Still Mocked, but it’s Getting Better

Growing up, TV and movies were a big part of my life. In most of the movies and shows I saw, the cool, smooth, sexy guy always having the most fun, was able to pick up the ladies, and just having a good life overall. Being the young impressionable kid that I was, I wanted to be one those cool, smooth guys. In a way these characters were like role models to me, someone I can look up to. However, whenever I saw an Asian male in a movie or a show, he is usually portrayed as someone who was unsexy and lame, has no game with the opposite sex, and just overall pathetic. I never saw an Asian male in media that was worth being role model (outside of the martial arts genre). Seeing that as a child really bothered me. Being Asian myself, I believed I was at a huge disadvantage. I felt inadequate. Now, as young adult I realize that race/ethnicity should not hinder my life, but I still worry about the influence this could have on younger Asian kids. I worry they too will feel inadequate for being Asian. Though it may seem harmless to the mass audience, the way Asian men are portrayed in American media has negative consequences because it leads to assumptions that do not fit every individual Asian male and leads the younger Asian audience to question their own self worth. I will examine the how Asian men are being mocked and desexualized. In doing so, I will be discussing a variety of movies and TV shows from the past twenty years.

Historically, Asian men have been desexualized in American media since the 1850s. This stems from the xenophobia that Americans felt when Asian immigrants were migrating to the west for employment opportunities. The hate and hostility toward the Asian immigrants even fueled anti-immigration and exclusionary laws against them (Chau). One of these laws excluded the Asian community from interacting with the white communities. The Asian immigrants were also constantly mocked in media. The non-interaction of these two communities created a divide in understanding. Asian immigrants were constantly being mocked through desexualizing images of Asian men and no one else knew any better, for they believed that those details were true. There are lingering effects in today’s media because of these negative portrayals of the Asian immigrants (Chau). Though it may not be as hostile in media today, Asian men are still being mocked and desexualized in American media.

The first artifact is from the movie Fargo. Fargo is a 1996 crime thriller film that follows a Marge, who is a married, pregnant police officer, as she tries to solve a murder in her hometown of Fargo, Minnesota. Marge’s investigation takes her Minneapolis where an old classmate of hers, Mike, calls her up to catch up on old times. Mike is an Asian American male. He speaks with a heavy Minnesotan accent, and in this particular scene he is dressed to impress. After some small talk, it is clear that Mike is attempting to hook up with Marge. He mentions how lonely he is after the passing of his wife, who is also another high school classmate. He basically tries to guilt Marge into hooking up with him. Mike’s desperate attempts at Marge make him look pathetic. What really bothers me about this scene is that the directors of this film were specifically looking for an Asian man for this scene. Actor, writer, David Mura audition for the role of Mike for this film, and noted that directors were looking for “a Japanese-American man, in his late 30’s, a bit portly, who speaks with a Minnesota accent” (Mura). After seeing the movie, Mura was glad that he did not get the part. It is frustrating to know that the directors were specifically looking for an Asian man to embarrass on screen.

The next artifact that I will examine is a sketch starring Bobby Lee from the show Mad TV. In this sketch Bobby is trying to pick women outside of a nightclub. Bobby’s presentation does not give him a good first impression with the women he is trying to flirt with. He looks like a loser in this sketch. In his unsuccessful attempts at picking up women, Bobby makes a complete fool of himself. He’s unnecessarily jumping all over his car to get the attention of the girls, and he is using some terrible pick up lines. The only girl that Bobby is able to pick up, is someone who is drunk. The sketch makes it seem like Asian men are only capable of picking up girls when they are not sober, and if they are sober, no Asian man stands a chance. Another thing that I found interesting about this sketch is when the drunken woman says she has never met someone who was “funny and Asian”. I found it interesting because the line makes it seem like Asian men are incapable of being funny. Asian men are human too. We can be funny.

The next example is the Asian male character Glenn played by Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. Glenn represents a change of the way Asian men are portrayed in media. He isn’t purposely singled out or mocked because of his ethnicity/race. He is just one of the guys. Glenn doesn’t stand out because he has some sort of accent or because he acts out in crazy comedic, embarrassing ways. Glenn stands out because he is cool, a strong fighter, and dependable. He is a vital member of the group that he survives with. In two different instances in the show (season 1 episode 3 and season 5 episode 3), when the group splits up, Glenn is asked if he would accompany them for their journey. The other members of the group see Glenn’s worth, and know he can hold his own against the zombies. The character Glenn is a nice change of pace because he is a strong, cool Asian character, which something rarely seen in the media outside of the martial arts genre.

Another Asian male who is making history is Justin Kim. He is the first Korean American male model to be on the show America’s Next Top Model. In this particular segment of this interview, Justin is asked how he felt representing the Asian demographic. He is aware of how Asians and especially Asian males are made fun of in media. What really stands out for me is when Justin mentions how there is not really an Asian American male actor in the entertainment business that one can look up to. He realizes that he has a responsibility to represent a demographic that has been heavily made fun of. Justin wants to be the role model that Asian American kids can look up to, and I applaud him for that noble statement. It’s also nice to see a masculine Asian male on TV after years of seeing Asian men being mocked and under sexualized.

Fargo and the Mad TV clip are both 10+ years old. Though Asian men are still mocked in today’s media such as Ken Jeong’s character in the Hangover movies, I’m happy to note that society and American media is changing with more Asian males getting recognition with better and respectable roles. It may be a slow change, but at least change is happening. In the article Not sexy enough? The Plight of Asian American Male Actors, author Larry Yu discusses why we don’t really see Asian males in a major roles. Yu claims these production companies believe that it would be too much of a risk put an Asian male at the lead. Production companies don’t believe that Asian men leads are capable of bringing in large profits (Yu). With more roles like Glenn’s in The Walking Dead and more people like Justin, perhaps these production companies can finally realize that there is no risk, and that Asian men can hold their own in a major role. According to a 2014 report, since 2007, the percentage of Asian people in the top 100 movies of the year has been increasing year after year. The highest percentage was seen in 2008, where 7.1% of the top 100 grossing films that year had an Asian person with a speaking role (Smith et al.). The past two years alone, there has been an increase of TV shows consisting of an Asian male lead or an Asian family. Though it is now canceled, Korean American actor John Cho had the lead role in the TV show Selfie. Indian American actor Aziz Ansari’s new show Masters of None just released onto Netflix where he plays Dev the main character. Also, Fresh off the Boat and Dr. Ken are two sitcoms that are both centered around an Asian family.

In the scene from Fargo and the Bobby Lee clip, both men are made to look desperate and sleazy. There is nothing cool or sexy about them. Those are just two examples from a vast amount of other circumstances where Asian men are pathetically portrayed. I believe that stereotyping is fine. It’s what we do as humans. Not every stereotype is true nor does it apply to every single individual in a certain group. However, when it’s done over and over again, it could lead to unexpected consequences. When Asian men are constantly being portrayed as these unsexy and uncool people for so long, some viewers/audience members may start to think that this stereotype may not just be a stereotype but something that is actually true and applies to all Asian men. This kind of constant belittling could also have negative effects on young and impressionable minds. Thankfully now, more and more roles for Asian men are popping up where they are not ridiculously embarrassing themselves. Young minds can finally have an Asian male role model to look up to, and viewers/audience can finally see that Asian men are not always these unsexy, pathetic clowns.

Learning Moments:

A significant learning moment for this term was when we broke down a news article to examine the finer details and whether we deemed it newsworthy or not. The article News: Balance Bias with Critical Questions by Patricia Hynds provides me with a good list that I can use to assess any article. This article is another good reminder to me that there may be more details about a certain topic out there than what is in one particular article. If I’m not finding what I need in one article then I should move on and find a new article. Also the Newsworthy Criteria from Week 7 lecture is another excellent resource for me to utilize. This source helps determine which piece of news is worth my attention. The criteria has eleven points and if I find that the news story hits a majority of those points then the news topic is indeed newsworthy.

Another significant learning moment for me this term was the in week 2 when we read the article about the doltish dads. The article highlighted that our culture is moving away from the idiot, irresponsible dad to the dad that stays home and watches the children while the significant other is the breadwinner of the family. This was significant to me because I can say the same evolution is happening with Asian men in our pop culture. There are more and more respectable roles with Asian men appearing, and it’s a nice change of pace.

Works Cited

AfterBuzz TV. “America’s Next Top Model After Show | Mamé & Justin Kim Interview | AfterBuzz TV.” Online video Clip. You Tube. You Tube, 7 Oct. 2015. Web. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykXBaT6wbUY&t=29m51s

CHUA, PETER, and DIANE C. FUJINO. “Negotiating New Asian-American Masculinities: Attitudes and Gender Expectations.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 7.3 (1999): 391. General OneFile. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Coen, Joel, Coen Ethan, dir. Fargo. Working Title Films, 1996. Film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Ge4F4E9JE

“Four Walls and a Roof.” The Walking Dead. AMC. New York City. 26 Oct 2014. Television.

Mura, David. “How America unsexes the Asian male.” New York Times 22 Aug. 1996: C9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. http://modelminority.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=281:how-america-unsexes-the-asian-male-&catid=37:dating&Itemid=56

Philbin, J.J. .Mad TV. Hollywood, CA: Quincy Jones-David Salzman Entertainment Inc.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzjvwDsy5G0

Smith, Stacy L., et al. Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014. USC Annenberg, 2014.

“Tell It to the Frogs.” The Walking Dead. AMC. New York City. 14 Nov. 2010. Television.

Yu, Larry. Winfrey, Y. L. (2015, Feb). Not sexy enough? the plight of asian american male actors. International Examiner. International Examiner [Seattle, Wash] 07 Oct 2009: 2-3.

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3 thoughts on “Still Mocked, but it’s Getting Better

  1. Hortapgx:

    This is a great essay! I think it’s very interesting how Asian men are under-sexualized and I’m glad it’s changing because Asian men are just as attractive compared to others! I have a question for you though.. if Asian men were over-sexualized in the media would you still feel upset or allow the media to continue to show that? For Asian women, we’re constantly oversexualized and portrayed exotic whenever on screen. I don’t think that’s okay but at the same time, I don’t mind it as much since it’s more of a compliment. However, if they make fun of Asian women in a bad way then it definitely becomes a problem for me. I’m surprised I haven’t seen or heard much about that Asian male model. So, I’ll probably watch the entire video when I get the chance! The other two videos you showed are great examples of how Asian men seem so embarrassing and pathetic. I literally cringed!

    -Linda

  2. hortapgx,

    It’s quite interesting to read about your findings about Asian men (I reserached on Asian women for my identity topic). It also frustrates me how Asian men are portrayed in the media. It’s truly pathetic how Asian men are depicted with such pity! I think you brought up some great examples and really showed how Asian men are (and have been) portrayed through the media. One thing I’d love to read about, however, is the history behind these portrayals and how they came to be!

  3. Hortapgx,
    I really liked your essay. You used some great examples in media to support your claims. I love reading all of these pop culture essays because they are really eye opening. We are a diverse class which allows our classmates to read about many different perspectives, and yours is one that I hadn’t considered before, but not I can totally see what you mean. By the way, Justin on Americas Next Top Model was my favorite. I agree, it was nice to see an excellent example of a strong asian male model.

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