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Beyond the Color Line: Asian American Representations in the Media

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Introduction

Within the mainstream media of today’s world, there is a noticeable absence of accurate Asian-American representation. When they are able to find roles in television and film, these roles frequently revolve around stereotypical beliefs that have been prevalent for centuries. This ideology can vary between ambitious and hard-working to martial arts masters, which can both present a deluded or unrealistic impression of what Asian Americans are actually like as a whole. These stereotypical representations of Asian Americans make their way into the minds of viewers and affect how they perceive this minority group even after their televisions are turned off.

The Cultivation Theory

Even though Asian Americans are inadequately represented by occupying 3.8% in the media in correlation to their 5% U.S. population percentage, their appearances in television and films is far from new. Despite the fact that consistent appearances are progressive, with a lack of authentic and varied portrayals of Asian Americans in the media, the recurring stereotypical ideology in plotlines manifests itself further into the minds of viewers and their impressions of the minority group. Consequently, it is a never-ending cycle of faulty depictions of Asian Americans that has audience members convinced of what they are seeing on their screens. Kent Ono and Vincent Pham, in Asian Americans and the Media, propose that “in viewing Asians and Asian Americans through the same tired stereotypes and representations across a wide variety of media, these peculiar views become part of the archive of representations available for use” since audiences are used to watching these types of depictions. When people look at the same concepts on screen over and over, they start to internalize the theme, and “media representations produce a mass psychological effect on both Asians and Asian Americans and non-Asians and non-Asian Americans.” This psychological effect, that was developed by George Gerbner in the 1960s, is called the Cultivation Theory; it lays an infrastructure for contemplating the dynamics of media stereotypes.

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Accordingly, television has the capability to play a prominent role in developing and even eradicating racial discriminations. This is on account of its ability to reach broad audiences. Nonetheless, an abundant of television series keep on sustaining Asian-American stereotypes by casting actors as characters that characterize them as sidekicks of the protagonist or as children of stern parents that have high expectations. Taking into account that television can influence people’s perspectives, the way mass media generalizes is interfering with growth towards displaying diverse depictions of Asian Americans in the media. As Gerbner’s studies implied, since the audience subconsciously internalizes portrayals to develop opinions about unfamiliar groups, then characterizations of Asian Americans in television and film will impact the way real life Asian Americans are looked upon in society.

Gilmor Girls

Gilmore Girls presents the Asian-American character as the protagonist’s sidekick and as the daughter of a strict mother. Although not the central characters, the show presents the supporting character of Lane Kim, who makes an appearance in every episode, and her mother Mrs. Kim. Lane is shown to be a rock-music loving and boy-crazy teen, whose ambitious are brushed off by her stern Korean mother. Stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans were not overlooked by fans and critics. When the producers of the show held a panel, they were asked numerous questions concerning the stereotypes. Helen Pai, one of the co-producers, defended their show insisting, “these are real stories. They’re based on a real person.” Despite no intentions to act as such, performances can still behave as a stereotype. An article that draws on the Cultivation Theory and claims, “existing cognitions play important roles in influencing race-based judgments they make after exposure to TV-mediated messages.” For that reason, Gilmore Girls may trigger prior racial biases that viewers have received from different types of media, leading them to believe that these themes must have some truth to them if depictions are continual.

The Survey

A study by Francis Dalisay and Alexis Tan, speculated that exposure to themes of “model minority” stereotypes would end in positive stereotyping, but opposite messages that showed Asian Americans as “the enemy” would end in unfavorable views; it proved to be correct. A group of 28 people were presented a 13-minute video of Asian Americans displaying a compelling work ethic, along with interviews about prosperous Asian Americans entitled The Asianization of America. When instructed to list the first two adjectives that came to mind regarding the depiction of Asian Americans, participants used the adjectives “smart, hardworking, intelligent and disciplined.” The counter-group was presented a snippet from the film Better Luck Tomorrow, which showed Asian Americans thieving. Adjectives listed include “violent, immoral, greedy, rebellious, angry and crazy” to describe the Asian American portrayal. This study conveys that stereotypical themes in the media are acknowledged and internalized, which can influence the way viewers perceive the racial group as a whole. The study resolves by indicating that the media should “provide representations of racial minorities that attempt to capture the full range of human experience.

Glee

“It is tough for a television show like Glee to do this when a character like Mike Chang’s plotlines are deliberately written around the ‘model minority’ cliché; they’re part of a group of naturally high achievers who are highly educated and highly successful, a model to which other racial minorities should aspire to be like. In an episode titled “Asian F,” his father claims, “An A- is an Asian F,” and considers it intolerable. Mike had been distracted by his school’s West Side Story play, although his love for dance is not endorsed by his father. Glee’s expanded exposure for minority groups is exemplary, yet their portrayal of Asian American characters walks a fine line between displaying ideal role models and spreading stereotypes through the Cultivation Theory.

The Threat of the Stereotypes

Most usually disregard the stereotypes of Asians in the media because it is perceived as something that is good to be stereotyped as; the illusory belief that all Asian Americans are socioeconomically successful. Their accomplishments are completely attributed to their race and the work they put in is brushed off as a result of them being Asian. The prominent threat of these representations lies in their consequences regarding the youth of all races, in which the absence of diverse Asian American representations may be harmful to the development of Asian American self-identification. Children self-identify with televised images in the media, and this can either hurt them by viewing negative stereotypes or enhance with positive, diverse representations. Experts discovered that for the youth, finding a relation in the media is a ”major signal of acceptance, respect and recognition.” For that reason, the lack of identifiable cultural imagery upsets children and their ambitions. Minorities, especially, are the ones to internalize adverse portrayals in television and films, ‘impeding their ability to realize their personal and academic potential in American society.’ Expanding the amount of Asian Americans in role-model statuses in mainstream media, has the capability to offer Asian American children the chance to self-identify with someone like themselves on their television.

Conclusion

As a result, Asian American stereotypes will keep on presenting themselves in the media until their harmful effects of society’s impression of the minority group is understood. Television and film are important components of the media, as demonstrated by the Cultivation Theory, and thus has the power to transform how Asian Americans are portrayed in the entertainment industry. Stereotypes might never die, but audience members must join the conversation and speak out against these overused, stereotypical plotlines of Asian Americans. The internet, social media, independent media have created a space to do so, and with its increasing influence, has the ability to change America’s media landscape.

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