Thursday, February 21, 2008

Asian Americans on primetime network television: A look at Heroes

Each year the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition releases a report card that grades each network television station on their representation and employment of Asian Pacific American actors. Of the hundreds of actors cast as regulars on primetime television only 27 were Asian American. While this may be a cause for celebration, as it is an increase from last year’s number of 24, Asian Americans are represented less on primetime television than most minority groups. This brings me to questions I have been grappling with all semester in this class and also my video production class: How do you represent a marginalized group accurately? Is any form of representation enough?

While the scope of these questions is probably too large to answer in a mere semester, I would like to spend this time studying the portrayal of Asian Americans on primetime television by focusing on NBC’s hit show, “Heroes”, as a case study. “Heroes” boasts having one of the largest Asian American casts with Sendhil Ramamurthy, Masi Oka, Jason Kyson Lee and reoccurring cameos by Erick Avari and George Takei. How are Asians represented in this show? What stereotypes are prevalent? How do Asian Americans relate (and consume) these representations? What does the show say about Asian Americans? What does the show say about American consumer culture?

I just began watching the show a couple of weeks ago with classmate, Shiyin Wang, and I must say that I am addicted; I need to see the next episode like the super-hero-painter/ prophet (who can only see the future when he is high) needs his fix. The plot revolves around a group of genetically enhanced people who discover their powers and come together to “save the world”. Interestingly, all of the Asians in “Heroes” are foreigners despite the fact that they are played by Asian American actors. The star of the show is Japanese American (and Brown alum) Masi Oka, who can teleport and travel through time and space. His average, mortal best friend, Ando, accompanies him on his quest to America where they run into all sorts of trouble.

At this point I feel pretty ambivalent towards the depiction of Asians in Heroes: they are the comedic relief with their goofy antics and poor communication with Americans. Although, this may change as the character develops over time. Within this paper I plan to apply the semiotic theories of representation acquired throughout my career as a mcm student towards the representation of Asians in “Heroes”. I will account for my initial reaction, the feelings of Asian Americans on Brown’s campus who watch the show and also the ideas of on-line Asian communities concerning this matter. While the intention of these characters may not be to represent a giant, multi-faceted group of people, unfortunately due to the lack of Asian people’s presence on network television, that is exactly what it does. I am interested in learning if Asian Americans view the Asian presence on “Heroes” as progressive, despite its use of various inaccuracies and stereotypes.

That being said, if anyone in this class watches the show, I would love to talk to you.

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