Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This is the Dawning of the Age of Odd-Asianus

From this...

...to this.  An evolution?
Sometime ago, I wrote about the stages of media acceptance of Gay people.  In the interim, I've noticed another trend.

Years ago, if you had asked me what bugged me, outside of the fact that Air Supply continued to record regardless of concentrated scowling on my part, I would have said I disliked what I called, "The Talk"

I grew up knowing that being African-American could present challenges and I gathered that I might be ready for that, but I was not prepared for the guarded acceptance of "The Talk".  The Talk was the feeling that I got from people that spoke to me, but felt a certain unease about who I was, but felt they needed to talk anyway, regardless.

So, with President Obama serving a second term, Valerie Jarrett as one of his advisors, Denzel Washington getting nominated and winning Oscars, I am pleased that inroads have been made from the "talk" days.

What bugs me is that TV hasn't completely figured out what to do with Asian actors in sitcoms.  It used to be the day if you wanted a funny gardener with ching-ching Chinaman accent that'd be worth a few yu(c)ks, which then evolved to making Asian men intelligent sexless photo-takers.  The women were either overly submissive sweeties or bad drivers.

Nowadays, they're just...weird.  There are some exceptions.  In "Go On" in the encounter group, there is Yolanda Mitsawa (Suzy Nakamura) who is weird to be sure (extreme repression), but she is offset by Steven (John Cho) who is Ryan King's (Matthew Perry) boss, and he is decidedly not odd.

"2 Broke Girls" - Han Lee (Mattew Moy) is the owner of the diner, but he is asexual, the butt of a LOT of jokes.  He has been seen at times, attempting to join a flash mob and wetting himself.

Community - Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) went from attitudinal Spanish teacher, to unemployed and living at the school to security guard.  In this character's defense EVERYone on this show is a bit strange.

These trends don't run in easily mapped patterns.  "My Favorite Brunette" had a very nice small part for   Jean Wong who played a mother with a child dead set on making life miserable for Bob Hope.  She is just a doting mom and her ethnicity is not played for laughs.  Sadly, this part is uncredited.

Then you see the smiling, shuffling faithful butler of "Auntie Mame", Ito (Yuki Shimoda) who was on screen far longer than Wong was.

There was the era of the Asian servant:
"Have Gun, Wil Travel" had the bellhop Hey Boy (Kam Tong)
"Bachelor Father" - Peter Tong (Sammee Tong)
"Bonanza" - Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung)

Then there was "Barney Miller", which was a watershed for racial roles.  While I don't think that Polish-Americans may have cared for Stan Wojciehowicz's lack of intellect, Jack Soo's role as Nick Yemana was not only great, but one that Soo had waited a long time for, having to turn down any number of houseboy and gardener roles (although he did play a wrestler in the "Odd Couple" TV show that called Felix Unger, a photographer "Crick-Crick".  Ouch!) in the interim between Miller and "Flower Drum Song".

This was offset by "M*A*S*H", which is well-regarded as great in many circles, but from what I have read but it was not mourned by Korean-Americans, partially due to portrayal, or lack of many recurring roles or, perhaps, due to the show casting non-Koreans in Korean roles.

Then came the fears  of Japanese investment and competition in the United States (although, at some time during this era GERMANY was investing more in U.S. business than Japan), so the pervading stereotypes came in as they were portrayed as enormously intelligent, sexless and great at photography.

"All-American Girl" featured Margaret Cho, which was a rarity: a sitcom with an Asian family as the stars.  As Cho tells it, it changed from her vision to having the network hire a consultant to make sure that the show was "properly Asian" and casting controversies:  Cho's parents were played by actors of Japanese descent (the very funny Clyde Kusatsu and Jodi Long), her TV brothers were Chinese-Americans (B.D. Wong and J.B. Quon), her Grandmother, Amy Hill...aw, heck this was a show about a Americanized Korean woman with precisely ONE Korean: Cho!

As those fears abated or people got tired of the same old jokes, in order to deal with the growing Asian populations, sometime, somewhere, it became expedient to make sitcom Asian people...weird.  We're in the middle of this phase, so I don't know where it will lead, but if I was someone who was from India, or of Indian descent, I'd be watching my back, ESPECIALLY after "Outsourced"aired.

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