Glee. Glee. Glee.There are SO MANY THING I COULD SAY ABOUT GLEE! I can say that I love watching the musical numbers. I can say that I love the jokes and the humor and Brittany's one liners. But I am really excited tonight because I am going to talk about Glee's portrayal of Asians. I can also say that I'm pretty excited to do this review tonight, especially after an episode last night that actually featured three (non related) Asians! THREE ASIANS!! PUT THAT ON YOUR LIST/HAND (to understand this strange reference read this post). There are also some criticisms I can make about Glee, not limited to the garbled plot lines that the haters like to consistently point to (they just don't understand the magic) Soooooooo there are two regular, reoccurring Asian characters on Glee:
Tina Cohen-Chang Mike Chang
Tina is kind of a goth girl who used to have a fake stutter (sometimes she's referred to as "Asian"). Mike Chang was a football player who loves dancing (and has beautiful abs) (sometimes referred to as "other Asian"). The actors that portray them are Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum Jr. Jenna is Korean American actress who was adopted when she was a small child (thus the non Asian last name) and raised in New York. Harry is a Chinese American actor who was originally born in Costa Rica, but moved to California around 5 years old. He speaks not only English, but also Cantonese and Spanish!
When Kurt was trying to find his African American friend Mercedes a date/boyfriend he pointed to a black guy, Mercedes' response was, "Why him? Oh, I guess it has nothing to do with the fact that he's one of the five black guys in our school?" (The Substitute). African American characters often have to deal with being paired up together romantically. Asian women and Asian men have another problem. TVTropes.com called it the "Me Love You Long Time" Trope
When a story features a Western guy and an Asian girl, the guy gets the girl. It's that simple. Even — especially — if he's the only white guy and everyone else is Asian, possibly as a side effect of the Mighty Whitey [those . And if the multiethnic cast features one or several Asian guys, forget about them, they aren't even competition. The title refers to the (in)famous pick-up line used by the Vietnamese prostitute on Sergeant Joker in Full Metal Jacket - TVTropes.com
This is a sad sad thing, especially what it ultimately says about the desirability of Asian men in comparison to the desirability of white men. The white men are perceived as attractive because of their whiteness. I am more concerned and disturbed by the fallout that Asian guys have had to deal with as a consequence. I am also guilty of falling into this horrible projection of media. I have to admit that for the greater part of my adolescence (okay, in reality up until like a month ago when I realized this was part of a stereotype) being always attracted to white guys and not to Asian guys. I just never saw them in that way, and I can point to the fact that all the movies and tv shows I ever saw only painted white guys as attractive boyfriends or husbands. Dear Asian men, I am sorry for not giving you the chance you deserved. You have my full attention now-please prove yourselves.
Anyway, getting back on topic-
"Asian male sexuality is often portrayed negatively or as non existent. Although Asian women are frequently portrayed as positive romantic partners for white men ("Sayonara," "The World of Suzie Wong," ad infinitum), Asian men are almost never positively paired with women of any race. Western society still seems to view Asian male sexuality as a problem. Consequently, Asian men are usually presented either as threatening corrupters of white women or as eunuchs lacking any romantic feelings. For example, in the action movie "Showdown in Little Tokyo," the Asian villain forces himself upon a white woman and murders her before threatening the Asian female love interest. Predictably, the white hero kills the Asian villain and "wins" the Asian woman--while the hero's Amerasian sidekick is given no love life at all."- MANAA
All this talk about harmful Asian stereotypes is working up to a discussion of Tina and Mike's relationship. Their characters confront all of these issues. Tina was dating Artie (a white guy in a wheelchair) in season one. He treated her horribly, so she dumped him and started to go out with Mike Chang. The story is that they both worked at at "Asian Camp" over the summer and that Tina fell in love with his abs.
This completely defies the romantic stereotypes.
1) The inattentive white boy gets dumped
2) The Asian girl ends up with the Asian guy
Instead of the reverse happening, Asian girl, Asian guy, and white guy stealing Asian girl, its the other way around! Yay!!!! Not just that, Mike Chang is shown as a great boyfriend. So much in fact that Tina has to "cool down" during one of their makeout sessions with the episode's gag featuring fantasty/nightmares of Coach Beiste. Though its not to say that they don't have their arguments or problems. One funny and telling moment during the episode "Duets" involved Tina's frustration with the fact that whenever they go out, its always for dim sum with his mom. She wants to go to a restaurant and get a salad without chicken feet in it. Mike then says that they should go to Asian couples therapy with Tina replying "Why does the couples therapy have to be Asian?"
Tina is addressing a symptom of their great Asian-Asian relationship- their relationship is all about how their both Asian. Of course this scene is really funny, but it also directly addresses whats probably going on in most of America's heads which is, "of course! Asians date Asians, they are inaccessible to white people, just like black people". I do have to say, this is one of the few times when I feel like the minority is dating up, Mike Chang is soooo much hotter than Tina (He was rated 35th on Sexiest TV actors for 2010) and has made himself pretty attractive to many white girls-he dances AND he has beautiful abs! The writers of Glee have even taken it upon themselves by addressing the problem to possibly help it. (and in a way that was also very funny. I AM APPLAUDING YOU!) They also brought to light the way that they're known as "Asian" and "Other-Asian" by using it in the TV show (this is called lampshading).
When Tina and Mike first come back to school after the summer and are asked whether or not they're dating Tina replies, "Cause were both Asian? That's racist!" They then proceed to hold hands. FUNNY and also affective!
It's great to see these regular, reoccurring characters on Glee. There are so many good things, and I could complain a little about how they rarely receive dialogue or song solos. Because. Its sad that there are very few Asian characters who can really be seen as principals in a show. But if any Glee fans are honest, we can all complain about the fact that Rachel, Finn, and Mr. Schuster pretty much dominate the screen most of the time (especially Rachel). Tina and Mike receive screen time than even some of the other Glee club members, its like they're third string behind second string Warblers/Kurt/Blaine/Cheerios (because face it, America wants to see more homosexual Brittany/Santana and Kurt/Blaine lovin' than Asians) behind first string Rachel and Finn. Mercedes can be lumped with Tina and Mike in the fact that they really represent the token minorities. Token minorities are mostly used in an attempt to appeal to a wider demographic. Tina, Mike, and Mercedes are practically forgotten most of the time, which is sad. We're kind of there, just to be your token minorities. Its hard with Tina because Mike is such a great dancer that its kind of his "thing". Can an Asian hold the spotlight, can we be more than the backup dancer? Can we be the protagonist of the story?
that is one of the big things that I am disappointed about, but I have to admit that you can't win them all. Everything in life has its good and its bad. At least here, the good can be celebrated and the bad addressed. AND Sunshine/Charice is kind of a subversion to that issue, but that's for the next post! Glee is a show that prides itself on showcasing the losers of our world. I can say that I am happy about this, and its probably one of the reasons that this show has a more generally more progressive portrayal of Asian Americans. I can't help but be sad about the fact that some losers are more losers than others (we're all asking ourselves the question why the whole show is centered around Lea Michele?).
The following is going to my rating system I'm going to use. The more rice bowls there are the better. The maximum amount of rice bowls a show can have will be 5.
Glee's overall rating is
Three and a half Rice Bowls for actually having Asians and also addressing/confronting/defying stereotypes
I'll have my second part up about Charice/Sunshine and why her presence on Glee is awesome next!
That Asian Girl