Repossessing the Stereotype

In this week’s primary text, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthologies, there are several instances of Asian American comics portraying the Asian American stereotype in an exaggerated manner. It initially seemed curious to me, why an Asian American would perpetuate both offensive and false stereotypes. For example “Tales from the Orient”, written by Jamie Ford, displays stereotypes all aspects of the drawing and text including the names of the ‘featured characters’, the font choice, the use of the word “exotic” in large bold lettering, and the hand holding a laundry ticket; all of these stereotypes negatively portray Asians and exploit foreignness as a source of entertainment through the use of the terms “orient” and “exotic”. The comic displays featured characters that embody multiple stereotypes; these include the “Picture Bride”; the demonic looking “Hooded Yellow Claw”; and lastly a combination of the infamous doll Chuckie and the classic Asian lead Jackie Chan, “Chuckie Chan”. In looking over these comics and trying to understand their purpose, it became clear that they serve as a repossession of these stereotypes by Asian Americans. Rather than letting stereotypes continue with no form of reaction, Asian Americans have reclaimed the stereotypes and morphed them in to a satirical form of entertainment.

Another example of this is seen in the Chin-Kee comics written by Gene Liang Yang. In these comics the main character Chin-Kee embodies the stereotype in his speech, habits, appearance, and actions. The satire of these stereotypes provides for a platform for pointing out the absurdity of these stereotypes in an entertaining and empowering way, so as to challenge the hegemonic relationship of Asian Americans. Examples of Asian Americans embracing certain stereotypes as a mode of empowerment can be seen everywhere including postings on Instagrams, Facebook, and other forms of social media. Below is an example of the Instagram profile of a woman named Helen Li, Helen is the only Asian American in her immediate social circle and in many ways, including her profile name, creates a joke out of the unwarranted tokenism that often takes place. This provides her with power over the stereotype and a mode of devaluing the stereotype.
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Finally, Shattered also provides examples of repossessing the stereotype through comics in a non-satirical way. This method is that of creating a relatable scenario that includes bullies, bystanders, an “underdog”, and a revenge seeker. This type of scenario is one that appeals to the masses as it creates a situation where there is an injustice, and ultimately the main characters come to a realization of how to overcome the injustice, thus leaving the readers satisfied. The way in which this appears in Shattered is through the portrayal of the hegemonic relationship between Asian Americans and Americans, and the imposition of the model minority stereotype on a character. A specific example of this can be seen in the comic “Camden’s Revenge”. This story, written by Keiko Agena, is about the bullying of an Asian American, Mark Wong, and his friend Camden’s attempt at retribution. Camden’s attempt at revenge fails, as the bullies do not allow her pranks to bring them down, rather they manage to gain more power and support from them. Ultimately, Mark and Camden learn together that the best way to overcome the bullying is to not provide the aggressors with a reaction. This story is successful in demonstrating the harm caused by these stereotypes, but most importantly, how little merit these stereotypes have as the main characters repossess the stereotype and devalue it. Like Helen Li, they take the names they are called, Mr. and Mrs. Loser, and demonstrate that they simply do not care.

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This idea of repossessing the stereotype through visual culture is important in the understanding of the role stereotypes play in the daily life of Asian Americans and other minorities. In consuming culture of this sort, some readers become aware of the ridiculousness of a stereotype and the negative role it plays in society, while other readers may simply be entertained. Though there is the ability and power to repossess and own the stereotype, one must question whether or not visual culture is truly an effective tool in knocking down a stereotype, or if it merely perpetuates it through a comical lens.

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