Author: Keane Macadaeg

Final Project: How American filmmakers portray Asians

In my final project, I analyzed trends, statics and techniques made by film producers in Hollywood to see why and how they stereotype Asian American actors/actresses.  Asian-American actors are usually shown to have their roles diminished as martial arts experts only while having little screentime to actually act. I would have thought that if Asians can only hit Hollywood as martial artists then the rest of them is undesirable.  However there are many exceptions to this “rule,” that perhaps my correlation isn’t totally correct.  However this only means we shift the blame from devaluing Asian actors (and other minorities) to overvaluing white male actors.



The ‘Secret’ Formula

Those who are in power often use strategies and formulas to exert and keep their power.  Normally this would only include kings, or presidents, or Führers.  But in today’s society and the importance of a weapon like the media this can now include the six governing bodies of today’s media in America. Only six companies control a huge majority in America’s media.  They control everything that we see but unlike these examples I’ve mentioned above these people are in it for one such reason: money. These companies have no preference of what turns popular, or a bias of who does it, as long as the end result is about money.

However while I claim of a lack of bias of who makes money there IS a bias of how they make money.  The media under these corporations are artificial and formulaic. They study trends of their demographics, acquire and research statistics and numbers in order to try and control and manipulate of how and how people absorb media.  Unfortunately one of these trends is the predominance of Caucasian males in media.  Since inception of television or the cinema, the only characters on the big screen or at the screen at home were white males.  This was a product of the times however as prejudice was an inherent trait of America rather than it being a consequence of new forms of media.  Regardless media took off rapidly to where we have it today.

Today’s society has less vitriol and less inherent prejudice.  However the formulas used back in the 1930s or 40s or 50s are still applied today.  To have a critically acclaimed film with a female lead or a minority lead is very much possible and has been done many times.  However it requires a lot of work and talent to make it happen.  Flip it in contrast where today’s society can have comic books turned into movies and gross hundreds of millions of dollars for stories we’ve heard for decades.  The big comic books, Superman, Batman, Spiderman for example have had their origins traced to the 1960s. But their stories are successful and thus there is a formula in the making of these movies. Lead role has to be a white man.   The big media companies don’t invest a lot of money to projects that deviate from this formula.  What’s astounding that even if there’s success away from these artificial creations, media companies are still deathly scared.  One such example comes from two Caucasian men who fought against these formulaic notions.

These two writers/directors/animators aren’t that well known or distinguished. While they have broken into the mainstream they are clearly their own people without any strings attached to their literary and animated work.  Despite having success in the mainstream media, the actions and desires of these two men are to be lauded for as they clearly aren’t apart of typical mainstream agendas.  These two will always be known, and appreciated for their animated show, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  By drawing on Asian mythology, themes, culture and style of storytelling, these two men have created one of Nickelodeon’s beloved and wildly popular programs.  The creators and writers of this show have originally intended to end their intellectual property with the end of the story arc of their man character, a young boy named Aang.

However Nickelodeon begged for a second series to Avatar based on its incredible popularity.  After a few years of a break these two men have agreed.  This second series however is a brand new story arc with brand new characters.  Among this change is form the main character Aang, to a female protagonist by the name of Korra.  The two creators were asked by Nick to go make a sequel so their interest was clearly high.  However this interest turned into fear over one petty notion: the lead character was a girl. It generated enough fear that Nickelodeon suspended the creation of the show because they feared it wouldn’t appeal to mainstream audiences.  The producers demanded that the creators change their minds but they wouldn’t budge.  After testing the show with young children it was determined there was no correlation between the gender of protagonist vs enjoyment from the show.  The children still loved it.  To further prove this point, the sequels series was one of Nickelodeon’s most watched programs.

These two men aren’t by any means struggling independent artists.  They have a huge amount of success.  Regardless they too have fought against mainstream media companies and have won.  They have shown not only that it’s petty nitpicking genders but the pettiness of these companies.  This sequel was made in 2012 and we still have debates on whether or not a female lead is “damaging.”  Again this isn’t some inherent hatred of women, it’s an inherent sense of greed that causes these petty notions. Once the sequel got running Nickelodeon offered full support of it. The good news out of all this is that the people has a chance to have the power.  The power of money.  If we can dictate what we want to see and how we can see it, the media companies will slowly but surely budge.  They don’t care if women are in the lead or if minorities are in the lead as long as they profit out of it.  While it hurts to see them prosper just remember the alternative is that they still prosper…but with an artificial and formulaic view of the world.

Westernization of Eastern Culture

As I asked you guys during class weeks ago, how many Hollywood based movies can you name in which the main character is of Asian descent and does not have skills related to martial arts or hand to hand combat can you name? Google even proves this question is not easy to answer.  And while you may find an answer, these are exceptions to the rule.  This rule is akin to the techniques sued in American cinema in the early 1900s in the subjugation of African-Americans.  While of course a  direct comparison is a little extreme there are some similarities.  There are a few trends by filmmakers in which, consciously or not, Eastern culture is stereotyped or in some cases, viewed as inferior.

The stereotype begins with the portrayal of having Asian-Americans in a single minded role.  That is a practitioner of martial arts or other forms of combat. This is akin to the days where black actors were only allowed in mainstream roles should they play the part of a jester, signifying inferiority. While it’s tough to argue that most filmmakers have this prejudice there is still a state of mind within the industry that Asian-Americans can’t be “trusted” or aren’t “talented enough” for major roles. Roles that involve the conveying of messages with emotions, or words to expressions rather than fists or nun-chucks. In that regard it is nearly impossible to find an Asian actor who are given these roles.  Would Jackie Chan be Jackie Chan if there wasn’t a movie with him making acrobatic kicks and punching through walls?

Another technique is a literal Westernization of Eastern culture.  Intellectual properties that have originated in Asia have often found their way to the states.  However when Americans try to make their own adaptations of this material they completely bastardize it.  Avatar: The Last Airbender is a cartoon on Nicelodeon based on Chinese and Japanese mythology and legend.  However they have created a world full of different races with a variety of skin tones and colors.  The main character Aang, is from a  group of people based on Buddhist monks.  The other two main characters, a brother and sister, are form a tribe of people based on a variety of Eskimo cultures.  None of these characters are Anglo-Saxons or Anglo-Americans and yet the movie adaptation of this show has three white kids spearing heading the movie.

Unintended Consequences

There are a myriad of reasons, perhaps even billions of reasons on why corporations and businesses invest in advertising.  Most of these reasons are related to George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or Andrew Jackson.  Or rather, people whose faces can be found on US dollars.  The best way to show you the money is to advertise.  For local or small business they usually get right to the point, for example used cars salesman almost have a genre of commercials on their own.  However for the corporations who make millions or billions of dollars a year, they invest in advertising strategies and techniques to get people to buy products, often of those that they don’t need.  However the overindulgence of advertising media has had severe consequences outside the dollar figures.  Not only that but they partly promote negative viewpoints in regards to race, gender or class even if they didn’t intend to make this message.

As the famous saying goes, “Any publicity is good publicity.”  Or as Oscar Wilde has said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  The essence of advertising is promoting brand names, rather than  promoting the messages within the actual content.  Therefore even as advertisements highlight negative stereotypes, the end result is actually a positive for the business. For example during Super Bowl XVII, website hosts Go Daddy aired a commercial in which a stereotypical unattractive male had a passionate kiss with supermodel Bar Refaeli.    It was one of the most talked about advertisements for the Super Bowl and garnered media attention from notable news networks.  While Go Daddy does not have the official video up on YouTube, several internet news hosts have posted coverage of the advertisement.  As clearly shown here, the advertisement, or more specifically the image of the kiss is very poorly received.  More people disliked the video on YouTube than liked it, yet it attracted millions of views and the awareness of the brand only got higher.  It’s even more astonishing that this video is not the actual advertisement but a low level news source. However people were still drawn to the images of the kiss.  Unlike other forms of media in any given time frame in mankind’s history, advertisement does not seek approval.  It does not seek critical acclaim. Controversy at times can even be a useful tool.   As such advertisement agencies will use several techniques, even those that deal with racism or sexism to get brand recognition higher.

Companies spend billions of dollars on these advertisements and they expect a sizable increase in profits because of that.  Truly for the most part, money is the main or even sole factor in their decisions.  While the message being shown may be misogynistic in nature, it doesn’t actually mean these companies actually believe in that message. It’s a ploy to garner attention.  As mentioned on Wolf Culture, “[…] it is difficult to read the magazine with a sharp eye as to how thoroughly ad revenue influences the copy.  It is easy to misread the whole thing–advertisements, beauty copy, images of models-as if it were a coherent message from the editors telling women, ‘You should be like this.'”  Companies that use an over sexed woman don’t care whether or not their products actually turn women into what they portray them to be.  The goal is not a campaign. They aren’t trying to get viewpoints across, they only care about the money that these images will generate.  Several class discussions have argued that these companies are stereotypical, misogynistic and racist but that’s almost a non-sequitur. These companies are filled with minorities and women as well, these advertisements don’t have a purpose of suppressing the public as before in American history. While I would argue that these companies don’t support their messages do not mistake the argument as a wya to absolve them.  Rather the real consequence here is unintended and negative social effects.

For example there are definitely signs in which advertising or popular culture has an ill effect on young women.   Models have almost impossible standards of how they should weigh.  They are required to use excess amounts of makeup to hide any “faults” they may have.  There is an “ideal” woman acceptable in society however it’s quite impossible to naturally look that way.  Despite that, these images of these women have a profound impact in society.  “In movies, particularly, but also in television shows and the accompanying commercials, women’s and girls’ appearance is frequently commented on: 58 percent of female characters in movies had comments made about their looks, as did 28 percent in television shows and 26 percent of the female models in the accompanying commercials.”  It’s said that looks kill, but in advertising looks are money.  With the media highlighting the importance of an acceptable look there are bound to be ill effects on women, particularly those in adolescence.  “When a girl enters adolescence, she faces a series of losses-loss of self-confidence, loss of a sense of efficacy and ambition, and the loss of her ‘voice,’ the sense of being a unique and powerful self that she had in childhood.”1  To back these claims up are numerous statistical metrics that can be found on the subject.

There are various ways in order to combat this.  Spreading awareness for starters would be essential.  However posting statistics or articles is not enough, in order to combat mainstream media then mainstream media must be used.

The Suppression of Thought

The power of an image isn’t new. The use of images to persuade or manipulate the masses is a concept that’s also not new. However thanks to advances in technology and the techniques and strategies derived from sociology it can be argued that the power of an image has never been as great.  Due to the inherent ‘weaknesses’ of an image such as the narrow point of view or the carefully selected angles in which to portray this image it is argued that this makes any image inherently biased.  True objectivity is rare to exist.  In other words most images are trying to show a certain, biased message to get across even if it’s not intentional.  However as several have argued, there are multiple players to a meaning of an image.  While this is true the end result is largely the same, a rising power cultivated from the image. As my colleagues have mentioned numerously, this art form can be powerful.  But in which ways? Purchasing items or voting for a certain politician are causalities.  Causalities from a struggle of perhaps the futility of going against this power.  But these are results of being in contact of the power the images can hold; thus I believe the true power is the ability of make you think.

An image is a very vague term. There are endless possibilities of what an image could be but there are various terms or techniques in which images can be a part of, especially about the ones with power.  For example there are hegemonic images. These are ones which “emphasizes that power is not wielded by one class over another, rather, power is negotiated among all classes of people, who struggle with and against one another in the economic, social, political, and ideological arenas in which they live and work.”  If the power here is the manipulation of an individual’s thinking then there is no better example than watching a political race for power especially for highly elected officials like the President of the United States.  The struggle can represent the various political images in which they are trying to get you to think a certain way by pandering to one’s sense about certain values or topics.  Alone, these images are nothing more than simple advertisements trying to get you to think a certain way.  It’s the collection of these vast and often conflicting images and the values or sentiments they express that make them hegemonic.

Image               mitt-romney-believe-in-america-campaign-poster

And these timeless techniques could not be more prominent in popular culture. It goes hand in hand with consumerism.  As popular culture suggests, it’s a series of phenomenon accepted by the common person.  The craft of consumerism tries to make their products synonymous with popular culture.  Image making is only one way of how corporations or companies use popular culture.

Image                     Image

No one watches American Idol or the movie Elf as an extension for Coke soda.  However these techniques and tactics are used to get you to associate their product to popular culture.  Sooner or later it’s the norm, it’s an accepted part of the culture.  No one knows why, but it’s not questioned.  The culture of singing or reality television is now associated with the drink even though they have nothing related to one another.  In these images there are no hegemonies or representations yet the end result is the same.   It changes on how you reflect and see the world.  It affects our thinking.

Another strategy employed by corporations is the over-saturation of the “ideal” human body.  In most cases this would refer to females and thus some would argue that it’s sexism.  The attractiveness of the female body is exploited by create ‘ideal’ images which are usually impossible to create in real life. Even in situations where having an exposed, skinny female body makes little sense it appeals to the masses to the point where it’s a common trope in advertising.  For some reason this tactic is very effective which shows how little these companies have to do in order to sway the public.  Maybe it’s for these reasons so much money is invested in advertising techniques: to suppress the public.  After all, in the “age of crowds” appealing to the irrational side of the mass populace usually leads to bad results for those in power.   The advancement in these techniques from the age of oil paintings shows how dedicated governments are in the creation of propaganda in all forms of media.

Thus the exploitation of the female body can be seen as a representation. It “refers to the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us.”  One of the most critiqued affects of advertising campaigns or in the media is the impacts of highlighting physical ideals within a woman to a point where it leads young women to extreme measures in order to fit these said ideals.  This is caused because these images of models or actresses, fake or not, showcase a meaning that this is ideal.  This is what you should strive to be. If you’re skinny you get attention, glamour and success.  Some may argue that since there is a lot of ‘awareness’ of this issue that it’s less of a factor but in actuality could it mean it’s more scary?  We know that these images can have a bad effect on society.  Yet these continue to get pumped out daily and the consequences are still very real.  Maybe we’re at a point where awareness of how imagery is used today is still not enough to fall victim to its power.


With perhaps an over-saturation of media, and the images that go along with it there’s a sense of this perception that this is a recent problem.  Thus many are quick to blame the tools of which media is housed in.  Smart phones are seen as a problem, computers or televisions are seen as the problem.  However these are simply tools.  Tools to an end.  With the variety of strategies employed by those in power it’s quite clear these are inherent problems of people and society in general.  Technology only exemplifies or even is the result of the evolution of this inherent need of control.  However it seems as society is even absolving blame of those who employ these strategies in turn for an easier alternative: blaming the tools.  Even if nuclear holocaust were to occur it wouldn’t be long until we see paintings of exposed women or an un-objective point of view to sway the people.  The ways to influence thinking has always been sought after, regardless of whether or not they have an iPhone.

Hi! My name is Keane

Hey guys! The name is Keane which is pronounced like the word “keen.” If you asked me as a joke if I ever went to Kean University, you would be the 10,000th person to ask me. I’m leaning towards being a journalism major with an interest in covering sports.

And while undoubtedly you know a lot of other people trying to do this I have somewhat of a little unique goal and I suppose I’ll spend my blog post on what I’m trying to do if I go deep with the major.

Sports is an area where humanity is perhaps devolving. Not in a physical sense where athletes are breaking records left and right, no I’m talking about an ability to think. The media is prone to group-think and it’s getting rampant. It’s even affecting the way stories are reported.  For example, the beat writers of the New York Giants refuse to believe that one of the coaches on the staff should get fired and have vehemently denied all the rumors of a person getting fired.  Turns out, a few days later the rumors so viciously denied turned out to be true. I’m not talking about two or three reporters, it’s close to a dozen reporters groupthinking as one collective mind. While this is done on a constant basis by news outlets such as Fox News or MSNBC, those are strategical moves to pander to a set audience.  It’s devious and brilliant and evil but it’s done purposefully to promote an agenda. This is sports.  There’s no purpose for any agenda whatsoever. It’s just a lack of rational thought and facts and in place come fallacies or false, tenuous narratives.  Ask anyone if they believe LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.  No one will admit it because of the public ridicule they will face if they admit a “blasphemy” that severe. However if you try to argue this with statistics or facts you also get insulted and instead unproven narratives are the accepted evidence. Check any ESPN story about those two. I’m not exaggerating.

At the end of the day I couldn’t are less who the better player is (LeBron) but the point is I want people to learn to think. The media in sports however, as of now, is a huge obstacle to that end.