Not Your Average Asian- Diversity in Asian American Character Portrayal.

In the Beginning..

When I first started the process of finding my identity portrayal in popular culture, I thought choosing the identity of being Asian American was too typical or cliche. However, I realized my ethnic culture makes up a big portion of who I am. The first thing I knew and thought about of Asian Americans in popular culture is that they are underrepresented in media. From movies to televisions shows many can say there is a lack of Asian American roles. However I decided to think of shows that did cast Asian Americans and the ones that I came to analyze where London Tipton from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Tina and Mike Chang from Glee, and the full Asian cast of Fresh off the Boat. Although many may think that Asian Americans are underrepresented and are portrayed in a consistent stereotypical manner, there are shows in the media that give diversity to character portrayal of Asian Americans. That is what I realized from the three television shows. All three are sitcoms with some depictions of Asian American character diversity than the average stereotypical traits we may find in modern American shows.

London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody

The first show I analyzed was The Suite life of Zack and Cody. where they co star Brenda Song as London Tipton, the Tipton Hotel heiress. Song is a mix of Taiwanese and Hmong however she is part Taiwanese in the show. In the show, London Tipton is a side character but also one of the prevalent main characters. She is from a rich family since they own the Tipton Hotel. Her character is outgoing, obnoxious, gullible, and unintelligent. She is a ditzy and privileged girl. Only her father is mentioned, but is never screened. She is conveyed as stylish, and spoiled with almost everything she desires. .These characteristics I find the opposite from the average Asian american stereotypes such as being smart, having strict parents, or being prim and proper with an accent.  Below is an attached clip of a scene from an episode in the show. It depicts London Tipton inabilities to study well, or study at all even with the tutor attempt of Bailey. London also shows her inabilities to comprehend the questions in its entirety. She states herself as “not a very good student” and does not like math. I find this important because it shows how her character does not follow the Asian stereotype of the “model minority”.  However, in an article called Disney Does Race, the author Turner states that London’s character portrayal is problematic in Asian American representation because it degrades her image and does not show a role model or positive representation. The show does not show much of her cultural heritage and for that, he deems that there is not much race representation since characters including London in Disney are all the “same”. They are all the same despite their race because they can inherit any characteristic but nothing presents or portrays their ethnic race. Yet I believe showing that people can be the same despite color is and positive note. Although London’s portrayal seems negative, her personality is a bright smiley girl who shows love and compassion once in awhile throughout the show. If anything I also question if showing cultural heritage is needed to be then shown as color conscious. How can that be done without being presumed as being stereotypical?

Asian Americans in Glee

The next television sitcom I analyzed was the show Glee broadcasted on the network FOX. It is a show where they star a diverse group of high school  misfits with talent into a musical group called Glee. Throughout the series they show the accomplishments and milestones that the students achieve. In the midst of the group are two Asian Americans; Tina Chang and Mike Chang. I found that Tina Chang portrays different characteristics from the Asian stereotypes. She is a quiet Gothic girl who stutters a lot but eventually comes out of her bubble and becomes more bold. Usually Asian women are expected to be prim and proper. However, her attire is very unique with a lively personality. However there are times when she feels pressured to look a certain way. In one of Glee’s episode “Born this way” the show addresses a issue common in Asia, which is plastic surgery. Tina Chang had always wanted to fix her her eyelids which are small and mono-lid. However, she learns to love herself more and be the unique person she is.tina

Next is Mike Chang and he may seem like your typical Asian with strict parents, and goals to get good grades for the sake of them. In an article called Beyond the Color Line, the author Wo states that the show depicts the stereotype of the Asian model minority, represented by Mike in this case. In such episodes such as Asian F, and how Mike states he needs to be applying to Harvard or Stanford. However, I find that the show purposely did this to convey a different approach for understanding Asian Americans students and their relationship with their parents. Mike is one with a talent in arts and dance however usually there is a stereotype where Asian parents only want their children to pursue high end careers such as lawyers and doctors. The clip below is a scene where Mike’s parent’s come to accept and his support his passion. It is a rare thing people may expect from Asian american parents. Although Wo states that the show overly exemplifies and labels certain actions as labels, I find that it just reflects how people in reality may label such actions unconsciously. I find that the show Glee uses such stereotypes to build a greater meaning.

Fresh off the Boat

The last show I analyzed is the family sitcom Fresh off the Boat. It stars a whole Asian american family which was viral news when the show first aired. The family moves from a Chinatown in Washington D.C to a very white populated community in Orlando Florida. The family consists of the father Louis Huang, mother Jessica Huang, and their three kids, Eddie, Emery, and Evan. At first glance the show may seem very stereotypical with Louis enforcing “Asian rules” such as taking shoes off in the house. Other stereotypes including showing the model minority within Evan and Emery whom are very intelligent kids. However, there are ways that depict a more modernized representation of the family. Louis owns a restaurant called the Cattleman’s ranch, both the parents participates in the boys and girls clubs. It shows modernization but it also depicts how this Asian family is trying to assimilate into the more white community. Eddie who is the opposite of Emery and Evan doesn’t like to carry on the cultural stereotypes. Hes likes basketball hip hop and rap, and does not bother becoming that “model minority”. He also goes through difficulties himself trying to assimilate in school. He gets made fun of his “Asian lunch” and therefore wants “white people food”. The show depicts some of the struggles that some Asian Americans might be going through. In an article called Bringing Race into “white” Television, the author Stewart states that Fresh off the Boat is able “to traverse typically “white” scenarios, while bringing in important aspects of Chinese culture”. More than showing just what seems like Asian stereotypes, it gives an Asian American perspective on Americanized situations. The portrayal of Asian Americans has taken another step to convey something different, diverse. We may ask why Asian actors and actresses like to convey such stereotypes however, these roles are their jobs and gives them opportunities. Constance Wu had stated she did not pay much attention and just needed to pay of her rent (Hess). Rather than showing just stereotypical aspects of Asian Americans, the show has given its viewers an Asian American lens to show their perspective.

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Conclusion, Learning Moments

After analyzing three different sitcoms that have Asian American representation. I realized that they all portray different characters. However, although they are similar because they are comedies and sitcoms, I wonder if Asian Americans may have any or much representations in other genres such as romance or action. When was the last time a Nicholas Sparks movie starred an Asian cast? With the help of the analyzing modules I was able to look at similarities, binaries, and anomalies to help draw conclusions about the representations of Asian Americans. In the articles about advertisement and I discovered how a woman was behind creating the idea of objectifying women for the sake of creating opportunities for herself and for others. I realized it applies to everyone including Constance Wu who place Jessica Huang who was focusing on paying her rent. I also learned about advertisements this term and how one company can display two entirely different messages. Therefore I feel like television shows not only show stereotypes, but also portray messages behind them as well.

Works Cited

Glee’s “Born this Way” – the self-hating Asian. (2011). Retrieved November 02, 2016, from https://doorhalfopen.com/2011/05/13/glees-born-this-way-the-self-hating-asian/

Hess, A. (2016, May 25). Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They … Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/movies/asian-american-actors-are-fighting-for-visibility-they-will-not-be-ignored.html

Park, J. H., Gabbadon, N. G., & Chernin, A. R. (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.

Stewart, E. Bringing Race into “White” Television: The Quest for Color Consciousness from Colorblindness.

Turner, S. E. (2012). Disney Does Race: Black BFFs in the New Racial Moment. Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network, 5(1).

Wo, E. (2012). Beyond the Color Line: Asian American Representations in the Media.

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This entry was posted in Fall 2016 by maryngwinning26. Bookmark the permalink.

About maryngwinning26

My name is Mary and I am a sophomore at Portland State University! I am Vietnamese American, short, outgoing, and funny if I do say so myself. I have a BIG sweet tooth, from cakes, pastries, ice cream, and bread. One of my favorite and basic foods is pizza! I enjoy playing tennis, and recently started to love collecting hats.

3 thoughts on “Not Your Average Asian- Diversity in Asian American Character Portrayal.

  1. I really like your analysis of “Fresh Off the Boat”! Not only is the show funny and engaging, but my family and I can relate a lot to this show. My parents are from Vietnam, but I was born here. Growing up, I went to a private school that consisted of mostly Caucasian people. There were some other Asians there, but just a small amount. After 8 years of being there, I guess I got used to the “white” scene, and now I’ve come to realize that I don’t have any Asian friends at all. I’m not extreme like Eddie in the show, but I almost asked for “white people lunch” a few times during my time at the private school. It’s not that I wasn’t ashamed of my own lunch, but I just wanted to sort of “fit in”. My family and I keep our culture and heritage, but at the same time we try to modernize ourselves. I guess it’s better to have the best of both worlds!

  2. Hello Mary!
    Your post was super interesting because I’m also an Asian, trying to pursue dreams in the film industry. I also noticed that Asian actors never get major roles in movies, especially in romance genres, which bothered me so much. Hollywood would throw out campaigns of valuing all the races the same, but they never give out major characters to Asian actors. What’s even more upsetting is that, when there’s an important Asian character in the film, they magically change their race and use White actors for the role. This happened in the recent film, Dr. Strange, which bothered me so much. I’m hoping that they use an Asian actor for the upcoming movie, Mulan, because I heard they had to recast the role when people found out they were using white actors. I hope they are given more opportunities as major characters in film in the future!

  3. Hey Mary!
    I really enjoyed your piece on Asain-Americans in popular culture. It really liked your discussion of London Tipton and how she is represented in the show compared to the stereotypes we assume she should be playing. I for one loved that show as a kid and thinking about it now, the characteristics the writers gave her was refreshing. I was nice to see all the stereotypes be dismissed in the making of her character. If you look at her opposite, Maddie Fitzpatrick, besides her family or home life if I remember correctly, her intelligence and dedication to school seem to be more in line with the stereotypes surrounding Asian-Americans. Do not quote me, but I feel as if I read somewhere that originally Songs and Tisdale were supposed to play each other’s roles but they ended up not. I could be wrong but either way, I remember watching an episode where it was a parallel universe and everything was switched and it was kind of funny at the time, but thinking about it now it was an episode where they enforced those stereotypes, Maddie was a stereotypical dumb blonde, and London was the smart one and the whole episode was revolving around the idea that it was not right. So maybe they were hinting at the stereotypes this whole time? Just a thought. Great job, I really enjoyed reading what you researched.

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