submissive and shy or as some sort of sex object. I’ve looked at multiple different types of popular culture artifacts that help support my claim that popular culture is further supporting these common stereotypes of Asian-Americans.
Fresh Off the Boat is a TV series that is based off of Eddie Huang’s book Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir. This is a comedy TV series that focuses on an Asian-American family who has moved from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida. The parents in the TV show have very thick Asian accents. Listening to these accents, they almost sound fake and not so authentic. In just the trailer for Fresh Off the Boat the viewers can see a few different stereotypes portrayed. Thirty seconds into the trailer the viewer finds out that the reason for the move is due to the father wanting to own a restaurant. Another stereotype that I see a lot less in media, but is still there, is the fact that Asian-Americans are known for owning either a restaurant, a dry cleaning place, or for women, a nail salon. While I don’t take this to be one of the more common stereotypes, it is still portraying Asian-Americans in a stereotypical way. Throughout the rest of the trailer, there are comments made that further these stereotypical portrayals of Asian-Americans. In the TV series one child is very intelligent and is known to be mature for his age while the other brother is characterized as being an “over-achiever” and never doing anything wrong. This brother excels tremendously in school. This characterization helps to support this idea that all Asian-American students are very smart and very good when it comes to school. Watching these stereotypes be portrayed in media can be really frustrating. I understand this TV series is for a comedic purpose, and in my opinion it serves that purpose, but there are plenty of other media sources that have these exact stereotypes. Almost none of these even apply to me, an Asian-American, and my family. No one in my family has a thick accent. And, in no way do I not struggle in school. I have struggle just as much as the next student, and I am not just naturally intelligent because I am Asian-American.
A character in the TV series Gilmore Girls is a perfect example of the stereotypical relationship of an Asian-American parent and her child. Mrs. Kim is the mother of Lane Kim. Mrs. Kim is very strict with her daughter academically, religiously, and socially. She forces her daughter Lane to work in her antique shop, she is very strict with her religion of being a Seventh Day Adventist, and because of this, Mrs. Kim is very hesitant to any American culture. Mrs. Kim’s attitude is very plain and she lacks personality. When it comes to Lane, Mrs. Kim is always seen extremely stern with her which forces Lane into living a double life. This idea that Asian-American relationships between children and their parents are always very strict, simple, and lack any personality are really frustrating to me. While in my case, my father is Asian, and in my example it is the mother, I think it still relates. In no way is my father so strict and hard on me that I am forced to live a double life. I will agree that in some ways, Asian parents may hold a little higher expectations of their children due to cultural differences, especially when it comes to excelling in education. This could also be where the stereotype of Asian-Americans always being smart stems from. But, I don’t think it is as extreme as media portrays it and I don’t think it applies to every Asian-American family, such as mine. I believe there is a real problem with popular culture making viewers believe that in the Asian-American culture, the relationship between parents and children are often based off of these outrageous expectations.
Asian-American women are more often than not portrayed in popular culture as either being very submissive and shy or as some sort of sex object. In the movie Pitch Perfect there is a character that fulfills this stereotype of Asian-American women being submissive. Lily Onakuramara is an Asian girl a part of the a cappella group. Her character is extremely shy. She doesn’t talk at all, and when she does, no one can hear her. Most of her friends, the rest of the group, don’t pay attention to her and she often gets pushed into the back. Not only this, but the look on her face throughout the movie is as if she is scared. Lily constantly looks shy, embarrassed, or scared of something. To contrast this, the character Ling Woo in the TV series Ally McBeal, is known for her sexuality. In the series Ling Woo’s character has some sort of sexual encounter with multiple people in her work field. She does these favors with ease as if it’s a part of her job. These encounters are portrayed as if they are some sort of fantasy. This portrayal furthers this stereotype of Asian-American women being over sexualized and helps to support this idea that Asian-American women can fulfill these fantasies. The characterization of Lily Onakuramara and Ling Woo are polar opposites and in my opinion, are not accurate to the average Asian-American woman, including me. This idea that our personalities are very submissive and shy comes from our cultural differences. But I don’t think it is fair to use popular culture media to further this stereotype that all Asian-American women are like this. On the other hand, I have no idea why, if we aren’t being shown as someone shy, we are shown as a sex object. Ling Woo’s character makes Asian-American women seem as if we are over sexualizing ourselves and allowing men to use as objects. It helps to support this idea that Asian-American women are some sort of sex toy that are their to help fulfill some fantasy. This too, is not accurate. It’s frustrating to see media support these stereotypes and lead viewers to believe that this is how all Asian-American women are.
While looking through other popular culture artifacts I came across this article written by Hua Wang titled Media stereotypes of Asian-Americans must end. I began reading it and I loved it. She outlines all stereotypes of Asian Americans that are presented in media. She then goes on to explain after every single one of them, why it is false. I love how she also details how this can be damaging to viewers watching these shows/movies etc., and how it can affect those of the Asian-American culture. On example that I love is that in movies, the Asian is either the villain or as the shy, quiet, sidekick. Huang says, “Although these can be termed “positive” stereotypes, the model minority myth pressures Asian-Americans to conform to Hollywood’s false representations,” (Huang). I love this quote because it explains why the portrayal of stereotypes can be damaging to viewers, and those of the race. When everyone around you is expecting you to act and look a certain way based on what they know from popular culture, you may start to feel as if you need to fit these expectations. Another example that goes along with my above example about Asian-American women, is that Asian-American women are shown as “docile and erotic” (Huang). This is exactly the point I was trying to make with Ling Woo’s character. Huang offers the idea that due to this portrayal media is “undermining Asian females’ dignity and self-respect” (Huang). I could not agree more with this, as it goes along with my statement earlier that these characters make it seem as if all of us are the same. It reflects badly on all Asian-American women. Concluding her article she basically sums up how it is not fair that Asian-Americans have to feel like they need to conform to Hollywood representations in order to be accepted. I agree completely with her findings, especially how she states “don’t mistake me for what you see on TV”. This is my whole argument. Viewers cannot be basing their whole perspective of the average Asian-American person on what popular culture shows them.