The Powerful Impact of Television on Asians and Asian Americans
For many Americans, watching television is their favorite pastime. According to the Bureau of U.S. Labor Statistics, in 2019 the leisure activity that occupied the most time was watching television (2.8 hours per day), which accounted for just over half of all leisure time on average. This means that many Americans gain a substantial amount of their knowledge from watching television. “It has been proposed that television can have an impact on both the formation and organization of viewers’ concepts” (Anderson & Collins, 1988). In addition to gaining knowledge from watching television, “There exists a large body of research that suggests that television [also] has an important impact on people’s attitudes, beliefs, and values” (Moeller, 1996). Many people who watch television draw conclusions based on what they see, meaning that they are seeing the world through the lens of the individuals who created that particular content.
With that being said, I argue that it is crucial that television networks provide an accurate representation of the various races and ethnicities that are found in the world today. The prevalence of yellow peril racism and ideology has skewed representations of Asians and Asian Americans on television. I will start off by taking a close look at some of the past and current representations of Asians and Asian Americans within network television, as well as some of the diversity and inclusion efforts of various television networks. Then, I will make suggestions for ways that the top four television networks can improve their diversity and inclusion efforts. Finally, I will inform the gender public (that’s you!) about what they can do to help.
The term Asian American is a “… political term of identification that people choose as a self-descriptor — not a racial or biological term of identification, but rather a term descriptive of a particular epistemology that challenges racism and seeks empowerment and democratic power relations” (Ono & Pham, 2009, p. 9). This term takes many ethnic groups into consideration and looks at the history of Asian and Asian American struggles, as well the struggles that are still prevalent today. Another term that will be discussed is yellow peril, which can be thought of as the “… representations of Asians and Asian Americans as threatening to take over, invade, or otherwise negatively Asianize the US nation and its society and culture” (Ono & Pham, 2009, p. 25). This representation typically frames Asians and Asian Americans as threatening, while framing whites as threatened (Ono & Pham, 2009). Although some of the more extreme representations are no longer prevalent, there are many representations that still follow yellow peril racism and ideology.
Due to the fact that white people make up a large portion of the U.S. population, writers and producers have historically created television shows that catered to the white population. This means that many racial and ethnic groups were simply not getting representation, and when they were, it tended to be very stereotypical and did not represent the various racial and ethnic groups as a whole. For women, this could be seen through the Dragon Lady stereotype, which portrays Asian women as “… untrustworthy, deceitful, conniving, and plotting” (Ono & Pham, 2009, p. 66). For men, this could be seen through many stereotypical roles that date back to the late 1800s. During this time, Asian men (Chinese in particular), were often associated with things like drug-use, gambling, and white slavery (Ono & Pham, 2009). In addition, Asian men were mocked for their appearances through images and were often depicted as inhuman, almost animal-like (Ono & Pham, 2009). Both Asian women and men were portrayed as evil and dangerous for a long period of time, and although this stereotype is still somewhat prevalent today, there has been a shift in the way Asians and Asian Americans are portrayed.
The stereotype that is seen more recently, and is known as the model minority stereotype, portrays Asians and Asian Americans as extremely hardworking, yet submissive and inferior. “While in early media Asians and Asian Americans were often typecast in a variety of roles … today’s mainstream, media stereotype, the model minority, appears in the form of a medical profession” (Ono & Pham, 2009, p. 83). Many Asians today are portrayed as nerdy and successful, while still being portrayed as overly-technical. Americans have collectively created a mold for Asians and Asian Americans in which they can only be one of two things, either they are evil and threatening, or they are submissive and inferior. This double-sword is still being used as a way to keep Asians/Asian Americans, as well as other minority groups, oppressed. This is largely due to the misrepresentation of Asians and Asian Americans on television.
The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) is one organization that works to create greater diversity and inclusion. It’s main focus has been to fight for more representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on network television in particular. One thing the APAMC has done since 2001 is evaluate the diversity and inclusion efforts of the top four television networks, which are ABC, CBS, Fox, as well as NBC (Mayeda & Boykins, 2020). Since then, the APAMC has released annual Report Cards in which it assigns a grade (A-F) to each of the top television networks. It evaluates networks and assigns them grades based on a number of categories, including how diverse and inclusive they are when it comes to their actors, hosts, contestants, writers, producers, directors, development, as well as their diversity department relationships and overall commitment to diversity (Ramos, 2020). For the 2018–2019 season, the overall grades that were received are as follows: ABC a B, CBS a B-, Fox a C-, and NBC a C. ABC has consistently ranked the highest for three years in a row.
In recent times, people have been more interested in learning about various racial and ethnic groups, many of whom are not opposed to seeing more diversity on television. According to an article published by The New York Times, people want to be shown something they haven’t seen before, adding that “The less homogeneous TV is, the less boring it is” (Morris & Poniewozik, 2016). For a long time, those behind the camera were under the assumption that white people would not be able to identify with an Asian character, but according to the same New York Times article referenced above, it is silly to assume that because people watch animated movies and relate to problems that bugs and fish have (Morris & Poniewozik, 2016). People can relate to one another’s problems regardless of their race or ethnicity. More than anything, most people want authenticity, and want to see television shows about real people (Morris & Poniewozik, 2016). In order for television networks to be authentic, they would need to ensure accurate representation of various racial and ethnic groups.
At this point, some of you may be wondering what exactly it means for a television show to be diverse and inclusive. Being that ABC has repeatedly received the highest ranking for its diversity and inclusion efforts, I will now focus on this network in particular. According to the new inclusion efforts set forth by ABC this year, there are four components that need to be taken into consideration when thinking of how a network can be more diverse and inclusive. The first component is the actual on screen representation, which includes things like having 50% or more regular and recurring characters and the actors playing those characters be minority individuals, as well as meaningful integration of these characters (Low, 2020). The second component is having creative leadership, which includes efforts similar to the first category in that 50% or more of the directors and producers come from underrepresented groups (Low, 2020).
The third component is similar to the first two, in that it calls for 50% or more of the overall project staff to be minority individuals, including editors, production designers, as well as costume designers (Low, 2020). The fourth and final component is industry access and career development, which includes efforts such as paid employment opportunities, which include things like apprenticeships and internships for minority individuals, as well as guild mentorship programs (Low, 2020). ABC hopes to accomplish at least two of the four components (or standards) by May 2021, three-quarters by October 2021, and all of four components by May 2022, and is ensuring that these new efforts are continuously being worked towards by offering resources such as show runner training and inclusive hiring advice (Low, 2020). It is superb to see a network put forth as much effort and dedication to being diverse and inclusive as ABC has in recent years. I argue that it would be extremely beneficial for other television networks to look at ABC as an example, and begin to implement some or all of these strategies.
There are many benefits of being diverse and inclusive for both viewers and television networks. Due to the fact that so many viewers are wanting and demanding originality and authenticity today, there often tends to be backlash when television networks release new shows that do not encompass those things, which can be really damaging to a network’s reputation. In the near future, it is going to be nearly impossible for a television network to succeed if it is not putting forth efforts to be diverse and inclusive. In addition to getting support and maintaining a good reputation, television networks can also make a substantial amount of money by being more diverse and inclusive.
Traditionally, making money meant attracting a large predominantly white audience, but now that so many people value authenticity, there is a large market for television shows that have a diverse representation of characters (Nsiah-Buadi, 2019). According to the Executive Vice President of entertainment diversity, inclusion and communications at CBS, “‘…both internationally as well as U.S. minorities, the buying power is over $3 trillion,’ which comes from advertising, streaming, digital platforms — and marketing opportunities” (Nsiah-Buadi, 2019). This is an ideal situation for both parties because viewers would be getting what they want and television networks would be getting support and financial gain.
As you can see, yellow peril ideologies have shaped representations of Asians and Asian Americans on television for many years. If we want to see change on the institutional level, we have to work together to make the television networks aware of these problems, as well as ways that they can work towards solving them. Below I have provided you with links to suggestion boxes for the top four television networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox, as well as NBC. If you do not feel comfortable writing your own message, I have provided you with a prewritten message you can copy/paste and send to any or all of the main television networks. Thank you to those who take the time to participate.
Links to suggestion boxes:
ABC — https://abc.com/feedback
Prewritten message you can send to television networks:
I am reaching out to your network today because I have noticed a lack of representation of Asians and Asian Americans in the shows you have released this year. I would like to see television shows that are more authentic and representative of the various racial and ethnic groups that are found around the world. In addition, I would encourage your network to employ more Asian and Asian American writers and producers in particular to ensure that representations of this racial group are accurate. Please consider looking into ways your network can expand its diversity and inclusion efforts. Thank you for your time.
American Time Use Survey Summary. (2020, June 25). Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm
Anderson, D. R., & Collins, P. A. (1988). The impact on children’s education: Television’s influence on cognitive development. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Low, E. (2020, September 30). ABC Sets New Inclusion Guidelines to Amplify Underrepresented Groups on TV. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://variety.com/ 2020/tv/news/abc-inclusion-standards-underrepresented-groups-1234788397/
Mayeda, D., & Boykins, M. (2020, May 5). Asian Pacific American Media Coalition issues annual report cards grading TV networks on their diversity efforts. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.advancingjustice- aajc.org/press-release/asian-pacific-american- media-coalition-issues-annual-report-cards-grading-tv-networks
Moeller, B. (1996, October). Learning from Television: A Research Review. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from Center for Children & Technology. doi:https://dcmp.org/learn/static-assets/ nadh175.pdf
Morris, W., & Poniewozik, J. (2016, February 10). Why ‘Diverse TV’ Matters: It’s Better TV. Discuss. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/arts/ television/smaller-screens-truer-colors.html
Nsiah-Buadi, C. (2019, September 24). Why TV networks are embracing diversity and inclusion. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.marketplace.org/2019/09/23/why-tv-networks-are-embracing-diversity-and-inclusion/
Ono, K. A., & Pham, V. N. (2009). Asian Americans and the media. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Ramos, D. (2020, May 05). APAMC Annual TV Report Card Shows Asian American Representation At Standstill, Fox Scores Lowest Grade — Study. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://deadline.com/2020/05/asian-pacific-american-media-coalition- asian-american- representation-television-abc-nbc-cbs-fox-1202926104/