Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Was Bruce Lee Was A Stereotype?

Not Knowing A Good Thing...

As always, James over at The Alpha Asian blog has found another informative documentary video pertaining to Asian men. The video is titled "The Slanted Screen", and explores through interviews with Asian-American actors the past and present prejudices faced by Asian men in the movie industry and society in general.

Of all the guys that participated, Frank Chin really stands out for his directness and insight. I think that when it comes to directness, Asian-Americans might need some development in this area, and Chin, although ascerbic, is at least on the right track! From the video, Chin's observation that Bruce Lee was a stereotype initiated an interesting series of comments, and I wish Chin would have been given more time to expand on this idea. My only caveat is that Chin tends to all too often favour the cluster bomb when a targeted smart bomb might have gotten his message across more succintly.

For example, while I disagree one-hundred that Bruce Lee is a stereotype, I believe, and we all know, that he was both made to play roles that were far below what his capabilities should have demanded if he had been white, and these roles were one-dimensional and often somewhat deprecatory. Lee himself could not possibly have been a stereotype because he differed greatly from what had been seen anywhere anytime before, or even since.

The power of Lee's example is that he rejected the limitations imposed upon him by American racism, and became the superstar that they said it was impossible for him to be. Subsequently, Lee has become such a profound influence on the racist culture that rejected him, that he can be said to have become not a stereotype, but an archetype that shapes the self-images of young men not just in the U.S, but all over the planet. In the past thirty years, just about every American action hero can be said to have drawn some degree of inspiration from Lee. Everything from fighting style and attitude to men's physiques it can be argued have derived much from Lee's example.

The downside to this has been a kind of backlash effect in which the image of a strong and fearless Asian warrior is negated by stereotypical versions that mock and disparage. But this is not a failing on Lee's part, but an example of how irrational maintream fear of Asian men drives the racism against them. Comedian, Bobby Lee (also speaking in the second video) seems to blame Bruce Lee for creating an unattainable stereotype that all Asian men are brilliant martial artists. This is ridiculous. Blame mainstream ignorance and racism for this - Bruce Lee never said that he was typical of anyone or anything, and he wasn't typical of any man, regardless of their race. Bruce Lee is an example of how much potential Asian men possess to impact their environment, and not someone whom we should criticize for "setting the bar too high".

And here as clear as day we are able to see the effect that growing up with racism has on the psyche of Asian men. Growing up with racism causes some (maybe many) Asian men to second guess everything about their masculinity. Even something as inspiring as Bruce Lee's life becomes twisted and something about which to feel shame and embarassment. The irony is that mainstream culture appropriates Lee's warrior qualities and emulates them whilst some Asians apparently rue his success. This also speaks volumes about mainstream America's inability (or unwillingness) to conceive of Asians as individuals and interact with them without pre-conceptions.


  1. criticizing lee is pointless. he just fought racism his way and did what he did, and thats it. asians shouldnt criticize lee for breaking stereotypes and creating new moulds- they should do it themselves.bruce lee is one man. if every asian acted out against racism the way he did, the world ( for asians) would be a better place. unfortunately he had what a lot of asians seem to lack: balls.

  2. Bruce Lee wasn't a stereotype when he started, since he broke down all the walls about the Chinese being "Hop Sings" to whites.

    however, anything the AM does well haolewood will turn it into a stereotype to dehumanize Asians.

    Asians are good at math? it's the asexual nerd, instead of math whiz that uses "numb3rs" to solve crimes.

    Asians are law abiding citizens? it's the inscrutable Chinatown human traffickers and white saviors rescuing the Asian women from slavery.

    etc, etc, etc

  3. Defunct


    Yep the system is definitely set up that way. The sad part is that too many Asians believe the negtative hype.