Curatorial Statement: An Asian’s Relationship to American Mass Media

Regardless of whether white society admits to it or not, Asians and Asian Americans alike have suffered from racial prejudices and have often been the subject of many falsehoods that white Americans have created.  While being an Asian in today’s time is a lot less hostile than in the past, they still suffer from many of the same ailments that plagued them in the past.  However nowadays, the blatant racism of the past is hidden behind a facade of seemingly harmless quips about Asians that end up being just as harmful.  Taking this course made me realize that it isn’t blatant racism that is the most harmful, but it is what lies behind funny little jokes and stereotypes that hurt the most.

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One particular stereotype about Asians is their lack of masculinity.  No matter what the situation is, white Americans always make it a point to downplay Asian masculinity.  This is especially apparent in American media where white directors find ways to emasculate even those Asian actors who play the most masculine of roles.  In my first blog, I examined how Jet Li’s character, who was a gunslinging mercenary, in The Expendables ultimately ended up being less masculine than the other characters through subtleties included in both media about the movie as well as the movie itself.  Because of Li’s race, the directors made it a point to emphasize his shortcomings and weaknesses relative to the other non-Asian actors, proving that it doesn’t matter what the context is, in the eyes of American mass media, Asian males are always less masculine than males of other races.

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Through one stereotype comes another: the model minority myth.  Because it isn’t culturally accepted for Asian men to be masculine, naturally the misconception that they are subservient and always strive to do the right thing was born.  We see the model minority myth perpetuated in all forms of media such as in movies like Better Luck Tomorrow where the Asian characters are portrayed as being extremely hardworking people who strive to do the right thing and achieve their goals through hard work. 


You can even see examples of these stereotypes in places you would not expect to see it in, such as in sports.  Despite being one of the most decorated boxers in history, even Manny Pacquiao is subject to the same stereotypes that other Asian males face.  One would expect that as someone who participates in the most masculine of sports, Pacquiao would have shattered both the stereotypes about Asian males’ lack of masculinity as well as their subservience, but the mass media would not allow it.  In the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight, one of the anticipated in history, ads constantly compared Pacquiao and Mayweather and one of the most noticeable comparisons is size.  On many occasions, Pacquiao is described as being smaller and not as physically strong as Mayweather, perpetuating the emasculated Asian stereotype.  Furthermore, ads draw attention to Pacquiao’s hard work and religiousness as factors for his success; they make it a clear point to mention Pacquiao’s humility even in the face of success, thus perpetuating the model minority myth.  Somehow American mass media has managed to turn Pacquiao, who defies the normative expectations of an Asian male through his profession, into just another
emasculated model minority.

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It seems that no matter what Asians do, they cannot escape these stereotypes that mass media forces upon them.  Part of the reason is based within the institution itself.  Ultimately the goal of every institution is to make money and mass media is no different.  By forcing Asians into relatively minor roles, companies can appeal to the Asian masses by including Asians, but still maintain the status quo by giving white Americans a majority of the important roles.  Basketball player Jeremy Lin voices these concerns when he states in Linsanity that he wasn’t sure whether he was allowed on the team for his skill or just to make the team more marketable for the Asian community.  By playing upon these stereotypes, Americans make Asians more marketable by making them seem more familiar by having them fit into white preconceived notions of Asian-ness.

The dichotomy between familiarity and alienness is what drives the perpetuation of these stereotypes.  Because white Americans have always known these stereotypes and no significant effort has been made to break them, there is a sense of familiarity when Asians are placed in these roles and exhibit these characteristics.  Take for example in the television show Battlestar Galactica.  16bf7f026c87d45eb4d5cce86aceef34The Asian characters in that film are prime examples of the model minority myth because they work their hardest to fit in and strive to further their careers, as expected of Asians.  As a result, there’s a sense of irony that both these model citizens turn out to be aliens sent to infiltrate and destroy the humans, yet somehow this isn’t unexpected.  Ignoring the less-than-subtle labelling of Asians as being aliens, we can see that despite going along with all of these stereotypes that white Americans have assigned to them, Asians are still seen as foreign and not truly belonging to American mainstream.

While blatant racism such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 can be repealed because their harm can be easily seen, stereotypes are harder to break because the harm caused by those are harder to see.  People often see these stereotypes in popular culture and simply laugh it off because it looks like no one is getting hurt, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Asian actors are forced into supporting roles and even Asian protagonists are played by white actors.  There is a problem with the way most Asians are portrayed in popular culture and nothing is being done to stop it because this is the way that Asian-ness becomes marketable for the dominant group.  Unless there is a radical change in how the institution of popular culture operates, Asians will always suffer from these stereotypes and won’t truly fit into American popular culture.

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