Natalie Tran, an Asian comedian Youtuber, once said that “As much as whether you like it or not, being Asian has a big impact on who you are as a person and it will continue to have an impact on you in the future. So whether you identify as Asian-American, American-Asian, just Asian, just American; it’s something that will keep affecting your life. I think it’s because it’s one of the first thing people notice when they see you”. In this essay I will be examining the stereotypes of Asians seen in mass media such as television and movies. As an Asian-American, I want to see Asians on screen as smart and successful at being Americans instead of acting stereotypical. Currently, many Asian-Americans are upset and want Asians to have proper roles and more opportunities in the media to show that the stereotypes do not apply to every Asian. First, I will talk about the effect that stereotypes have on Asian-Americans, next the model-minority stereotype, and finally Asian stereotypes through comedy seen in the movie Rush Hour 2. Before I begin, I want to define the term ‘stereotype’, briefly mention how Asian-American Youtubers and myself think of Asians in general that are seen in media.
“Stereotype” is defined as one group’s generalized and widely accepted beliefs about the personal attributes of members of another group (Ashmore and Del Boca 1981; Dates and Barlow 1990). In Movie vs Real Life: Asian Coworker, produced by Youtuber JustKiddingFilms, starts with two male workers; one worker is white and the other is Asian. ‘In the movies’, the white man makes multiple racial stereotypes throughout the video such as greeting his new coworker by saying “ni-hao” and bows, asks where the coworker is ‘really’ from, and says how he loves sushi. However, ‘in real life’ the Asian man appears more Americanized and behaves nothing like how the movies portray Asians. In Are Asian Stereotypes True, by Youtuber NigaHiga, begins with a young Asian man talking humorously about the stereotype of Asians then mentions how Asians often times show that they have no issue with these racial differences. Some stereotypes he mentioned were all Asians have small eyes, Asians are good at math, Asians cannot drive, and so on. In Asians in Media, by Youtuber CommunityChannel, gives an entire presentation on how non-Asian people typically are ignorant and do not acknowledge the different ethnicities within the Asian race like Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. There were many times when a stranger has recommended her to try food at some type of Asian restaurant just because she is Asian. In my own experience, I grew up feeling embarrassed of being Asian and often times avoid surrounding myself with Asian people. I always thought that the media were making Asians seem weird and foreign on screen. For example, Asians eat dogs, Asians work at the hair/nail salon, or Asians knows how to play the piano. At the time, I thought these stereotypes were not something to be proud of and found myself isolating from the Asian culture. Eventually I grew up realizing how silly I was and learned to embrace that I’m Asian. Thus, Asian-Americans are experiencing and witnessing these misinterpretations of Asians on a daily basis.
In the article, Getting the Message: Media Images and Stereotypes and Their Effect on Asian Americans by Teresa A. Mok (1998), I found that Mass media sources do not portray the diversity of the Asian-American culture which influences Asians to think poorly of their own racial group and of the larger society. According to Mok, Chinese immigrants had been in the United States for about 40 years and are seen by Whites as financial competition for scarce jobs and resources. The Chinese were given the name “Yellow Peril” which was referred to as an economic threat to Whites. Asians were rarely seen on screen but when they were, they only had the role of as being mysterious and sneaky which were traits of a Yellow Peril. In the 1960s and 1970s, White men represented Asian women as a property or sexual possession who are willing to cater the needs of U.S. servicemen returning from overseas (Fung, 1994). As a result, when Asian women were given a role they were peasants or prostitutes while Asian men were seen as sneaky and brutal. Ultimately, White men feared Asian immigrants would take their jobs or their women because they perceived that Asian men were intelligent, ambitious, and attractive (Spickard, 1989). When comparing the acceptance of White society, minority women have an easier time since they are not seen as a threat to men. Thus, as Asian-Americans consume movies that stereotype Asians, they are affected by how they see themselves and other Asians. According to Mok, some have accepted the fact that they cannot look “all-American”. Some wished they were born different from how they actually looked such as desiring for blond hair and blue eyes. Eventually, most Asian-Americans gave up and accepted these stereotypes although they are aware that these ideas are ideally meant to represent Asians from the past. Asian-Americans are seen having high education and work ethic which allows them to be a “model minority”.
In the article, Asian-Americans: Television Advertising and the “Model Minority” Stereotype written by Charles R. Taylor and Barbara B. Stern (1997), I learned that Asian-Americans are more likely than members of other minority groups to appear in background roles and are overrepresented in business settings. Asians are stereotyped for being naturally engaged in academic study, mathematically skilled, hard-working, and serious. About 53.3 percent of Asian-Americans have managerial or professional positions which is much higher than any of the other population groups (Kern 1988). Almost 6 percent are entrepreneurs which is more than double the percentage of any other minority group (Weisendanger, 1993). Although these stereotypes of Asian-Americans are positive, these passive viewings continue to be unwanted by Asians and are unacceptable. Three out of every four Asians live in just three states – California, New York, and Hawaii and most live in six cities within the states – Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Sacramento, Chicago, and Houston. However, there are many other parts of the country where Americans have either little or no interaction with Asians. Those with little contact with Asians quickly assume they know all about an Asian person only because of what the media shows. Taylor and Stern mentioned that if there is a lack of direct contact, it will cause an increase of the likelihood the culture will interpret the portrayals as being accurate. Advertisers or movie producers probably intended to produce these portrayals of Asians being as a positive trait, however, these positive images are leaving more of a negative impact on perceptions of Asians. Furthermore, when racial stereotypes are seen in comedy they help validate these racial differences rather than doubting them which becomes problematic.
In the article, Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2, written by Ji Hoon Park, Nadine Gabbadon & Ariel R. Chernin (2006) points out the potential stereotypes seen in Rush Hour 2 (2001) and how these stereotypes can lead to naturalizing racial differences through humor. Theories of genre suggest that often times stereotyping occurs in comedy because the viewers are discouraged to think critically about these racial remarks. Comedy as a genre is harmless, interpersonal jokes are intended to be funny and inoffensive. However, once these beliefs are naturalized that will provide insight on how people will see the social world. There were many Asian ‘humorous’ racially stereotypical moments seen throughout the movie. The story follows two police officers, Carter, an African-American from Los Angeles, and Lee, an Asian from Hong Kong, working together. Carter stated “I’ll slap you so hard that you’ll end up in the Ming Dynasty” when Lee was considering on taking a police case. Moments later in the movie, Carter stated “Let’s get some sushi” as he was sitting in the car and a few Chinese women were passing by. There was also another scene when Carter accidentally punches Lee instead of a gang member and explains to Lee “You all look alike”. Later when Carter meets Lee on the boat, he bluntly tells Lee “No one understands the word coming out of your mouth” which is because Lee had an accent. Another stereotypical scene was when Carter brags about how he’s tall, dark, and handsome while Lee is “third-world-ugly” and when Lee responds that he’s not because he is “cute like snoopy”, Carter then reminds Lee that Snoopy is six inches taller than him. In comedy, it is acceptable for racial minorities like Blacks, Asians, and Mexicans to explicitly say racial comments to each other whereas the same jokes told by Whites would be considered racist. Although these racial differences are intended to be enjoyable for the audience, they could be moving towards desensitizing the audience in racist acts.
Overall, when Asians are on screen these stereotypes should not always be shown because they do not apply to every Asian. Asian-Americans can be affected negatively by thinking poorly of their own racial group. Although Asians are often seen in background roles compared to other minorities, which should be perceived as a compliment, this can be considered as a negative impact on perceptions of Asians instead. Comedy can help make Asian stereotypes seem harmless and inoffensive but really encouraging viewers to believe the stereotypes are true rather than feeling uncertain. However, on a daily basis Asians continue to be affected by racial stereotypes. Based on my research, I have learned a lot about new information which will definitely continue to have an impact on me. Some day in the future, the media will give Asians more opportunities to appear successful at being Americans.
One significant learning moment during the term for me was learning about the history and influence of advertising. I never paid much attention to advertisements or commercials because whenever there was an ad, I used that time to either take a quick break to the bathroom or go on my phone until the ad was done. However, I learned how reflective and influential advertising actually was of our culture. I remember picking a Barbie advertisement to briefly analyze and noticed that culturally, the ad was reassuring and reminding girls they are intelligent, independent and can become anything they want. Now whenever I am exposed to advertisements or commercials I am more well informed about the reasoning behind it.
Most importantly, the second significant learning moment was the portrayal of my identity (Asian, Asian-American) in the media. Before I did any research, I was upset about how Asians were portrayed and did not understand why. I assumed these stereotypes existed because Americans usually saw Asians striving to be something big in the medical field or were forced to do well in school and become talented by playing piano and learning martial arts. However, there was so much more than that. In the past, Asians were seen as a threat to the Whites because they feared Asians would overpower them. Secondly, Asians are considered as the “model minority” compared to other minorities such as Mexicans and Blacks simply because Asians are seen as hard workers and naturally gifted in academic study. Lastly, some people have little or no interaction with Asians which is why they believe what they see on screen.
Kwan, B., & Jo, J. (Directors). (2014). Movie vs Real Life: Asian Coworker [Motion picture]. USA. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
Higa, R. (Director). (2015). Are Asian Stereotypes True [Motion picture]. USA. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
Tran, N. (Director). (2015). Asians in Media [Motion picture]. USA. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
A. Mok, T. (1998). Getting the message: Media images and stereotypes and their effect on Asian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 185-202. Retrieved November13, 2015.
R. Taylor, C., & B. Stern, B. (1997). Asian-Americans: Television Advertising and the “Model Minority” Stereotype. Journal of Advertising, 26(2), 47-61. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
Hoon Park, J., G. Gabbadon, N., & R. Chernin, A. (2006). Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2. Journal of Communication, 56(1), 157-177. Retrieved November 13, 2015.