Thursday, February 23, 2012

will you be my role model?

I love YouTube. There, I said it: an official endorsement. I don't care if it's sometimes littered with crap and offensive vlogs: I love that it gives your Average Joes and Janes a platform to express their opinions, show off their talents (shout out to Kris!), and provide you a window into their worlds (that sometimes involve cute kittens and puppies).

What's even better is when YouTube opens the door to a conversation that deserves some discussion, and there's a topic that's been surfacing in the media lately thanks to Jeremy Lin and the Linsanity craze: where are the Asian Americans?

The "invisible minority" label has never been more apparent. What we see is an astonishing lack of representation in the mainstream media and, more unfortunately, an unconscious anti-Asian sentiment that runs beneath the conversation. Saturday Night Live covered it best last week during the show's cold opening during a mock game recap in which three anchors made plenty of jokes about Asian Americans, but when one anchor tries to make a joke about African Americans, he's immediately stopped.

If you take a sweeping look at Asian American characters on network television, you'll be hard pressed to find a character that doesn't fit a stereotype (Sandra Oh is the definition of the "overachieving Asian" stereotype--at least, she was before the Grey's writers began writing her OOC storylines2 Broke Girls has taken heat for its portrayal of Asians with Matthew Moy's character; Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum, Jr. are the definition of "invisible" in Glee, and Shum's character even came packaged with your typical--albeit well-written and acted--"strict Asian dad" storyline this season).

Back to my original YouTube praise: enter Wong Fu Productions, an independent production company started by friends/dormmates Wesley Chan, Ted Fu and Philip Wang in 2003 at UC San Diego. They've worked with big names in the APIA community, from Glee's Shum to Far East Movement, and they have over a million subscribers on their YouTube channel.

I've always been a big fan of Wong Fu (see Spencer the Bear!) and was excited to see them take a stab at a television pilot on their YouTube channel: "Home is Where the Hans Are" is a four-part webisode in which a Caucasian guy comes home after an extended period abroad to meet his new stepfamily...who turn out to be Chinese.

"The idea of HANS was among a few that we pitched them, but the concept came about because we thought, why has there not been a show on tv with an Asian family?" Wong Fu writes on their website. "There are African Americans, Hispanics, why not Asian? Without getting into the politics, we decided to create a story that melded the two cultures, in an effort to make seeing Asians in not such a strange light as the general TV audience might see it."
The best part of "Home is Where the Hans Are" is that it doesn't try to ignore the fact that the Hans are Chinese (if you listen carefully to the dialogue, there are mentions of customs that might seem odd to those not familiar with Chinese customs, i.e. red envelope money), but it doesn't blow up stereotypes. It's nice to see Randall Park as Andrew not play a "high expectations Asian father." Even with Patrick, the youngest son, you don't feel as if he's boxed into the "smart Asian kid" stereotype at all. Ellen and Patrick are peers I recognize--in myself and in my ABC friends.

Autographed Wong Fu print, a Christmas present from Na in 2009!
"Home is Where the Hans Are" is not without its flaws (some of the more cliche lines led to awkward transitions and exchanges), but it's a series I'd love to see taken further. With the rise of the Lin phenomenon, second-generation APIA kids are finally getting the chance to see someone "like them" achieve mainstream success, which gives them a role model they may not have had before. I know how much I would've liked to have had an Asian American role model growing up in the media that wasn't so obviously boxed into a stereotype (Power Rangers, anyone?), and how much that would've helped me to really embrace and appreciate my cultural background.

1 comment:

  1. The four Sports Illustrated magazines I have specifically bought in my lifetime:
    1. Cardinals win world series 2006
    2. Cardinals win world series 2012
    3. Jeremy Lin
    4. Jeremy Lin week 2

    Good write-up!