Re-engaging with the racialized world of mass entertainment

It’s hard to top the first post, written one of my witty and always lovely counterparts. I’ve been scrounging around for blogging inspiration and I’ve found it. Unfortunately it isn’t particularly clever, just reactive. But hey, I’ve gotta start somewhere!

Last year, I lived abroad with limited access to pop culture. My once-obsessive use of social media dwindled to a blip. Without the ability to stream Netflix or catch up on Hulu, I watched and re-watched Wreck it Ralph (the only movie I had on my computer) a number of times unacceptable for anyone over the age of three.

I returned to the US excited to re-engage, but instead of manically stuffing every bit of the past year’s pop culture happenings into my brain, I found myself disinterested in Facebook, confused by Twitter, and oblivious to most movies and TV shows of the past year. (When asked if I had missed the Frozen craze, I responded with “Yes! Instead of winter we had a pleasant dry season!”)

Half a year in, I’ve started to watch a few TV shows, only to be disappointed by a constant stream of ridiculous, asexualized depictions of Asian people in pop culture. Until last year, this was something I was acutely aware with. From Long Duk Dong in 16 Candles to my first sighting of an Asian model in a teen magazine at the age of 16, I’m no stranger to the either blatant absence of Asian Americans in TV, movies, or magazines, or to the brazen, lazy depiction of Asian Americans as vehicles for shallow Asian stereotypes.

Last year, I hung out in a suspended reality devoid of pop culture’s racial barbs. It was nice and a little intentional. Returning to pop culture’s contentious relationship with depicting minorities was jarring.

I tried to watch (my girlcrush) Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It was great at first. The show used humor to, perhaps not gracefully, make comments about race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Yes, I know that comedy gets a “get-out-of-jail card” for a lot of issues because comedy!, but I was disappointed. Even in a context of a flamboyantly gay black main character, a Hispanic character, and a (troubling) depiction of a Native American family, I couldn’t get over the depiction of the Asian character. His name? Dong Nguyen, pun intended. To me it was like watching Long Duk Dong parade as the lone, foreign weirdo through a ridiculous, but acceptable, cast of counterparts all over again.

I started to get into iZombie, a charming, Seattle-based, Veronica Mars-esque sitcom about a zombie-doctor-detective. The first few episodes were great, until the most recent. This episode featured a shadowy Asian gang. They did kung fu, donned elaborate snake tattoos, lived in Chinatown, and, I kid you not, tortured a “snitch” by using chopsticks to apply wasabi to the eyes. To add insult to injury, they have the comically white main character pull the “I’m into Asian guys” joke (har-har because it’s an exception for a non-Asian person to find an Asian man attractive). The shadowy Asian gang troupe isn’t new to TV (Sherlock even dedicated an episode to it), but was surprising for a few reasons. First, the show features Indian and black actors who are complex characters, not type-casted by their race (although who knows, I’ve only seen three episodes). And secondly, this show is based in Seattle, where 14% of the population is Asian. Is it too much to expect that the show would make an effort to reflect the city’s largest minority as people and not a mess of stereotypes?  I guess they thought it was justice enough to throw in overcast skies and a few shots of the Space Needle.

Yes, lots of people could say I’m overreacting (Lighten up, it’s comedy! Stop being so sensitive! Reverse racism is a thing!), but this is a reflection of my personal (though definitely not unique) experience as a person of color interacting with pop culture.

I think I’ll stick to Wreck it Ralph until further notice.

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