Visual Culture vs. Entertainment

The differences in portrayal of Asian Americans between visual culture and entertainment vary greatly. In the visual culture comic book, Shattered, the authors attempt to break the stereotypical images that Asian Americans have been associated with since they have immigrated to America. On the other hand, the portrayal of Asian Americans in entertainment, such as movies or television, has highlighted and emphasized these stereotypical images in order to appeal to the audience. As a result, the Asian American community is constantly in a tug-o-war, attempting to break these stereotypical ideas while Hollywood and mass media are attempting to showcase these stereotypes.

The comic book, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, was published in 2012 by several Asian American authors. The political economy are several leading Asian American authors and artists that contributed to this book that may be well known within the Asian American community but may be less known outside of it. The audience may be those in an academic setting, who are similarly studying and analyzing the comic or individuals who thoroughly enjoy comics.

Visual culture, such as comic books, can be seen as a form of grass roots culture. As a result, they are not heavily regulated by a political body and therefore are freely able to represent their characters in any way that the authors please. Therefore, the comic book attempts to portray Asian Americans as a lead without any stereotypical influences. The comic book is organized into five chapters (The Brute, The Temptress, The Brain, The Alien, The Manipulator) to define the stereotypes that Asian Americans are usually associated with. In the individual comics, the authors and artists “shatter” these stereotypes by not portraying these characters in a stereotypical manner. For example, in Showtime (p. 27) it involves an Asian American basketball player. It is widely known that basketball is not a predominantly Asian sport and there is a lack of Asian representation in the sport. Therefore, the authors attempt to break these ideas by representing an Asian as a basketball player. It is also clear that he is Asian due to his black hair and distinct face features. In the comic, many of the character are also seen as subjects, expressing agency and acting independently, further confirming that Asian Americans are capable of taking the lead role.

In the entertainment industry, such as movies and television, Asian stereotypes are invited and appreciated. With the underrepresentation of Asians in the entertainment industry, Asians are only cast in stereotypical roles to appeal to a wider audience. The political economy of the entertainment industry is Hollywood and large media corporations, who decide what and who get to be shown on the big screen. The audience reception of this entertainment is usually extremely high due to its mass culture and availability to the audience, there is a large amount of exposure, with famous and popular actors and the numerous advertisements and promotions for these movies and shows. The entertainment industry uses Asians in stereotypical roles because audiences are accustomed to them over the several decades that Asians have been portrayed in film. In most movies or shows, there is usually one Asian character that is portrayed stereotypically because a full cast of Asian Americans is rare in the entertainment industry. Most of these Asian Americans are seen as objects, responding to the desires and intentions of others. For example, in Nikita, Maggie Q plays a former spy and assassin and her character as an Asian female is accentuated by her sexuality. She is often wearing tight and revealing clothes and reacts to the agency of others. Even though she is the main character of the show, she is still portrayed as the stereotypical overly sexual female who a subject, dominated by someone else. Also, in the film, Better Luck Tomorrow, even though the majority of the cast is Asian American, they are still portrayed stereotypically. Ben is the usual overachieving nerd while Han is the older influence who can be seen as the thug or gangster of the group. There is also Stephanie, who is the only girl in the group, who is portrayed as the seductress or prostitute. Even though there is a mix of subjects and objects within the group, they are still being portrayed stereotypically. Instead of attempting to decrease the stereotypical depictions of the cast due to the largely Asian American characters, they instead emphasize it due to the mass appeal it has to the audience.

(Maggie Q in Nikita) 

(The Asian American cast of Better Luck Tomorrow) 

There is a disconnect between the depiction of Asian Americans between visual culture and entertainment. In Shattered, the many Asian American authors and artists attempt to break the stereotypical personas that are associated with Asian Americans. However, the entertainment industry, attempts to commercialize on the stereotypes of Asians, in order to appeal to a mass audience. This poses a problem for normal Asian Americans who are judged and stereotyped based on these stereotypes that are portrayed in popular culture such as movies and television. This is an ongoing issue that has been problematic in recent years. While in the early years, any exposure to Asian Americans in the entertainment industry was seen as positive, there has been a shift where Asian Americans would like to be portrayed in non-stereotypical ways. It will be interesting to see how and if there are any changes to the depiction of Asian Americans in entertainment in the future.


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