Crazy Male Asians: Stories Matter


With the release of Crazy Rich Asians, here’s my most popular post from last year: On the “Ugly Asian Male” stereotype, and why Asian-American males are considered the least attractive people and the least likely to be a lead.

– Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room

I was surprised this post got any traction at all. Often when I talk about anything Asian, people glaze over and tune out. “You’re smart, you have it easy, you work hard, you people are privileged too,” I always hear, as if my only say in the matter is to be grateful and bow all the time. And I know that “diversity” is not an issue everybody wants to hear because it’s been used as a guilt-sledgehammer. So I rarely talk about it here.

But these things do matter to me. I learned quickly as a young Korean-American that my life was a second-class existence. I was a prop, the comic relief, the third acquaintance. I wish I had any sort of Hollywood hero to aspire to.

Asian males in American media are often emasculated hair-dyed plot devices, mute kung fu experts, evil villains, or the computer guy in a chair. It’s almost impossible to name the last time an Asian male was the romantic interest in any American movie. Even Mulan​ was the only animated Disney movie where the romantic leads didn’t kiss. I guess an Asian male having that sort of energy was too weird.

That’s all fine, I suppose, but the power of mainstream art has a way of drawing boxes around our perception of others, including the perception of self. I suffocated in this box for too long. And God forbid we have actual dreams, hopes, insecurities, and backstories like everyone else.

With recent shows like Kim’s Convenience​, Fresh off the Boat​, and Ugly Delicious​, it’s great to see we’re slowly chipping away at old conventions. I’m not sure that Asian-Americans are going to have the “one huge hit that will change everything.” If that happens, I’m all for it. I’m also all for working modestly towards the horizon, like we’ve always done. I hope you will hear us. Our stories are worth sharing. Here’s to breaking boxes.

— J.S.

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Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room

Statistically, I’m the least attractive person in the dating scene. Alongside black women, the Asian-American male is considered the most ugly and undesirable person in the room.

Take it from Steve Harvey, who won’t eat what he can’t pronounce:

“‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ No thank you. I don’t even like Chinese food. It don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.’”

Eddie Huang, creator of the groundbreaking Asian-American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, responded to Steve Harvey in The New York Times:

“[Every] Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us. We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we’re naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl.”

Asian-American men, like me, know the score. That is, we don’t count at all.

Hollywood won’t bank on me. Think: When was the last time you saw an Asian male kiss a non-Asian female in a movie or TV show? Or when was the last time an Asian-American male was the desired person in a romantic comedy? And more specifically, when where they not Kung Fu practitioners or computer geniuses? I can only think of two examples: Steven Yeun as Glenn from The Walking Dead and John Cho as Harold from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. So it takes either a zombie apocalypse or the munchies to see a fully breathing Asian male lead, or a Photoshop campaign #StarringJohnCho for an Asian protagonist with actual thoughts in his head.

It’s so rare to see a three-dimensional Asian male character, with actual hopes and dreams, that Steven Yeun remarks in GQ Magazine:

GQ Magazine: When you look back on your long tenure on The Walking Dead, what makes you proudest?

Steven Yeun: Honestly, the privilege that I had to play an Asian-American character that didn’t have to apologize at all for being Asian, or even acknowledge that he was Asian. Obviously, you’re going to address it. It’s real. It’s a thing. I am Asian, and Glenn is Asian. But I was very honored to be able to play somebody that showed multiple sides, and showed depth, and showed a way to relate to everyone. It was quite an honor, in that regard. This didn’t exist when I was a kid. I didn’t get to see Glenn. I didn’t get to see a fully formed Asian-American person on my television, where you could say, “That dude just belongs here.” Kids, growing up now, can see this show and see a face that they recognize. And go, “Oh my god. That’s my face too.”

Growing up, I never had that, either. I can’t help but think of this scene from the biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, in which Bruce Lee watches the controversial Asian stereotype played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to a theater filled with derisive laughter. This moment with Bruce Lee is most likely fictional, but the weight of it is not lost on us:

This was a powerful moment for me as a kid, because I grew up with the same sort of mocking laughter, whether it was watching Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with my white neighbors, or being assailed by the Bruce Lee wail in the local grocery store. I knew they were laughing at me, and not with.

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