INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Is It OK for Asian Women to Be Sluts on TV?

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By GUY AOKI
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on July 14, 2011.)

 

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That’s when I wondered when I watched the third episode of ABC’s “Combat Hospital,” the summer series that takes place in 2006 Kandahar, Afghanistan, and features Terry Chen as Captain Bobby Trang.  Tia Carrere guest starred as Jessica Draycott, a photographer from Newsweek who’s an old flame of Simon Hill (Luke Mably), the British womanizer who acts as if he’s better than everyone around him.

In front of the doctors, Jessica and Simon start making out. Soon, they’re back to his barracks where they’re tearing their clothes off. We later see them in bed together (with the sheets covering up to their chests, of course; always realistic.) Later on, to his surprise, Simon learns that Jessica’s married.

Sputter! Great, another Asian woman throwing herself at a white man, and she’s married on top of that?

Simon asks Jessica if her husband sleeps around too. She doesn’t know. Doesn’t seem to care. “We all do things for reasons,” she philosophizes. In quieter moments, she notes that Simon’s changed since she knew him and that he’s probably drinking too much because he’s trying to suppress some pain. She gets nowhere and eventually leaves.

Of course, there are all kinds of white female characters, and they don’t impact the image of white women since they, like white men, get to play all kinds of people in television and film. But historically, because Asian women have been thrown together with white men automatically—to the absence of being with Asian men—it’s still off-putting to see the same old pairing.

Tia Carrere and Luke Mably in “Combat Hospital.”

Given Draycott’s name, I suspect Carrere’s character may’ve been written for a white woman, and the producers might’ve patted themselves of the back for their “color-blind casting.” But visually, the impact is the same: Another Asian woman throwing herself at a white guy (and a jerk on top of that.)

I’d like to see pairings that counter what we’ve seen all too many times.  Like maybe a loose white woman throwing herself at an Asian American guy.  Or a loose Asian American guy getting it on with a former white flame. Until I see more of that, nothing will have changed much when it comes to sexual portrayals in Hollywood.

Congratulations But… Department: Last week Thursday, in the L.A. Weekly, I came across a short feature on Ali Wong, a Vietnamese/Chinese American comedian who graduated from UCLA majoring in Asian American studies. She quipped, “I’m now an expert on how to blame everything on white people.” Lo and behold, later that night, she made her “Tonight Show” debut. I didn’t laugh all that much at her five-minute set, though. I spent more time trying to figure out what she was talking about.

She came out and said, “Hi, everybody!  Thank you so much!  I’m so excited to be here!”  I thought she was starting off speaking with a fake accent. Maybe that’s just how she talks sometimes. She joked about being in a bathroom stall earlier that week and seeing a poster:  “In prison, there’s no toilet door.”  “Yeah, I thought that was a very passive-aggressive message from the door—‘You better appreciate me ’cause in prison, I’m not here!’… It inspired me, so now, I wear this nightgown [for]boyfriend:  ‘In prison, there are no Asians!’

Ali Wong on the “Tonight Show.”

Passive-aggressive door? Lame. Funny punchline, though.

“I generally like to date other Asians because the thing that’s nice about dating someone of your own race is that you can go home (clasps her hands together) and be races together.” At first, I thought she said “racist together.” Too confusing. It didn’t work.

The comedian said she couldn’t afford to be picky with men because although her face looked all right, “Naked, I look like a kid! I look like a kid, OK? Do you see (circles her breast) what little there is here? This mosquito bite right here? This isn’t even real! OK? I wear the kind of bra where, if you put it on the floor, the floor would have boobs!”

Wong talked about her Asian American boyfriend—a rich, Harvard business school graduate—who, on their anniversary, gave her a bead with a string to wear on her wrist.  In a sexy voice, he explained, “Baby, this is a holy divination bead… from China!” “I was like, ‘Oh, oh, really? It’s from China? You know what else is from China? Everything!”

That was funny. From time to time, Wong had this distracting habit of touching her glasses as if they were going to fall off her face. Contacts have been available for decades, you know? I didn’t find most of the jokes all that humorous, but the audience seemed to love her, often hollering for her.

Another example of what didn’t quite connect with me:  “Pesticides are a myth to immigrants. Pesticides, homosexuality, and allergies are witchcraft to immigrants [note:  Really? Never heard of that].  I told my mom I was allergic to dairy, and she beat the crap out of me!”

It was nice to see an Asian American comedian get the nod that she was worthy of a late-night television appearance, but I think she’s gotta work on her act. Comedy is based on things we can all relate to. Wong sometimes sets up premises that don’t ring true—as if she’s more interested in just getting to the punch line.

You Call That a Showdown? Department: A few months ago, I wrote about “Titans: Villains for Hire,” the trade paperback that complied issues of “Titans” where Ryan Choi, the only Asian American comic book hero to get his own title in years—as the new Atom—was cruelly murdered by Slade the Terminator and his ragtag team of villains and former superheroes.

The old Atom and the Justice League of America confront Slade the Terminator

The actual stories had come out in the monthly comic books, and Choi’s now been gone for more than a year. Still, not much has happened since then. Ray Palmer, the Atom we know from the ’60s on, eventually figured out that his successor had been murdered. In this month’s Titans Annual #1, Palmer and members of the Justice League of America finally caught up to Slade and his team, and tried to arrest them for the assassination.

Numerous things make no sense.  For one, Arsenal (Roy Harper)—who used to be called Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick) — was a member of the JLA and joined Slade’s team with old Asian girlfriend Jade just so they could ambush Slade later. That took place in Titans #33, four months ago. Yet Slade continued to keep Arsenal and Jade on his team, and when the League confronted Slade’s crew, Arsenal joined Slade in fighting them.

For another, I keep expecting one of the heroes to say something like, “For God’s sake, Roy! Slade killed Ryan! One of our own! How can you be fighting for him?” The only thing Slade’s got on Arsenal is that he can supply him with drugs (in the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 in 1971, Speedy became a heroin addict. He was straight ever since until last year when the daughter he had with Jade died in a super-villain attack that killed many in their city. Since then, he’s returned to his old ways). Well, he doesn’t have to rely on Slade as his supplier. Plenty of those around.

The League initially confronts Slade and company as they’re flying over China. Slade tells them to back off or he’ll detonate a nuclear warhead he has onboard, which will blow up half of the country. They back off. Later, the JLA follows the bad guys to the fictional Middle Eastern country Kahndaq. The new Batman (who used to be the Robin you and I all know and served in the Teen Titans with Arsenal), dukes it out with his old teammate, telling him he needs to get back his sense of hope again. Arsenal says experience has taught him that’s too risky.

It all comes to a halt when the former superhero Isis asserts herself as the ruler of Kahndaq and tells everyone that by fighting on her soil, they’re violating international law, and if they continue, there’ll be World War III. The League turns to the Atom. Regretfully, he decides it’s best to leave. Again.

Batman’s incensed: “No way. How many times are we going to let Slade get away? I won’t let it happen. Not again. Not after all the times he’s screwed us over. All the lives he’s destroyed. We should have —” “Should have what?” asks Wonder Girl, another Teen Titans alum. “Killed me a long time ago,” answers Slade. “But you won’t. And you never will. That’s why I’ll always win.”

Pfahh. Also because DC knows it has a villain too nasty to deep-six (he’s been around since 1980). As everyone breaks up, vowing another confrontation, Arsenal thinks:  “Dick’s right. We could’ve killed Slade years ago. But we chose not to.” Then he whispers: “Maybe there is hope.”

Something to anticipate, but if the past year has taught me anything, this saga will get drawn out so much that Ryan Choi’s murder will soon be forgotten. And Slade won’t spend a day in jail.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: OCHAZUKE: Calling a Slut a Slut – Rafu Shimpo

  2. Let me summarize this article, so you won’t have to read it. Tia, Guy didn’t like you playing a tramp on Combat Hospital. Yes, there are plenty of other tramps on that show, but you happen to be Asian, so you know what that means. Means you need Guy’s permission first. Ali Wong, Guy didn’t like your performance on the Tonight Show because you were, well, too Asian. Could you be more like a white woman in an Asian skin? (Only, not a slutty one.). And leave out the stuff about allergies and homosexuality not being taken as seriously in the third world–“real” Asian Americans (I.e. Guy) won’t get them. D.C., your Titans series has some plot holes in it. Yeah, yeah, most of your comic books do since their serialized entertainment aimed at 12 year olds, but Guy kept bumping on Titans since their wasn’t enough talk about the last big Asian character in the series, Ryan Choi. Maybe someone could dream about Ryan Choi or be wearing a Ryan Choi t-shirt? How about if it were Ryan Choi playing the tramp on Combat Hospital and then he could tell comic book jokes on the Tonight Show? Better yet, how about if Guy Aoki were to stop looking at the world through his boring bitter twenty-years-too-old racially tinted glasses and let all this stuff go?

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