Monday, April 13, 2009

Whither Sulu?

Saw Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlst, which was not something I had on my waitlist, but since it was on the shelf, I snagged it in case time presented itself. And it did. I have this lovely flu that's like a greatest hits of other viruses: combo cold, body hangover, and digestive tract craziness (that hasn't included yacking, thank God).

The movie is as tedious as most reviews label it. It's watchable when you don't feel like getting up and putting in American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused. But there's no real conflict, and I wondered how in the hell Michael Cera ("Nick") keeps getting parts with his nearly complete lack of looks and charm, though I hope to see way more of Kat Dennings ("Nora") who has plenty of both.

Outside of watching Kat do her stuff, I was pleasantly surprised when it looked like they would have a major Asian character (outside of sci-fi). Maybe because I don't watch swat-fu flicks, I notice it when an Asian appears in a lead, because they almost never do. It's like having a dad on a sitcom who's not a major buffoon.

However, my second thought was, "ah, but they'll make him gay, probably" and sure enough, Nick is in a band where all the other guys are gay. Imagine that little walk through hell if this were even remotely realistic. You go through the pain of learning how to play an instrument to be in a band to meet chicks (the largest common denominator for most guy musicians) but there you are in gay bar after gay bar, fending of guy pass after guy pass.

But I digress…

What the hell is it with the nearly complete dearth of normal Asian main characters? Is this a holdover from the prejudices of WWII, maybe?

Now, I'm not a quota person, but after someone mentioned way back in the day that there were no black actors in commercials until the Cosby show (when he demanded it), and the complaint that there were no black acts on MTV until they swapped over to nothing but black acts, I ended up with a low-key mental filter that when I watched a drama or comedy (again, fantasy and sci-fi are somehow exempt), I would eventually notice if the cast didn't have the mix of people types I encountered day to day.

This also does not count the overabundance of pretty people in entertainment; no one wants to look at average people all the time. My "is this realistic?" filter actually kicks in when there are too many plain people, because it IS abnormal for entertainment.

And for those of you who are thinking I'm a hypocrite by asking, "Where are the Asians?" while at the same time complaining (somewhat) about (what I've come to think of as) "the obligatory gay character," it goes back to the daily mix I encounter in reality. I see way more gay characters in fiction anymore than I do in real life, and typically they are uber-heroic in ways that would be laughable in reality. I've known some very wonderful gay people, but I've also known my share of petty, hateful, bitchy and mean gays, too. Imagine a bad gay character in a major or indy film these days.

I exempted sci-fi because that's about the one place where you do see Asian leads who are actually the hero, except for Garrett Wang / Harry Kim from ST Voyager who was such a pussy that all the female characters had more balls than he did.

But that leaves the question as to why sci-fi doesn't have the same unbalance that dramas and comedies do.

I have no theory. Do you?


Sya said...

Why does sci-fi not have the same unbalance? I suppose it's because everyone has the same expectation about the future--of course people will be diverse so why not have an Asian hero?

One could apply the same reasoning to dramas and comedies--since the population now is diverse, why not have an Asian main character? I think it's the problem of identification. In a sci-fi story, it's fine to have an Asian/black/white/gay/etc. main character because it's assumed that futuristic human characters are representing the everyman regardless of what they look like. In a drama/comedy, however, the stories are about present problems and situations--of which race is a big one. Some writers, for instance, are afraid of writing other ethnicities incorrectly--because they are too focused on the differences between people rather than the more universal things in which everyone can relate to.

(Although now that I think about it, sci-fi does some of this too in a roundabout way. You never see non-humanoid aliens--except in cute cartoons--take the hero role.)

I propose that the solution is to meld the sci-fi and comedy/drama to science dramedy. Personally, I'd love to see an international cast do a comedy set in an academic lab. (Of course, that'll never happen. Despite the potential for lots of explosion and accident related humor, it's too geeky.)

yahmdallah said...

Oh, that show exists. It's called "CSI Miami." (ha ha)

For serious though, you should see the original "Andromeda Strain" if you haven't. Lab work was never made so exciting and sexy.

But I think you're on to something with "writers [...] are afraid of writing other ethnicities incorrectly".

A futuristic character can have whatever cultural view they have, but to do it currently, even if you do it right (like Robert Downey doing a black character in "Tropic Thunder"), you're playing with fire.

Anonymous said...

My theory: no Asians in lead roles because network executives are always asking themselves, "Will it play in Peoria?" In other words, will people in small/medium sized towns in the midwest relate to it? And the fact is that midwesterners are used to seeing blacks and hispanics, but not Asians. For reasons that I do not claim to understand, Asians in the US are found in significant numbers only on the coasts and in major cities. I have lived in Iowa, Indiana, and northern Nevada (not Vegas), and just last year moved to San Diego. This is the first time that I have lived in a major city, and also the first time I have ever been around significant numbers of Asians. This is not a coincidence, and network execs understand it.

Anonymous said...

Also, you ask about bad gay characters in film. We must always remember that wild-assed villain in Road Warrior. Epic.

yahmdallah said...

Anon 1. Actually, I've been around Asian people all my life, and they've been way more of a constant than black or Hispanic people in the places I've lived (largely the midwest and west).

Anon 2: Yes, and especially Phil Collins' later version of him in his video.

Sya said...

Re: Asians in the Midwest. There are probably more there than you think there are. It's the problem of suburbia. People tend to be more spread out rather than settling down in one neighborhood or section of a city that's historically been dedicated to one ethnic group.

And upon re-reading the post: I see way more gay characters in fiction anymore than I do in real life, and typically they are uber-heroic in ways that would be laughable in reality.I see you have not read much romance fiction. In that particular genre--a majority of which seems ultra conservative despite the inclusion of sex--a lot of gay characters are villains. And if they're not villains, they're the stereotypical gay best friend or side-kick for comic relief.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Here in Central Texas I have huge numbers of Asian friends, mostly of Taiwanese and Indian extraction; but this is a very tech-heavy area.

Regarding black actors in commercials: I've noticed for years that the one huge exception to the fair representation is real estate ads. They're completely lily-white round here, for reasons that don't take too much reflection. The only exception I've ever seen was an ad for a new development that, after shot after shot of happy Anglo families BBQing and playing in sprinklers in their new homes, showed a huge dinner party with one single light-skinned black woman. Because, you know, you might let one in your *home*, but no fear that she might be a *neighbor*.