meus intuitus

Mediocre Comedy with a Touch of Yellowface

with 6 comments

The Hangover was an amusing movie, but my experience was soured by the little Asian man caricature written into the plot.  I am no expert on the issues facing minority actors in America, but let’s be honest.  There are two kinds of minority roles you will see in mainstream media and theater:  Ones that are legitimate and ones that are there for white people to laugh or gawk at.  Sorry, my characterization of the latter is unfair…  ones that are there for people not-of-that-race to laugh or gawk at.

I’m sure Ken Jeong is a decent and intelligent man, but when he popped out of the trunk of that Benz naked, exposed himself emasculated, laid a beating on the white protagonists, and screeched at them in that beautiful accent, I couldn’t help but lose respect for him.  Oh, and I loved that bit later on–what did he say?  “Suck my little Chinese balls.”

That is what it is all about, really, respect and balls, and most male Asian roles have none–unless, of course, they are backflipping and axekicking.  I don’t hate hate Ken Jeong, Bobby Lee, or other actors (be they black, white, asian, hispanic, middle-eastern, or indian American) for stereotyping themselves.  I recognize that they are only being complicit in an industry that has always been as tough as it is prejudiced–but at what cost do they earn their bread?  They earn it not only by selling their souls, but also by selling the dignity of the people they represent.  Yellow/black/red face amused the masses years ago.  Damning stereotypes amuse the those who do not know better today.

Of course, all of us (myself included) hold racial prejudices.  We have grown up in a prejudiced society; we get it from our parents, our friends, the media, etc.  As such, prejudice in society is like smog in a city–sometimes it is obvious and visible, other times it goes unnoticed, either way, we are always breathing it in.  Still, we all have a responsibility to clean it up (B. D. Tatum, Defining Racism).


Written by meusintuitus

June 21, 2009 at 8:14 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I think this quote sums up the way we feel about this issue and gives insight into why these actors fulfill such roles:

    Seeing oneself in a mocking pose repeatedly is a dehumanizing experience, one that tells people over and over they are objects, that they have no control over how their representation appears in public, and that others have the right to control that image and tell stories and make physical jokes at their expense. Moreover…such images also imply one needs to act in this way in order to be accepted in the mainstream, or to be accepted at all. (Ono and Pham 62)

    It’s sad to see that our representation is so limited that we are either 1) not seen at all in mainstream media, or 2) when we are seen, we are portrayed as foreign (as not integrated Americans) or extremely stereotyped.

    Ideally, by participating in authorship, Asian Americans can take part in media discourse as a cultural authority and work to negate these stereotypes. However, current roles of authorship are extremely limited due to our limited power within mainstream media production. As a result, Asian Americans “typically appear in ways that comport with colonial representations and thus do not represent a true lived experience. Within the media, Asian Americans are often at the side-lines, feeling the effects of dominant media representation but hardly ever appearing in the spotlight” (Ono and Pham 5).

    Like you said about the historical use of yellowface, the presentation of Asian as exotic, unknown, and as “othered” through the use of historical stereotypes, hides the identity of Asian American as a significant and important part of American culture and population. Typical stereotypes of Asian and Asian Americans are China Doll, Dragon Lady, nerds, sexually inferior or asexual, mystics, and victims. While Asian women are hyper-sexualized, overly dominant or submissive, Asian American men are emasculated, portrayed as asexual, nerdy, and feminine. One example I think relates a lot to the one you mentioned in The Hangover is the character “Lil Kim” from the movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalow. In Bigalow, Lil Kim is the Asian male prostitute; when told to “go make me some money,” Lil Kim replies, “No way. I take my three inches elsewhere.” This stereotype of sexual inferiority or subordination “works alongside a recognition of Asian American racial inferiority to produce a punchline for the joke, meant to be funny for non-Asian and non-Asian American viewers and an insult to Asian and Asian American audiences” (Ono and Pham 72).

    These stereotyped images or a lack of images altogether, are dominant in mainstream television and film, and are produced by the dominant group—the one with the power to define; therefore, our representation will be shaped by their rather limited view of us. The limitation of this normalized view as well as the stereotypes built into it, function in tandem with the hegemonic power of media to create an overwhelming genre of absence—in that exclusionary practices either entirely (through removal or complete lack of representation) or selectively (through stereotypes) limit and erase Asian American representation.

    Although media is a hegemonic power that may seem all-powerful and pervasive, and prejudice may be the smog we all inhale, our individual interactions with media and prejudice ultimately make it work and continue to exist as is. By refusing to allow the use of such stereotypical images on all fronts by all different groups, we can create change incrementally from the bottom up. It’s simple, really; since individual actions are what ultimately makes this machine work, individual action is what can make it stop. I know I’m veering on the edge of optimism and am likely to fall off that edge by assuming this solution: We can stop laughing at those jokes. Speak up when your friends laugh at them; explain why it’s not funny. I think the hardest thing to do is to make your voice heard when it seems like you’re the only one concerned. The worst thing we can do is to fall silent, commit to resignation under these circumstances, and become complicit in the production of these stereotypes.

    On the up side (pun intended), you should see the movie Up! The main (kid) character is Asian and is AWESOME. 😀 !!


    June 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

  2. I agree that it’s sad that our media only knows how to portray minorities as caricatures, but as far as the implication that only white people laugh at these caricatures — false.

    I know Asians who make Asian jokes and exaggerated Asian accents. Chappele’s Show was about black people owning black stereotypes. Mind of Mencia grew out of the Chapelle’s Show success under the premise that if an Hispanic is cracking the jokes, it’s okay to call Hispanics wetbacks.

    So it’s not just white people who bear responsibility for the perpetuation. And honestly, we won’t get very far demanding that entertainment reflect something more complex. Media reflects underlying truths. The fact is that our society is still racist.

    I’m not saying it’s malicious to laugh at stereotypes every once in a while. Most of us do it and that doesn’t make us the worst type of racists. But it is disingenuous to avoid any complexity in our humor about other cultures. Because there is laughter to be had…it just doesn’t have to be about the same, tired joke.

    I need to see Up.


    June 26, 2009 at 7:13 am

  3. Oh, don’t worry your pretty little heads over it. As an Asian, I thought the Chow figure was somewhat amusing (even more so than Tyson or the cops), but only delivered chuckles, as most of the movie did. And that’s not to say the movie also did some other stereotypes, with the sassy black woman, the angry woman, and the annoying marriage clerk.

    And to be fair, he was shoved into a trunk with his money stolen, naked, by four complete strangers and mad as all Hell.

    Radioactive Zombie

    June 30, 2009 at 12:27 am

    • Yes, stereotypes can be funny–and it is good to be able to laugh at ourselves. However, I’m going to require some serious anti- or at least non-stereotypical representation if I am to laugh at small dick jokes.

      The presence of multiple funny minorities in a movie does not justify prejudice in the industry. Middle-easterners and Indians would appreciate better representation as well.

      True the sassy black woman is a common stereotype in Hollywood, but at least there are other legitimate black actresses like Hallie Barry or Queen Latifah.

      Where is my Morgan Freeman or Samuel L Jackson?


      June 30, 2009 at 6:56 am

    • I’m sure a lot of ignorant Asian people found his character humorous, but that doesn’t justify the ridiculous stereotype it promoted.

      Let’s not forget that Ken Jeong is Korean and speaks perfect English. His failed attempt to talk the way he THINKS Chinese people sound like was really insulting. Can you imagine how outraged the Korean community would have been if the roles had been reversed? – A Chinese actor running around saying “I’m Ko-LEE-yun! I’m Ko-LEE-yun!” acting like a fool for the camera, then topping it off by exposing his undersized penis and reminding everyone he’s Korean, rather than his true ethnic identity. That would pretty much start a war.

      Plus, there’s the fact that Ken Jeong really does have an extremely small penis. He’s a freak of nature, seriously. But very few moviegoers are going to realize (or care) that he isn’t representative of Asian men as a whole. By exposing himself and his tiny package, the helped to reinforce yet another unfortunate stereotype.

      But it’s a Hollywood comedy, so it’s no big deal, right? We really do have a long way to go. I’m glad you’re bringing this issue to people’s attention, meus intuitus.

      Joe T.

      August 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm

  4. I was pretty sure the producers had him wear tape or something during his escape, because you couldn’t see the rest of his… ahem… parts. His bodyguards may balance it out, but they’re all threatening criminals.

    Radioactive Zombie

    July 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

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