Asian Americans and the Media: Perpetuating the Model Minority
While the under representation of Asian Americans in the media remains a considerable issue, it is the misrepresentation of Asian Americans that perpetuates the more disturbing trend of minority stereotypes and typecasting. As influential as the media is today, the fact that few Asian Americans are represented and subsequently portrayed in stereotypical roles makes the community an easier target to be exploited by these representations. Specifically, studies have suggested that of these representations, the “Model Minority” stereotype is consistently demonstrated in advertising and primetime television; being associated with high status professionals may seem like a positive attribute, but by ignoring other aspects of the Asian American Community, the “Model Minority” label promotes consistent misperceptions of values and culture.
The “Model Minority” on Prime Time
A report published by the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (2005) identified such “Model Minority” patterns. The content analysis conducted on prime time television programming of major networks indicated that the roles played by Asian American’s have reinforced the “model minority” stereotype. Specifically, of the Asian American characters identified in the content analysis, 100% had occupations that emphasize their intelligence and hard work ethic (National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium [NAPALC], 2005). Recognizing that these stereotypes may imply positive characteristics about the community, it is important to note that such consistent roles are problematic since they promote generalizations about the community as a whole. A study conducted by Charles Taylor and Barbara Stern (1997) revealed similar patterns in a content analysis of more than 1300 primetime television advertisements. Examining specific characteristics of the advertisements such as settings, product categories, and character relationships, obvious tendencies portray Asian Americans in business roles and associations that maintain the emphasis of the “model minority” stereotype (Taylor & Stern, 1997). For example, observing the dimension of character relationships, the advertisements featuring a relationship between an Asian model and another model showed a significantly high proportion of the relationships involved professional and work ethic contexts. Asians appeared as coworkers in the majority of ads in which they were featured. Moreover, a content analysis of Asian models and product categories also found that Asian models tend to be associated with products and services that were related to affluence or professional lifestyles (banks, telecommunications, electronic goods). Again these patterns amplify the issue of the media continuing the “model minority” stereotype; Asian Americans are associated with affluence and professional status.
Primetime Asian American Characters: Promoting the “Model Minority”
The following characters appear on (or play reoccurring roles) on prime time television. It is interesting to observe that these characters are in roles that emphasize attributes of higher education, intelligence, and professional work ethic. Through these characters and others, the American media continues to promote the “model minority” stereotype.
Sandra Oh plays the character of Dr. Christina Yang on the ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy. Her character is described as highly competitive, driven, ambitious, and unsympathetic. She is characterized by valuing logic and practical thinking over emotional reasoning. Her academic background includes an M.D. from Stanford University, graduating first in her class.
B.D. Wong plays the character of Dr. George Huang on the NBC drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. His character is a former FBI agent and resident forensic psychiatrist of the Special Victims Unit team. His character is highly knowledgeable in the fields of theology, ethnic studies, and forensics. He is also portrayed as calm, soft-spoken and even-tempered.
Archie Kao plays the recurring character of Archie Johnson on the CBS drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. His character is a lab technician whose expertise lies in computer and audio video research and analysis. His character is also known to be a science fiction fan.
Rex Lee plays the character of Lloyd on the HBO comedy series Entourage. His character holds an art history degree from Sarah Lawrence College and an MBA from Stanford, also graduating first in his class. His character is marked by consistently adhering to the verbal abuse of his Agent boss Ari Gold. Interestingly, his character is openly a homosexual.
Ming Na played the character of Dr. Jing-Mei Chen (Deb) for several seasons on the NBC drama ER. Her character is marked by competitiveness and professionalism, but also inconsistent conflict with other characters on the show.
Pictures provided by IMDB.com
Product Advertising and the Model Minority
The following example demonstrates advertising using an Asian-American model. The product being promoted is for Amp’d Mobile, a telecommunications service. Again, the “model minority” stereotype is exemplified in the Asian-American model’s interaction with another model. Essentially, the setting suggests the models are in a corporate bathroom; the relationship suggests that the models could be coworkers. The comedic effect of the advertisement plays on the stereotype of Asians being a reserved professional; the model breaks this stereotype when he appears to be alone, but instantly reverts back to the stereotype when another model appears.
Click on image to view advertisement
Video provided by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKKwvQ85PbY. Host:BabyGirlTennis, Added: October 4, 2007
A De-emphasis at Home
Moreover, along with the emphasis of professional contexts, follows the de-emphasis of social and family contexts; there remains a prominent under representation of Asian Americans in family and social situations. An analysis of Asian American models and product category advertisements demonstrates a significant absence in home and family contexts. As discussed previously, Asian models were primarily restricted to the workplace (Taylor & Stern, 1997). In consequence, the perception of Asian Americans in familial contexts remains largely ignored; ironically misrepresenting Asian values that have traditionally respected a close family culture.
The Consumer Response to the “Model Minority”
The implications of these “model minority” stereotypes in the media are provided by the subsequent perceptions developed by the American public. As the media propagates the “model minority” stereotype, generalizations regarding the Asian American community are formed. While these generalizations may connote positive stereotypes, the consequences can nevertheless have a negative effect on the self-perceptions of minority individuals, or the attitudes of other cultural groups toward these individuals (Taylor, 1997). A consumer study tested the response of non-Asian consumers when shown an advertisement featuring an Asian model and a specific product category. The study’s initial hypothesis suggested that products associated with expensive up-to-date technology are more favorably received when presented with an Asian model than with a non-Asian model (Cohen, 1992). This hypothesis entails that consumers associate Asian Americans with high quality engineering and product intelligence, thus promoting the “model minority” stereotype. Moreover, the study hypothesized that products associated with social status would be less favorably received when presented with an Asian model than with a non-Asian model. This hypothesis suggests that non-Asian consumers respond negatively to the association of success and status with Asians Americans, consistent with the concept of other groups holding negative attitudes towards the generalized success of Asian Americans. The results reasonably demonstrated that the “model minority” stereotype influenced the consumer attitudes toward Asian models in product specific advertising. Consumer reactions were in fact more favorable toward Asian models than non-Asian models in technology specific advertising (Cohen, 1992). Moreover, consumer reactions were less favorable toward Asian models than non-Asian models in status specific advertising. The implications of the media’s promotion of the “model minority” stereotype are clearly demonstrated by such reactions.
The following Intel Centrino Ad was first launched in 2005. While marketing mobile technology, the ad campaign plays on the celebrity of several well known personalities (pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, actor John Cleese, singer Seal, soccer player Michael Owen), but also makes Lucy Liu (the personified laptop entertainment) the primary focus of the ad. It is conceivable that intel used her Asian image to attach associations of high quality and intelligence to the Intel product.
Image provided by http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/20050926corp.htm
Counteracting “Model Minority” Stereotyping in the Media
The “model minority” label is derived from the premium demographic profiles of Asian Americans – affluence, high education, professional occupations; Asian Americans represent a rapidly growing, affluent population segment (Taylor & Stern, 1997). However, while the “model minority” may suggest “positive” attributes about the culture, the effects of stereotypes and generalizations are nevertheless negative. The American public’s perception of the “model minority” has damaging implications to the full understanding of Asian cultures. Yet, the American media continues to exploit this stereotype, and further promote such perceptions. Observing prime time television and advertising, Asian Americans are characterized by situations that involve high intelligence, affluence, and professional status, but are absent from situations that involve home lifestyles and family. Such patterns in the media encourage generalizations about Asian cultures that are far from accurate. With the Asian population showing rapid growth in the United States, it becomes critical for media leaders to recognize the significance of this demographic and venture away from the “model minority” stereotype to help society develop a better understanding of such a highly generalized cultural group.
For further information please visit:
Center for Asian American Media
The Media Action Network for Asian Americans
The Asian American Media Stereotypes Database by modelminority.com
A documentary film by Baun Mah about disproving Asian stereotypes
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. (2005). Asian pacific Americans in prime time:
Lights camera and little action, 1-13.
Cohen, J. (1992). White consumer response to Asian models in adverting. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 9(2), 17-27.
Taylor, C. & Stern, B. (1997). Asian-Americans: Television advertising and the “model minority”
stereotype. Journal of Advertising, 26(2), 47-61.