Historically, Asian Americans have been one of the most underrepresented ethnic groups in American popular culture. One finding showed that Asian Americans comprise less than 4% of characters on prime time television (Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2015). However, within the last twenty years there has been a gradual increase in inclusion of Asian Americans in American pop culture. This is important, as an increase in Asian American actors, artists, and singers gives other Asian Americans more opportunities to relate with and feel included in popular culture. Additionally, an absence of Asian Americans in pop culture can alienate them from others and create a lack of genuine representation of their culture and identity. Two major causations of this upwards trend was the slow and gradual increase of Asian American casting and the popularization of Korean culture within the United States. Although these two reasons are not the only causes, they have both greatly aided in growing Asian Americans presence in American popular culture and helped in shifting Asian American representation in U.S. media.
To begin, film and television are two of the largest components of pop culture in the United States. Television is still the “dominant source of media in our lives” (Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2015) and the increasing popularity of online streaming sources allows for television to remain extremely relevant in popular culture. Due to this, television has a large impact on social domains, “including race-relations in society” (Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2015). Consequently, the media’s limited and often stereotypical depictions of race and ethnicity influence the behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes of audience members. In a 2004 study done by Tukachinsky, Mastro, and Yarchi, they found Asian Americans comprise around 3% of the prime time population and only 1% of characters appearing in the opening credits. Additionally, there were no recurring Asian characters in the top shows of 1987-1989 and 1991-1993, however “their share gradually rose to 2.8% in 2007-2009” (2015). A lack of Asian Americans in pop culture can lead to misrepresentation of Asian American culture and can also “other” them. Since Asian Americans are being underrepresented in media, it can be difficult to feel accepted and valued in society. However, during the mid 2000s, the number of Asian American actors and characters began to rise.
One great example of Asian American representation in pop culture is the 2014 film Big Hero Six. The movie revolves around Hiro Hamada (voiced by Asian American Ryan Potter), a fourteen year old boy living in San Fransokyo. The city of San Fransokyo appears to be a combination of Tokyo and San Francisco. The city combines elements from both cultures tastefully and doesn’t come off as “exotic” or tokenizing. Hiro is intelligent, outgoing, and fashionable. He doesn’t appeal to any stereotypes about Asian Americans nor is his character portrayed differently because of his race. Big Hero Six became the highest grossing animated movie of 2014 and showed that Asian American characters are capable of achieving massive success in pop culture.
Another example of Asian American culture in media is the show Fresh Off the Boat. In the show, Louis and Jessica are a Chinese american couple with three boys. They are proud of their Chinese culture but are also proudly American. The eldest son, Eddie, is obsessed with Black culture and goes against all Asian American stereotypes. He is loud, irresponsible, strictly listens to hip hop, and enjoys art. Eddie is individualistic and doesn’t abide to any stereotypes his family or society expects from him. Eddie’s characters offers viewers another representation of Asian American culture. Additionally, Eddie’s nontraditional personality and characteristics offer Asian American viewers another character they might associate with. These two examples are just a few that show Asian Americans are becoming more prevalent in American pop culture. Both of these examples were created and originated within the United States, but this is not the only method increasing Asian American representation.
Lastly, the Korean Wave is hugely aiding in bringing Asian and Asian American culture into American media. The Korean Wave is the international flow of Korean media content, specifically in the United States. Hyejung Ju and Soobum Lee state that the rise of Korean pop culture in the United States can be summarized in three major points. First, “the Korean Wave demonstrates the popularity of K-movies among specialized audiences” (2015. P. 324). Next, the Korean Wave includes the online consumption and circulation of K-pop and K-drama among Asian American youth. Last, the Korean Wave has impacted a recent trend in Hollywood films to cast Korean and Korean American actors more often in major roles. The article goes on to mention Lee Byung-Hun, Kim Yum-Jin, and Rain’s work in major Hollywood films. Similarly to shows created in the United States with Asian Americans, these Korean shows, movies, and music offer another representation of Asian and Asian American culture. Media plays an increasingly central role “as systems of representation in terms of identity, culture, and community” (Ju & Soobum, 2015, p.333). It is therefore important that Asian American representations are diverse, and the Korean Wave offers another representation that audiences can reside with.
In conclusion, popular culture in the United States is beginning to become more inclusive of Asian Americans. Although there is still under representation of Asian Americans, there has been an increasing upwards trend in representation over the last twenty years. In 2018, The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition evaluated that four major television networks made progress in representation of Asian Americans. Moreover, the Korean Wave is helping Asians and Asian Americans secure a place in American pop culture. With this increase in casting of Asian Americans, individuals are better able to portray their identities and their culture. Additionally, Asian American audiences have more potential to relate and associate with characters they see in media. Furthermore, an increase of Asian Americans in media could aide in dismantling any sense of “otherness” Asian Americans may feel. For these reasons, I am hopeful about the future of Asian Americans in popular culture and what impacts it will have.
This class has illuminated many aspects of popular culture I had never considered prior, ultimately making we want to learn more about my identity in popular culture. The first significant learning experience I had this term was the idea that the media can “other” people. In the article The Urgency of Visual Media Literacy in Our Post-9/11 world: Reading Images of Muslim Women in the Print News Media by Diane Watt, she states “representations we see in the mass media provide powerful messages on otherness” (2012, p.38). Through the use of misleading or intentionally ambiguous images, visual media is able to portray narratives that are inaccurate or not truly representative of what is actually occurring. This in turn can lead to othering the entity in that media. This is why accurate and genuine representations of people and their culture is so crucial in media. Knowing this information, I strive to be more critical and investigative of media in the future. In order to be an educated and active member of society, I feel that I need to be informed and critically thinking about the media I consume.
The second significant learning experience I had this term was realizing how much work needs to be done in the inclusion of people of color in Hollywood films. In the YouTube video Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in the Entire ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series by Dylan Marron, all the dialogue spoken by people of color in the Harry Potter films is comprised into slightly over six minutes. Considering the length and number of films, there is a blatant under representation of people of color in the films. Furthermore, the number of scenes with Asians was around one minute in length. With a lack of representation, people of color in the films are difficult to relate with and are unable to tell their interpretation of the story. In other classes I have learned that creating a sense of the “One” and the “Other” can lead to further disconnect and schisms between people. This is what visual media has the potential to avoid if people from all backgrounds are included. This further shows the importance of inclusion in popular culture.
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Watt, D. (2012). The Urgency of Visual Media Literacy in Our Post-9/11 world: Reading Images of Muslim Women in the Print News Media. The Journal of Media Literacy Education, 4(1), 32-43. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol4/iss1/4/
Yam, K. (2017, December 19). Major Networks Are Becoming More Inclusive Of Asian-Americans: Report. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/aapi-report-card-tv-networks_us_5a31778de4b01bdd765980ee