By Elise Cuthbertson
Eastern identities and cultures are being continually stereotyped and marginalised within Western representations. Western-produced television programs and films which feature Asian characters are almost always influenced by a set of stereotypes which were founded in Hollywood in the early 20th century. As a result of these stock-standard identities, the larger complexities and differences between Asian countries are glossed. The consequence of this kind of content being proliferated by the mass media is that the true identities of Asian people are never brought to light.
This Western propensity for stereotyping Asian people stems from the need to mark difference; Shah argues that identities are created as a result of this process. Meaning, he says, can only be established amongst societies when people categorise others using the mindset of “we are what they are not”. This philosophy has filtered into Western cinema, as evidenced by the four Asian stereotypes. Shah asserts that these stereotypes have influenced almost every Western-produced contemporary representation of Asians. The stereotypes are divided into male and female roles, and also into threatening and submissive characterisations. Yellow Peril and Dragon Lady are aggressive Asian stereotypes for men and women respectively whereas Charlie Chan and Lotus Blossom represent their submissive counterparts. The aggressive representations portray Asians as cruel and calculating people who use white people to their own advantage. Charlie Chan and Lotus Blossom are mobilised to paint a picture of Asian people as docile, obedient and most importantly, non-threatening to white people and white culture. These stereotypes explain how Westerners believe Asians should behave in order to fit into white society.
Collectively, Shah explains, the stereotypes equate to a social control mechanism in order to ensure white supremacy. The representations are still evident in Western media, over a hundred years since their creation, and will remain unless action is taken. Shah views the production and distribution of content which represents true Asian identities as the only way the world will ever be “liberated” from stereotypical images.
Shah, Hemant. 2003. “Asian Culture and Asian American Identities in the Television and Film Industries of the United States”