|Posted by Joanna Chiu|
May 6th, 2012
As tonight’s season finale of CBS’s hit new sitcom 2 Broke Girls illustrates, three decades after Sixteen Candles’ cringe-worthy portrayal of foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong, degrading stereotypes of Asian men continue to proliferate in popular media. 2 Broke Girls premiered last fall with the highest rating for a new comedy series since 2001.
The show really had potential. The friendship between the two lead female characters is refreshing, and it could’ve even been the 21st century’s version of Roseanne. But instead of exploring race in a fresh and innovative way like Roseanne did with class, 2 Broke Girls merely exploits the setting of racially diverse New York City to make crude, gratuitous gags.
Fortunately, insightful and often very funny responses to racial stereotyping in 2 Broke Girls from Asian bloggers including Phil Yu, Andrew Ti and Allan Lee demonstrate that there are ways to entertain and engage audiences without relying on the sorts of tired tropes deployed by 2 Broke Girls.
The character played by Kat Jennings, Max, is a sarcastic working class waitress at a Brooklyn diner. When a pampered young heiress, Caroline (played by Beth Behrs), gets cut off from her trust fund and comes to work at the diner, the pair become unlikely friends. Together, they vow to save up money to realize their dream of opening a cupcake shop. It’s refreshing that the two main characters have a genuine friendship, when women on TV are often portrayed as catty and competitive. Alas, it goes downhill from there.
Garret Morris plays Earl, the street-talking black cashier of the diner, Jonathan Kite plays Oleg, the horny Ukrainian cook, and Matthew Moy plays Han (Bryce) Lee, the “man-child” Korean owner of the diner.
The casting call for Han Lee described the character as “33, Korean Born, Lovable, Thin Man; Thick Accent.”
The particularly cruel characterization of Han as an asexual, clueless immigrant has drawn the most criticism from viewers and critics. Han appears in the show with a high-pitched, “generic Asian” accent, a propensity to flail his arms around a lot, and is the target of much vitriol from his employees.
In this clip, Oleg calls Han a “small mouse” and “a woman.” Beth delivers the most emasculating blow when she leans down to comfort Han by telling him, “Every woman knows that size doesn’t matter.”
Asian-American critics have certainly not responded with silence or passivity, as negative stereotypes of Asian men might suggest. Six months before 2 Broke Girls even aired, Phil Yu, published and commented on excerpts of the pilot script at Angry Asian Man:
Why no? Blonde good for business and she worked in all good restaurants in Manhattan.
You are not hiring someone who refers to the color yellow as “mustard.” No way, Rice.
You don’t pronounce your R’s, I don’t pronounce by B’s.
You show her strings.
Ropes. And no. That would require me to be patient and listen and that’s just not my thing.
MAX TURNS AND LEAVES. LEE FOLLOWS AFTER HER.
“Ooohhh snap!,” Yu commented in his blog, “You see what they did there? With the mixing of the Rs and Ls joke? Damn, that is some original shit. And “Rice”? Who is the comedy genius coming up with this stuff?”
“I pray that this character gets re-tooled before they go into production,” Yu concluded.
When the show came to air, Han Lee’s character turned out to be even worse than critics had anticipated.
In Schema magazine, Allan Lee checks off all the stereotypes that Han embodies.
“1) Poor English: Check.
2) Homogenous Asian (Every Asian looking person is the same. Han is Korean? I’ll take your word for it): Check
3) Sexual ambiguity/mocking of male prowess: Check.
4) Jokes about height and size: Check.
5) Asian does/knows martial arts: Nope. Too bad, this one would have been the most interesting one.
6) And, to top it off, bad jokes about penis sizes: Check.”
In a column for Grantland, Andrew Ti, creator of the addictive “Yo, Is This Racist?Tumblr blog, profiled Han as the “most racist character of the week.”
“For real, it’s distressingly easy to imagine the writers sitting around and listing off every single ching-chong stereotype, ultimately deciding with some sorrow that a Fu Manchu mustache would be impractical for budget reasons,” Ti wrote.
Ti also speculated why caricatures like Earl, Oleg and Han continue to appear in highly rated primetime shows:
“I fully recognize that this show is not, you know, created with an Asian dude living in L.A. as the target demographic, but rather the much larger, and definitely more lucrative, audience of Americans for whom the diversity of New York represents a dangerous and head-scratching Other. (Actually, it’s probably worth further noting that I understand that almost all of TV is geared toward this audience.)”
With so many sitcoms, dramas and reality shows glorifying massive wealth and pitting women against one another, it makes sense that some fans living all over America would appreciate the cross-class bonding among 2 Broke Girls’ two female leads. But when Asian-Americans make up 0.2 percent of news coverage in the U.S., racist portrayals of one of the very few Asian-American characters on TV can have a significant impact, especially when he appears in a show as popular as 2 Broke Girls.
The show won “Favorite New TV Comedy” at the 38th People’s Choice Awards, drew 12.75 million viewers at its peak, and with its lowest rated episode averaging 9 million viewers, it is expected to run for at least a few more seasons.
Bloggers like Phil Yu, Andrew Ti, and Allan Lee, along with a slew of critics in outlets from TIME magazine to Think Progress have effectively pressured the show to make a few changes. In one episode in February, they brought on a “hot Asian guy” to have a one-night stand with Beth.
But is a random hookup enough to undo a season of stereotyping? Share your thoughts in the comments below – or directly to CBS (you can use these tips to write an effective protest letter to the network).