Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We Don't Need Another Hero.

Roll away the Models......

A perusal of commentaries by many Asian-American men in the media, be it blogs, news articles or even some academic literature, will reveal a remarkable fact; many of us believe that the media doesn't provide us with any respectable role models! This is remarkable for two reasons; firstly, I think it's arguable that the media can provide role models, and secondly it's not their job to provide role models. Here's why.....

1) The Media is a poor medium for providing role models.

When most people speak of media role models, they usually mean the movies or television, i.e. movie representations that shows a white hero being heroic and getting lots of play in the process. According to some, this type of representation is supposed to lead to a sense of confidence and warm fuzzy feelings of masculinity in the (male) viewer. Conversely, Asian men are never portrayed as heroes or lovers and so the prevailing wisdom is that this lack of "role models" contributes to feelings of diffidence and emasculation.

The problem is that most media representations aren't real; they're made-up stories that present simplistic depictions of motivations, circumstances and emotions. As such, these types of media characterizations are simply sophisticated caricatures, a form of visual sloganeering if you will. By its very nature, sloganeering is a vulgar, in-bred second cousin to the arts, and as history teaches us, societies that buy into the myths promoted by media sloganeering will produce – at worst - easily-led, unthinking masses that can be manipulated into believing that things like genocide can be justified.

With this in mind, it seems strange that Asian men would even want the media to be the vehicle that provides Asian role models. Certainly, to argue for positive representations is justified, but to desire that the media create Asian role models is both bizarre and dangerous. It’s bizarre because it would seem far more commonsensical to promote a healthy skeptical agnosticism toward what we see in the media, whether those images be positive or negative. It’s dangerous because it creates the false belief that we actually need the provision of media role models.

In short, it’s illogical to argue that the media is motivated to misrepresent Asian men, and at the same time give responsibility to this same institution to provide us with role models.

2) It isn’t the job of the media to provide role models.

Why? Well, because it’s our job, as Asian men, to assume the personal responsibility to be role models for Asian boys. It’s our job to nurture their burgeoning minds to avoid negativity and defeatism, and to exhibit the qualities of masculinity that they might want to emulate. It’s our job to nurture the sense of confidence and self-belief that they will need in order to thrive in a society that demeans them.

When I hear or read Asian guys saying that they never had media role models to look up to, what they really seem to be saying is that they had no role models at all - which seems like a far more serious problem. If they did have a figure in their formative years that they could look up to and emulate, then the lack of a media role model would be a non-issue. So, a more profound problem seems to be that some Asian men feel as though there are no Asian role models who are directly involved in the shaping of their lives and attitudes.Whether or not this is true is up to the reader to decide.

To summarize, it seems evident that the perceived need or desire for media provided role models is less urgent than the need for Asian men to assume the responsibility of becoming role models. Looking to the institution of the media to give us role models is tantamount to accepting the authority of the media over our own lives.


  1. Nice post. Thank you for that. I found your site through Minority Militant.

    I agree with what you're saying about what OTHER PEOPLE are saying about wanting role models in the media, but I don't think that that is what they really want. What they are looking for is stories to help explain who they are.

    One of my blog commentators yesterday mentioned the ancient role of shamans in society.


    Artists, in many ways, serve as modern day shamans. They help explain our feelings, and they hold up a mirror to tell us who we are. They aren't serving as role models, but rather as people who expand our understanding of our condition.

  2. Hi bigWOWO

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment!

    Yes, it's the relationship between the mentor and the mentoree that gives the role model their value. Media provided role models can't offer that.

    The podcast looks interesting. I'm looking forward to listening to it. Thanks for the link!

  3. I agree with you!

    Maybe the one exception of celebrity "role models"--as people use the term--is sports heroes. People always say that they should set a good example. People get mad when sports stars do drugs; fewer people get mad when actors or musicians do the same.

  4. That's an interesting point - and true, sports (and other celebs) are expected to set a good example. The question is; why? They're paid to excel at their particular endeavor, is it logical to expect them to be responsible for showing our kids how to behave? Ideally, yes, they should be people we want to emulate, yet, the reality is, they're often simply not!

  5. It's definitely not logical!

    I think it's because people put their faith in sports heroes. There's that "Say it ain't so, Joe" trope in how people view sports heroes (note the term "heroes," which is probably not a term people use for some other celebrity categories.). In sports, there's good and bad. Good is when you achieve, bad is when you don't. Sports doesn't have the grey areas--like politics and art. I think people therefore expect that goodness to be carried into all aspects of an athlete's life.

  6. I think role models are still relevant, but more as a positive stereo-type to people that doesn't understand or directly related to the subject to relate to and to break down pre-conceptions.

    ie. A role-model for Asian american men is not only useful to the asian american men themselves, but it'll be very useful to Asian american females, white american females/men etc. to relate to.

    For example, if you're an asian kid playing baseball in the little league and the coach asks you what kind of player do you want to become and you say the name of your father (unless your Dad's a pro-baseball player), they would just smile and shake their heads. If you answer Ryan Howard, they will probably think "A skinny little Asian kid batting like a big black guy? Yeah, whatever...", but if you say Ichiro, they might think, "...He bats left-handed, likes to place over power and he's fairly quick to first base, hey, maybe this kid is onto something." Obviously, 99.9% of the time, the skinny little asian won't make it to pro-baseball, but it's important for the little kids (all the way to pre-teens) to have the capacity to dream. If there are asian/asian american role-models, you have much better stance at defending yourself against accusations that Asian can't ball, because there aren't any in the majors (even neither the accuser or you are ever going to play pro-ball).

    I can guarrantee that an asian little kid will always lose out against a similar built white kid in getting a chance to get a QB role in the junior years in high school, even if the asian kid had better arm strength and vision. And it'll decide purely because the coach (and the other parents) can never believe an Asian kid running the team, because they haven't seen an Asian NFL QB, even though we are talking about little kids. (Preceptions - Asian kids can't play QB)

    This probably applies to Music and Acting as well. People would automatically assume Asians doesn't have any talent in music and acting, but someone that looks like Jon Mayer will be able to charm them and someone that looked the dudes from Twilight can act (and you can argue that even the original role-models are not that talented).

    Obviously, parents are still the most important role model for the kids, as the kids generally copy and imitate those closest to them. But having a famous, well known, positive role-model would be very handy to help curb a lot of the negative preceptions wrongly applied to Asian American males because of the white-people-are-heroes media.

  7. east asian justiceOctober 7, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Not sure if you covered this, but the reason why people look to the media is the same reason storytelling has pervaded throughout human culture. People need others to look up to.

    It can be argued that we are more autonomous and more thinking for ourselves, but i think in general its part of our development as humans.

    as long as storytelling exists, kids, adults will still look up to rolemodels. why? because theyre everywhere. its the safest way to feel you are part of society - come home from work, go online, switch on tv, watch a movie. media is everywhere.not everyone is intellectually based. as long as there are other people on a train, you will still find attraction and non-attraction. and as long as that exists, people will still want attention.

    also we live in a narcissistic age. media is king. until kids stop looking up to adults, then maybe something will happen. but then media will still fulfil the role of other kids as rolemodels. because its in our human nature.

  8. eastasianjustice

    Thanks for your comment.

    One thing I'm getting at is that we need to move away from this belief that the media has more power to influence people's minds than does inter-personal contact.

    My general attitude toward the media is skepticism. I simply don't believe the face value of what I see or hear coming from media sources most of the time. As part of the process that Asian-Americans must undergo in order to reclaim their counter-cultural identity, we have to nurture skepticism - particularly toward the media and its supposed power over us.

  9. in a ideal world, parents are the role models for their kids, and intellectual, artistic and spiritual achievement should be the self-fulfilling goals.

    and i agree that we should be VERY skeptical about the information that's put forward in the media.

    HOWEVER, if you think media has no impact then you can't explain why Madison Ave spends and earns BILLIONS of USD every year.

    or the fact that a recent example of "spaghetti taco" never even existed until somebody thought to put it on TV.

  10. Anonymous

    Thanks for commenting.

    I in no way believe that the media has no impact on the lives of Asians in general and Asian men in particular.

    I simply believe that so much effort and intellectual energy is spent on the issue of the media that it seems as though we forget that the people that are around in our daily lives have the potential to have a far greater impact on our self-beliefs than the media ever could.

    The question is; why isn't this potential being fulfilled? It certainly seems as though there is a disconnect on a personal level between those young Asian boys who need someone to look up to and the existence of bigger brothers, uncles or friends who fulfill these roles.