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YELLOW SUBMARINE

Written By: robstar23 on May 5, 2009 2 Comments

I feel that for too long Asian Americans have been taken advantage of without having any say.  To me, this is the most obvious in our media.  Chyng Feng Sun wrote the article Ling Woo in Historical Context: The New Face of Asian American Stereotypes on Television, and in it, the author mentions two far-reaching symbols of Asian Americans that have been portrayed in one way or another over the years in American media – Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu.  Charlie Chan is described “in essence an effeminate, wimpy, nerdy, inscrutable Asian male”, and Dr. Fu Manchu is portrayed as “a cruel, cunning, diabolical representative of the ‘yellow peril’ who threatens to destroy Western civilization”.  In today’s media, it is obvious that Asian American males are constantly emasculated in the form of feminine geniuses who speak “fortune-cookie English”.  For example, the recently released and highly praised film Gran Torino was, in a sense, a step for Asian Americans in the U.S. film industry.  But was it a step forward or backwards?  Sure, the film showed face.  But the film only perpetuates the preconceived stereotype that again Asians males are either feminine and weak like the character Thao, who has to be taught by Clint Eastwood how to get a job and approach women, or barbarically evil and insensible like Thao’s cousin and his gang, who rape members of their own family.  And to everyone’s surprise, the Asian characters need a proud Caucasian war veteran to kick in the door and bring peace, harmony, and balance to their chaotic world.

It is not just Gran Torino.  Movies like 21 and Dragonball: Evolution has contributed to misrepresenting Asian Americans.  They have white actors replacing the protagonist roles, who are originally Asians, yet they keep the villains Asian.  And for good measure, they throw in a token Asian assistant here and there.  Imagine if they made another Roots film and had Tom Cruise playing the role of Kunta Kinte, or if there was a rendition of Fat Albert where the entire cast was Asian.  People would be outraged and protesting in a variety of methods.  What if they had Zhang Ziyi playing the role of Anne Frank?  Even in television, how are Asian Americans portrayed?  Memorable faces on the hit show American Idol include Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, and of course, civil-engineer-gone-professional-singer William Hung.  I am all for William Hung paying his bills, but I am against the way that the media used him to mock Asian Americans and our talents.  Even in the music industry music, there are still obvious signs of racism and discrimination.  In rapper Young Jeezy’s third studio album released in 2008 entitled The Recession, which is certified Gold, he has a song titled “Amazin’” where on the chorus he repeatedly states, “Cuz b**** I’m amazin’, look what I’m blazin’, eyes so low, yeah I look like an Asian”.  I agree that Asians do generally have smaller eyes than others, and I am a fan of Young Jeezy, but at the same time, I find this unacceptable.  What if a platinum-selling mainstream Asian American rapper was to have a record with a chorus that states, “(insert facial feature) so (big/small) that I look like a Black person, Hispanic, etc.”?  The song would never see the light of day.

So what is it about Asian Americans that make people of other ethnicities and backgrounds feel like they can take the yellow out of our original stories, publically humiliate our physical features through song, and propagate the misconceived stereotype of our people through the media?  Are we, for some reason, appointed as targets by the upper echelons of the political hierarchy in this country, or is it simply because we are teetering on being completely apathetic about the situation?  I feel that the lack of activism and protest plays the largest role as to why we have made very little progress since the days of Charlie Chan.  So what can we do?

– Robert Lee

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2 Responses to “YELLOW SUBMARINE”

  1. Youki on: 6 May 2009 at 2:05 am

    Interesting post. I haven’t seen Gran Turino but when I saw the preview, I remember thinking, “wow this reminds me of ‘The Karate Kid’ except flipped: Daniel is now Asian and Mr. Miyagi is now Caucasian.” I wonder how similar the stories are to each other.

  2. daveski on: 7 May 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I’ve heard this about Gran Torino just along the lines that you write…that it further bolster’s Eastwood’s cowboy on-screen persona at the expense of an entire cast of caricatured Asian characters. Makes one wonder how far the movie and media industry has come. Apparently not too far.

    Have you heard of the critical literacies scholar named Allan Luke? He has a super interesting autobiographical piece out where he tells his family history–a family that played the very stereotyped ‘Asian’ roles that Hollywood was cranking out in the 50s and 60s, and how that affected his family as he was growing up.

    Here’s a link to the paper:
    http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Paper/kellnerhammernojpg.pdf

    Also, have you considered submitting this piece to Hardboiled, or the Daily Cal or somewhere? It’s great! (hardboiled site: http://hardboiled.berkeley.edu)

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