04 October 2007

take your show and shove it....

[steps on soapbox]

ok so, i'm late to this "party" (filipino time jokes aside), but i lost some sleep over this whole desperate housewives thing and i just had to get my $.02 worth of nonsensical rambling out because of it. and apologies in advance, to my fellow filipina moms bloggers for hogging our blog lately.

full disclosure - i used to be a big fan of the show... i used to watch it religiously. it was and is escapist entertainment. it is quintessential voyeuristic, trainwreckish, trashy eye candy on steroids. for a while, i actually felt like the housewives were kindred spirits when they complained about the constant daily grind of sahms over margaritas. but slowly and surely, the show started a downward spiral for me and has since jumped numerous sharks for me. i think i catch some episodes now in the hopes that it's redeemed itself. and then i read that susan's character opened her big (now, apparently ignorant) mouth and inserted her klutzy foot. and then, i got angry and went looking for fellow pinoy misery/camaraderie online.

i mean no disrespect but can i just say it never ceases to amaze me that when an issue like this comes up that so many filipino bloggers either ignore it or worse - defend it and then condescend to those of us who do care about it by virtually comparing us to fantasizing conspiracy theorists. by blogging thus, they excuse bigots and their remarks and even justify sophmoric and damaging humor. do filipinos/filipinos bloggers really want to be associated with or encourage racial humour where the punch line/brunt of the joke is the difference and/or assumed inferiority of a person of color?

i'm all for freedom of speech - censorship is not an option. but, free speech is a two way street. celebrities get to offend me on primetime tv with a "harmless (racially motivtated) slip of the tongue" and i get to petition ABC to see if i can get an apology (which by the way, was a non-apology apology - F*CK YOU, ABC). i want to help foster community building and open forums for diverse opinions, yada yada yada... but ultimately, these bloggers help to undo the countless hours of dedicated work of asian american activists and feminists in the second or two it takes someone to read their post. they encourage apathy, prejudice and ignorance, anti-asian racism, sexism and frankly, as an asian american woman, they embarass me.

all night long, i thought of all the negative stereotypes that desperate housewives perpetuates (shudder to think how it redefines that whole "ugly american" sterotype abroad) and it reminded me of something i read a while ago from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. it is a list of "restrictive asian portrayals constantly repeated in the mainstream media". this morning i googled for the list again and found it here. some of the characters/character traits in the list are exact matches to asian characters/their portrayals in desperate housewives:

yao lin (played by actress, lucille soong) - the solis' housekeeper from season one. she wasn't on very long (she was fired after insulting gabrielle) but i distinctly remember that she was constantly wanting something from gabrielle - either for her to confess to having an affair or money or guarantees of money/barter for services rendered. she was definitely portrayed as someone inherently predatory. i don't remember for sure, but i think she also played the part with an accent perpetuating the foreigner who can't be assimilated stereotype.

xiao mei (played by gwendoline yeo) - the solis' second housekeeper who spoke broken english and was another neighbors slave and then, baby surrogate and then, homegrown homewrecker. she gave birth to an african american child due to a mix up at the sperm bank and has never been seen or heard from again. first, she was the perpetual foreigner who spoke little english and was constantly in fear of getting deported, then she was the model minority and then she was the china doll - exotic, subservient, industrious, eager to please, and finally, after learning from gabrielle that men in america didn't like virgins she becomes the dragon lady. she schemes and backstabs gabrielle by having an affair with her husband.

melanie foster (played by actress, joy bisco) - former sex crazed and obsessed girlfriend of matthew appelwhite who killed her after she threatened to turn his brother in for assaulting her. she's the dragon lady who gets sacrificed for the greater good.

vern - (played by actor, alec mapa) gabrielle's gay best friend who helps her with her new model training racket. once again, the asian male not only doesn't get the hooch. he's not even interested in the hooch. that's right hollywood there are asian males out there who are sexy and straight! they are our fathers, our brothers, our nephews, our husbands and our sons and they are just as delicious as their white counterparts.... STOP THE PRESSES!

in the end, why do i give a sh*t? Aren't there more important things to get enraged over like the war in Iraq or the disappearing benefits of legal immigrants? It's just a TV show right? These are just stereotypes, no one thinks like this in REAL life...

well, in my REAL life, i have a stepsister who was verbally harassed ("hey chink, stop taking away our jobs!") by a bunch of white men in broad daylight near wrigley field and was then dragged into and beat up in an alley. no one, who passed by the very busy intersection, came to her rescue when she screamed at them for help.

and like my sisters, cousins, friends, it's been assumed that i'm my kids' nanny, i'm "The" asian woman (we all look alike right?), that i don't speak english, that i'm good at math, that i'm a submissive partner in relationships but also naturally good in bed because my vagina is shaped differently, that not only will i do the work that's required of me but i'll do it for less money and never complain, and of course, that i often butcher and then eat dogs to celebrate big events....

already, my toddler children have experienced nuanced forms of stereotyping and prejudice. my guess is that it will only get worse and worse the older they get. i'll be there to help them pick up the shattered pieces of the dream that was sesame street but it's by getting pissed off and militant and vocal about ignorant crap like this, that i'll know that i did my best, that i fought the good fight for them. that i actually tried to make the world a better and safer place for them to live in.

and elsewhere in real life, marie stephanie martinez was beaten on a bus just for "looking chinese" and joseph santos ileto was murdered by a white supremacist for "looking latino or asian". marie stephanie could have been my sister, my niece or my daughter. joseph ileto could have been my father or my uncle.

THAT'S why i give a sh*t.

[steps off soapbox]


Rachel said...

Yeah, I only watched the first season of Desperate Housewives, but I remember being disgusted by the way the Asian maid was portrayed.

I can't believe that happened to your stepsister, and no one stopped to help her. How awful.

Great post. Yes, it matters. It all adds up, and people internalize the stereotypes and then act on them in real life. Ugh.

mj aka sugarmama said...

It bothered me even more so when you had mentioned your step-sister being beaten up in our neck of the woods just for being of Asian descent. I'm so sorry hear this.


ABC was stupid and careless and should take responsibility on having that said on tv.

maria said...

I've never really watched this show. I saw a part of it when it was just beginning and did not like the way they protray women, period. I heard this most recent insult on the radio and looked up said scene on youtube. I followed up the so called apology, but that's like patching up a big gaping hole. Discrimination is still a big problem, we have to accept this and try even in small ways to educate not only our families and our friends but also the community. It will not be easy and bad things will still happen, but the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem.

Karmela said...

it never ceases to amaze me that when an issue like this comes up that so many filipino bloggers either ignore it or worse - defend it and then condescend to those of us who do care about it by virtually comparing us to fantasizing conspiracy theorists.

Or perhaps, like you, they are merely expressing their opinion on the matter?

mamazilla said...

rachel - thanks for the compliments and for mentioning internalizing stereotypes, i meant to bring that up but the post was lengthy already. :)

mj - it was wrigley not comiskey... not quite our neck o' the woods. ;)

maria - "...acknowledging that there is a problem." exactly.

karmela - i totally agree with you - later in my post, i write, "i'm all for freedom of speech - censorship is not an option. but, free speech is a two way street." they get to express their opinions and i get to express mine.

SoulSnax said...

First of all, it is sad what is happening in certain parts of Chicago getting not only homogenized, but also gentrified without the diversity that makes America richer. When was your stepsister attacked? recently? in 2007? If so, Holy CRAP!

Secondly, thank you for your post. It is spot-on. I am glad to see that there's at least one other blogger out there who is expressing the real reason why Susan Mayer's line of dialogue was problematic: Susan's ignorant comment was offensive because it is yet another negative representation of Filipinos/Asians in an environment that lacks significant positive portrayals of Filipinos/Asians.

You know-- and I know-- that Philippine med school graduates are competent because we've been exposed to many Filipino physicians who are indeed competent and who excel at what they do. But there's a lack of positive portrayals of diversity, especially on shows that take place in hospitals (ER, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, etc...). And because of that, the average viewer won't know that Filipino physicians are indeed competent. And because there's no denying that it is the media that shapes people's perceptions of others, Susan Mayer's line of dialogue is problematic. Without positive portrayals of diversity, such lines only serve to perpetuate the plethora of negative stereotypes that are rampant in mainstream media.

The latest news, as seen on Angry Asia Man, is that there seems to be a verbal agreement to tackle this very issue. Right now it's all just talk, but if they can follow-through on this it would be a step in the right direction. It is up to us to make sure that there is indeed a follow-up.

In the meantime, would anyone out there know how to track down the show's sponsors? I have yet to see any comprehensive list of the show's advertisers. Is there a resource out there?


-Your Pinoy RiceDaddy

mamazilla said...

soulsnax - my sister was attacked many years ago - maybe 10 or so... thanks for the compliment! it's very humbling - i've been a fan of all the rice daddies for a very long time!

Jun Zuniga said...

Keep on fighting the good fight, sister. Our kids are depending on us.

Jenni said...

excellent post. i was a member of MANAA the year it started...

stef said...

the thing is, it's not just that particular show (which i've never watched BTW). my question is, WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP WATCHING AND SUPPORTING THESE SHOWS? yes, we may complain and boycott one or two shows that offend us in a specific way, but the truth is this type of degradation happens across the board, and it's indicative of how the media operates as a whole. we're not going to make a change if we continue to watch them, patronize their sponsors, etc. i just think it's a bit hypocritical when we criticize ONE OR TWO shows for offending our sensibilities but then continue to watch movies and other shows that are just plain morally offensive (e.g., glorifies murder or rape, etc.). Just because a show doesn't attack pinoys or minorities, for instance, doesn't mean it's a show worthy of our time. The other side of the coin, of course, is that some shows may offend us, and then some shows that don't, may offend others. There's truly no one way to please everyone. SOMEONE is going to get offended, somehow. Maybe, just maybe, the better, or even best, alternative is to turn that TV off, period.

If we really wanted to make a difference, we would instead SUPPORT movies/shows that ARE trying to make a difference. Movies like Bella, for instance. (Then again, if you're pro-choice, my saying that may have just offended you; again, something will always offend someone.) That's the only way our voices are really going to matter, and to make changes long-term. anyway, my .02.