Monday, October 19, 2009

The Binary Structure of Asian Characters

Stuart Hall defines Binary Structure of a particular stereotype as a “split between two extreme opposites” (263). He uses the example of how the blacks are caught between being “childlike” and “oversexed” (263). This binary structure reminds me of the one that the Asian stereotype is caught between when portrayed in the media. In films and television, when there is a token Asian, he or she is most likely nerdy and a genius at math or science (or perhaps both). For example, Harold in Harold and Kumar is a Stock analyst. However, at the opposite of that spectrum, there is the stereotypical Asian who has really bad English or acts like an airhead. For example, in Disney’s Suite Life of Zach and Cody, London Tipton is portrayed as an airhead heiress. Furthermore, Asians are also often portrayed in “Chinatown” setting, participating in a service industry and speaking poor English.

Because I am convinced that every media element is embodied by Mean Girls, here is a scene where Janis and Damian introduce how different parts of the cafeteria is occupy by different cliques, according to stereotypes. There are both Asian nerds and cool Asians.


  1. Haha, More mean girls? But yeah, Asians are always given such extreme roles! I don't understand why they can't just be portrayed normally. I mean in one of my previous entries I talked about the asian guy in The Hangover, and I recently just saw him again in the movie, Couples Retreat. He once again embodied the stereotypical Asian role, and was comical and easy to make fun of just like in the Hangover. I think Sandra Oh might be the only asian actress who doesn't embody these stereotypical traits.

  2. I love this. Very true. The other day, I was talking to someone who was went on a tour of MIT and the first thing they said was, "filled with asians, typical." I feel like our society can never escape stereotypes.

  3. I understand that Asians will probably never stop being stereotyped, but I think we should also acknowledge some facts, not just assumptions. For example, those who marked themselves as Asians on their SAT test were those who scored highest on the Math section, and those who took Math and Chinese SAT 2s did better than those who took Math and Spanish SAT 2. It may not be a direct correlation as there are always other factors and information that is not included. but I'm just saying.. Of course, just because Asians receive high marks on tests doesn't mean all Asians ARE smart or ARE dorky or whatever is being stereotyped. It's just not fair, but what ya gonna do? It's true that Asians are hardly casted and their race ignored.

  4. I'm not trying to say Asians are smarter or pro-anything. I'm just as tired as everyone with having Asians casted as Asians. I don't know how to write about race and stereotypes without being racist and stereotyping!

  5. Kim, you've really opened my eyes to the versatility of Mean Girls. I think you need to write a media studies book on this topic :)

    Caroline, first of all it's totally fine to use stereotypes etc. when talking about race (we'll talk about this in class) - so much of our vocabulary about race is based on stereotypes that it makes it really hard to talk about otherwise. Also, if we all worry about offending each other, we could never talk about anything for this whole unit. Anyway, I like what Berg talks about when he says "stereotypes may have a basis in fact," but that these qualities aren't culturally specific and they don't represent the complete experience of a group.

    Sure, there are Asian nerds and "cool Asians" and Asian people who speak broken English, but there are also about a million other Asians and Asian-Americans who aren't any of these things, and are rarely portrayed in the media.