Do Asian Stereotypes Get Old?

Last week, the YOMOMF Network’s YouTube video “How To Be More Asian” began doing the rounds on social media. In this video, we see two Caucasian entertainment managers attempting to persuade two Asian actors to act “more Asian”. Accompanied by a catchy tune, the Asian actors try to do so and in the process show their affection for Hello Kitty tattoos and eating sushi off naked bodies. At the end of the video, the Caucasians walk away fazed by such “bizarre” behaviour.

Yet another piece of media that showcases Asian stereotypes in a humourous manner.

Is the video racist?

Maybe. Maybe not. As PetiteFolle mentioned, “the harm in stereotypes occurs when people forget that they are just generalisations”, causing offence to a particular race. Judging from the YouTube comments it received, I’m sure some of us who watched the video laughed at it because 1) we know not all Asians conform to typical stereotypes and the video simply exaggerates characteristic Asian behaviour and 2) sometimes that is the rather ridiculous way some Asians behave. On the other hand, I’m sure some of us frowned at it because once again Asians are featured in the media within stereotypical capacities and are made the butt of jokes.

It’s heartening to see that the video draws attention to the fact that there are some ignorant people who don’t see Asians as anything more than fitting particular moulds. But like many other stereotypical portrayals of different races in the media, this karaoke-esque video makes a number of generalisations and narrow-minded associations about Asian cultures:

1)      “Asian” is thrown about loosely in the song-and-dance video, in a sense functioning as an umbrella term to describe everyone who has dark hair and eyes and yellow skin. Specific Asian ethnicities (e.g. Chinese, Japanese etc.) are never really mentioned.

2)      Indians are assumed to be Asian (see Indian dance scene the end). There has always been much confusion about whether Indians are indeed Asian. Some Indians see themselves as Asian, but other Indians don’t.

3)      Being “Asian” is strongly entwined with pop-culture fads (e.g. Hello Kitty, cosplay, Gangnam Style). Asian history, traditions and values don’t get spoken about as often.

4)      There is an air of innuendo throughout (e.g. sushi and semi-naked bodies). Why does the exotic have to almost always be accompanied by erotic and sinful vibes that don’t exactly supplement the whole point of what is being shown/talked about?

I don’t know about you, but a day after watching this video for the very first time, I wasn’t able to recall much about it off the top of my head. Maybe I’ve seen one too many videos about Asian stereotypes and all of them are so similar and a blur to me. Maybe stereotypical representations of Asians don’t resonate well with me.

Or maybe I’m just tired of looking and laughing at the same old, same old Asian stereotypes.

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8 thoughts on “Do Asian Stereotypes Get Old?

  1. Stereotypes are quite a nuanced topic so I don’t think we should ever take absolute positions on them. For example, in Australia we are getting “cultural awareness” lessons on Aborigines which basically homogenize a very diverse set of people with stereotypes. Is that a bad thing? On one hand, the stereotypes help the urban Aborigine disconnected from traditional culture to have an Aboriginal identity, but on the other, they fail to recognise differences between tribes and between individuals within tribes. Whether the stereotypes have any use in intercultural relations depends on whether the Aborigine being dealt with believes the stereotypes to be true.

    Likewise, I was speaking to someone who recently who had an encounter with a Chinese military delegation in which the cultural experts said it would not be culturally appropriate for them to speak to the military officer’s wives. In my years living in China, I had never encountered a cultural belief that Chinese wives are to be seen and not heard but maybe its a military thing. So again, it it a positive or negative thing to be exposed to the stereotype? The fact that Chinese men believed that women should not be heard, or used a cultural excuse to ensure they wouldn’t, said something that was perhaps useful to know even if it was a little dubious.

    Aside from stereotypes being used to define cultural identities, they are also heavily used by business to shape a product’s image. Phrases like German precision, Italian style, French elegance and Swiss timing all benefit certain companies which in turn try to keep up the stereotypes of their country. In regards to Asia, for the last few years Ryobi has been running commercials that finish with the image of a Samurai warrior slashing a sword, which evokes a certain image of a Samurai and links it to the Japanese company.

    The erotic nature of stereotypes of the “other” are probably the inevitable side effect of a titillation that is often felt to the other. For example, in China, a Chinese woman told me that at school she read a textbook that said Australian women change sexual partners as frequently as they change their clothes. I also encountered Chinese men who believed that Caucasian women were sexual tigers. Were these stereotypes based in fact? In my informal conversations, I’ve encountered Chinese women who have said they felt pressured to be more chaste that what they would like to be and I’ve encountered women who have felt pressured to be more sexually liberal than they would like to be. On that basis, I would say there are cultural differences between Australia and China about how a “good woman” should act but not all women want to conform to those respective cultural definitions.

    Traditional Asian stereotypes are also an interesting point. In China, I used to see foreigners do Tai Chi on the street and most of the locals found them odd. Likewise, in Japan, some foreigners really got into the traditional Japanese culture that is quite alien to the lives of contemporary Japanese. It seems foreigners have a stereotype of what the Asian is like, identify it, want to become like it but it is a bit of a fantasy. Some Asians have also used traditional stereotypes to define Asia. For example, a few years ago I was a paper by a Singaporean academic that had created a list of “Asian values.” It had things like good morals and respect for elders. Aside from homogenising Asian cultures, for each point, I could think of many individual Asians I had encountered that didn’t conform to the point.

    Personally, I don’t think we should be out there saying that stereotypes are evil things, rather, I think we should provide skills to help individuals critically analyze stereotypes so that they can be used to help shape their own cultural identity and also better communicate with people who use stereotypes to shape their cultural beliefs.

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    • Totally agree with you there – we can’t say that stereotypes should be banished from this planet. Stereotypes DO tell us traits of particular cultures, traits that have been a part of Asian culture dating back to the olden days. I reckon the older generation, in particularly our parents and grandparents, fit stereotypical moulds and are proud of it for one reason or another. For example, my parents are both into accounting/numbers and eat ‘weird’ Asian food such as chicken feet, and are proud of these characteristics.

      Love your example re stereotypes and Aborigines. So true how a number of us hawk back to upholding stereotypes ourselves when we (e.g. ethnic minorities) want to re-connect with our heritage – but at the same time still fail to fully understand parts about their native culture. I think this applies when some of us are trying to learn our mother tongue. Time and time again I’ve read and heard friends wanting to learn Mandarin in order to be more “Chinese”. Most of the time, they just want to learn the language for the sake of speaking it and communicating with their elders, as opposed to understanding Chinese culture and the its significance in the past and present world.

      Thanks for commenting RedEarthBlueSky. I don’t mind the typos. You’ve got very good stimulating content in your comment, that makes up for it!

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  2. I laughed while watching that video. I didn’t feel offended but I think someone might see it as racist? But for me, some gags in it may be ridiculous but some are quite alright such as KPop, Sailer Moon, Hello Kitty, etc.

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    • I didn’t laugh when I first saw the video but like you, I didn’t feel offended. Very true that the mentioning of K-Pop, Sailor Moon, Hello Kitty etc. are a big part of Asian culture. Many Asians take a strong liking towards such poppy music and “cutesy” characters…so I guess in some ways the video isn’t racist, but quite an accurate reflection of Asian culture.

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  3. I think the stereotyping of Asians is getting old, and it’s so predictable too.

    Stereotyping is awful, bigoted and mainly due to ignorance. However, stereotypes do come from some truth but it’s unfair to think everyone is the same. And then they judge you based on those stereotypes without bothering to spend some time to get to know you.

    I don’t fit into the mainstream Asian stereotype; I’m terrible at maths, I am not interested in accounting, I don’t have a desire to work in the fields of law, commerce, accounting, finance, med or dentistry. I am not an anime fan and don’t watch them, except Dragon Ball Z and I never hung around an Asian clique or group during high school or university. And I don’t act ‘cute’ like most stereotyped Asian girls do.

    It’s a pity that some people judge me according to those stereotypes but when I don’t ‘act’ like they think I ‘should’ act they don’t know how to respond to a person like me.

    But I really need to point out that Asians need to be more proactive in showing people we are not all like that. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with liking to watch anime or hanging around an Asian group or whatever, but we need to show people we are not homogenous but very diverse

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    • From how you’re describing yourself, it seems that you are a very special person. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself and not conforming to typical society ideals. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say some people “don’t know how to respond” when someone acts of stereotypical mould. Either these people are extremely narrow-minded, or are fearful of spontaneous, strong-minded un-stereotypical people because they are wary of the unfamiliar.

      True that. Asians have to be more assertive in showing that we’re more than just cute, porcelain faces. We need to belief in our own strengths – be it drawing or writing – and don’t listen to the naysayers who put us down.

      Thank you for saying my blog is great. I feel that my writing needs to be more engaging though. Working on this! 🙂

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