By Ed Diokno
You know that tired old stereotype for Asian males that won’t go away? The sexless, nerdish, unwanted, inconsequential and laughable one? The one that keeps popping up, even today?
There are a couple of efforts to counter that stereotype and I have mixed feelings about it and would appreciate your feedback.
There is a calendar (just in time for gift-giving) featuring Asian men, the 2017 Haikus on Hotties calendar put out by Dragonlady Productions, an all woman crew. It features hunky Asian guys in various poses emphasizing their muscular physiques, rippling abs and their come-hither smoldering gazes.
Actor Yoshi Sudarso, who is featured in the calendar and in a short film called It’s Asian Men, lamented the roles that Asian actors are assigned: “There’s the evil Yellow Peril stereotype, like Fu Manchu. And then there’s the stoic monk-like martial arts master and the nerd, like Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles. It’s kind of the most notorious example.”
Asian American men very rarely get the romantic lead. (Tony Leung Ka-fai. in The Lover, James Shigeta in The Crimson Kimono and Steven Yeun in TV’s The Walking Dead are exceptions.)
At best, they are the best friend, the helpful computer geek or the loyal chauffeur or servant. No one that matters, just characters in the background while the (usually white male) lead is the hero and gets the girl.
The success of the calendar led Dragonlady Productions’ to create a short film called It’s Asian Men, that features Sudarso and three other Asian Americans. It is a parody of the movie Magic Mike, that centered on male strippers.
“I just really want people to notice the talent that they have as well as their good looks, because there’s a lot of actors like that available,” Korean American director Narhee Ahn told NPR. “They just aren’t being recognized by mainstream entertainment.”
Well, thanks! But … and here’s my dilemma.
I see what the women of Dragonlady Productions are trying to do to break that stereotyped that has dogged all Asian American men that I know. Asian men have been so negatively portrayed in America that it might take an extreme measure in order to counteract that image.
But in doing so, they put a strong emphasis on the physical appearance of the men – I mean, they are handsome and well-built – they don’t look like your average-looking Asian male any more than the Victoria Secret models look like the average American woman.
Aren’t the women objectifying men? They are doing what society has been condemning men for doing to women by emphasizing their physical appearance to the point that they are no longer human beings that we care about, but mere objects for whom we lust?
I know, I know. There are some Asian American guys who will welcome the new image and say, “Alright! Make me a sex symbol. Objectify me all you want!”
The roots of the sexually, impotent Asian male stereotype is worthy of a book – several books – so I won’t go into detail here. (I’m assuming readers of this blog are familiar with the reasons that image came to be.) In short, it came down to white males being sexually threatened by Asian males so popular media – controlled by white men – began to belittle the sexual prowess of Asian men.
Thus, the negative stereotype for Asian males has become so ingrained in American society that several studies have shown that Asian males are the least desirable on online dating sites (even among Asian women!) despite Yeun, Bruce Lee and a growing number of other good-looking men. The physically appealing Asian men have been out there all along and they just need to have attention heaped upon them to counter Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dongs of pop culture.
Even with Dragonlady’s admirable effort, the scale is still heavily tipped towards Bonanaza’s Hop Sing and Two Broke Girls’ Han Lee. Certainly, a calendar of hot guys – no matter how well-intentioned – can’t undo the negative stereotype but any small step to correct that can’t do any harm, right?
I don’t look anything like the guys in their calendar or on this short video accompanying this post. Are we replacing a negative stereotype with an impossible-to-achieve physical appearance? Is too much emphasis being place on abductor muscles rather than on the values, intelligence, humor and personality of an individual?
Am I right? Or, am I wrong? Or am I just overreacting?