Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Asian Competition

There’s a new stereotype of Asian women that I’m troubled by. It’s the image of the Asian female competition seen on these shows - Glee, Community and New Girl.

Exhibit A: Sunshine Corazon (played by Charice) on Glee


Sunshine comes to the McKinley High and proves to be a worthy replacement for some of Rachel’s solos. Rachel retaliates by sending Sunshine to some abandoned, sketchy house for a fake audition. I don’t really remember what the deal with her was, but basically, Rachel took her down.

Exhibit B: Annie Kim on Community


Annie Kim is Annie’s high GPA/overachieving nemesis in their Poli Sci class and is a threat in their model UN. White Annie’s team beats Annie Kim’s after White Annie’s team suggests a union of their UN’s, gets rejected by Kim and Kim is painted as the ruthless competitor who only wants to win.

Exhibit C: Asian Jess on New Girl


After Jess backslides and hooks up with her ex Paul, the experience makes him realize that his current girlfriend, “Asian Jess,” is the one for him, and Jess helps him propose to her. Both Asian Jess and Paul are also ugly criers. Clearly made for each other.

So, the first thing I will say is that all these Asian women look pretty much the same…big, plastic frames, “cute hair” (a.k.a. infantilized) with bangs and pigtails…and a not so happy white, female rival. They all have short/minor roles, and at least with Annie Kim and Asian Jess don’t have an identity of their own. The writers have clearly written them to rival their white counterparts. They don’t even get their own names.

The white women characters are threatened by these Asian women, not so much with Asian Jess, but she has taken something that was once Jess’.

These representations depict Asians as threats to the success of white women or just a joke, not real characters. None of these 3 women could have stood on their own in a scene, and were not given an opportunity to turn into someone to empathize with. Maybe Sunshine Corazon…but anyways, this is a harmful representation, especially given China’s crazy economic growth in the past couple decades, and the possibility of becoming the next superpower of the world. Couple that with the model minority myth, and how Asians are stereotyped to be smart, good at math, taking up all the spots in elite universities, these characters are a way of saying, “You can try to beat me, but I’ll still find a way to win.” After all, Jess takes the higher ground of putting Paul and Asian Jess together, because clearly she is so mature, and Annie proposes a compromise; what a team player!

I also feel like there may be an element of white fear of Asian women taking all the white men (i.e. Barney Stinson says in one episode of How I Met Your Mother that his type is “Asian”). All these representations can be seen as a fear of the loss of power of the U.S. empire and white women’s sexuality being threatened.

In conjunction to this, many Asian men in tv and movies are emasculated and are turned into awkward characters easily turned into comic relief (i.e. Ken Jeong in Community). Again, characters are not complete people, lacking the depth that makes a really compelling character. Yes, you can argue that Christina Yang’s character on Grey’s is a strong, empowering figure, but she could easily be white. Her character isn’t race-specific, and she’s within a whole class of competitive, cut-throat doctors.

This post could delve deeper into the implications of these representations, but for now, I’ll keep it simple, and maybe analyze more later. For another post, it’ll be interesting to factor in the rise Asians in commercials, to explore the disconnect/exploitation of Asians as a good economic demographic to market to, but aren’t represented in popular culture in the same way.


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