Monday, December 18, 2006

Yul Kwon Wins Survivor: What it Means for the Asian-American Male

When I first heard that the CBS show "Survivor" was playing the race card and dividing teams among ethnic lines, I have to admit that I was more than a little intrigued. I'd never watched "Survivor" before and although I viewed the first episode with a little trepidation, I was disappointed to see the producers abandon the race aspect of the show fairly quickly. So much for controversy.

But, by that time, it was too late. I was completely hooked.

Why? Because early on, I thought that Yul Kwon was one of the best representations of the modern Asian-American male that I had seen in a long time. Even though he went to Stanford and Yale (I'm a Berkeley/Georgetown guy), how could anyone NOT be impressed by Yul? The guy is the ultimate Ubermensch---a rare combination of brain and brawns that would be hard to find in ANYWHERE! I can't begin to express how proud I am that he totally kicked ass!

Growing up, my Asian-American friends and I always lamented the fact that the mainstream portrayal of Asian males as either being martial artists or completely emasculated. C'mon. Think about it. Before Daniel Dae Kim was cast in the role of "Lost," when was the last time you EVER saw an Asian male being portrayed as a sex symbol in mainstream media?

As Ethan Lee, creator of a buzzed-about new Web comic called "Single Asian Female" said in my fellow Rice Daddy Jeff Yang's SF Gate article, "Asian men are still stereotyped as geeky, sexless losers, including by some Asian American women. I remember that even in my Asian American Studies classes, there were two or three Asian women who bragged how they only date white men. I distinctly remember one of them saying, 'I'm afraid an Asian man might beat me,' and another saying, 'Well, I've always been attracted to the Abercrombie and Fitch model type."

How fucking sad it that?

Look, it's always unfair to cast someone as the savior of any cause. As Yul himself said, "I want to set the record straight. I don't think I was necessarily the best person to represent the (Asian-American) community, but I had this golden opportunity in my lap. I just wanted to break stereotypes. When I was growing up, I didn't see many that looked like myself that could be a role model."

Now, don't get me wrong. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think that Yul winning "Survivor" is necessarily going to break the emasculating stereotypes of the typical Asian-American all at once. It's going to happen in waves and spurts. Whether it's guys like Ichiro, Jet Li, Yao Ming, Daniel Dae Kim, or Yul, I think we (as Asian-American men) have to bust through the stereotypes one door at a fucking time.

As an Asian-American father, it's important to me that my daughter see strong Asian-American role models. Why? Because her Asian background is an important part of who she is and it's something that I want her to be proud of over the course of her entire lifetime. In the long run, I don't care if she ends up marrying a white, yellow, brown, black or purple guy. However, in some way, I think I'll have failed her if she somehow perceives Asian-American men to be somehow less than masculine.

But how about you, my friends? Do you see any significance in Yul winning "Survivor?" How do you feel about it? Do you believe his victory is a step in breaking old-fashioned stereotypes of Asian-American men? Or is this just a random blip that will have no great effect on the perception of Asian men in mass media?

An inquiring mind wants to know!


EllesMommy said...

Does Dustin Nguyen on "21 Jumpstreet" count as a sex symbol?

Lumpyheadsmom said...

I honestly think all you hot Rice Daddies out there, committed to your children and doing anything and everything for your families, are the best role models anyone could find.

The fact that you're all good-looking is just a bonus. We try not to focus on that too much, you know, to preserve your dignity.

eliaday said...

I think it's a small blip - I mean, what else have other Survivor winners gone on to do? I can't think of much.

I think there's also a line between "Asian" role models and "Asian American" role models. I'm not saying that Yao Ming and Ichiro and that new Red Sox guy don't do anything for representing Asian American men. I just think that it's really important to see more Asian American men out there. And so Yul adds +1 to the tally. Good for him.

Mama Nabi said...

Purple? Purple? Please tell me you'd put your foot down on a purple dinosaur... Family gatherings may get tad annoying, no?

I just love it - in a way, Yul does personify a stereotypical Asian male, sexy AND uber-smart... I think that the media intentionally emphasized the smart part and downplayed the sexy part - the list of probable and possible reasons is too long - therefore it does not surprise me that it took a reality show to bring a sexy Asian-American male to limelight.

Didi said...

Does Dustin Nguyen on "21 Jumpstreet" count as a sex symbol?

I think he does. I specifically remember a picture of him in Seventeen (I think) on a beach, wearing a half wet suit, with it unzipped and peeled down halfway to show his chest/abs.

I think that the media intentionally emphasized the smart part and downplayed the sexy part

I don't think the media downplayed the sexy part at all - did you see where People magazine printed a picture of Yul shirtless in their "Sexiest Men" issue?

Didi said...

I stand corrected, it was US Magazine.

You can the see pics here:

Mama Nabi said...

Oops - sorry - I meant that IN THE PAST, media has downplayed the sexy part...not specifically regarding Yul. And, ahem, thank you for the link to the picture... :-D

honglien123 said...

Yul is almost too perfect. Nice, smart, handsome, buff, and full of filial piety. Good for him that he won Survivor and hurray that he's a local Bay Area boy, and I'm happy that there is some discussion going around that he breaks the wimpy asexual Asian male stereotype. However, I too think this is just a blip, there have been other Asian Americans men who have had some fame and discussion surrounding them of breaking the same stereotypes and yet, they still remain.

Russell Wong comes to mind (as well as the aforementioned Dustin "HEY, he's Viet and he has my last name, now there's a shock" Nguyen). I think in some ways the media treats these guys as flukes and actually enhances the model minority stereotype itself. I mean, what better way to enforce the stereotype and confirm to Americans who buy into them than to have EVERY SINGLE news story surrounding Yul and his win mention that he breaks the typical stereotypes surrounding Asian American men (as if there haven't been others who have) and never fails to note Yul is not only good looking and buff, but a model son, student, person and all around over achiever as well.

So for the stereotypes to truly go away, we'll have to wait for a higher saturation of Asian American hotties in the media. (Can't wait!) Including those who aren't perfect. We need men who are sexy but didn't go to Stanford and maybe even waited some tables. Or who didn't necessarily grow up in the typical middle class Asian American existence. I mean, does anyone ever notice that no one ever mentions where Daniel Dae Kim went to school?

RayU said...

Yul may be a +1 to the tally, but he did get to do it on national TV, on a highly viewed program, specifically pointing out the issue of pervasive stereotypes and the lack of good Asian-American male role models.

That's a very strong "+1" not only to be on TV, but to plainly state the issue. I had scanned some Survivor discussion boards, and there were several comments by people suddenly realizing that Yul is right.

It's not enough just to get 'face time'. Many people don't even realize that there is a stereotype until it's pointed out to them. Otherwise they'll just assume that he's an exception to the rule.

I also found it very encouraging that several other recent highly rated TV shows have/had a number of minorities represented. Lost, The Amazing Race, Heros... Hopefully it's a trend and not just a blip.

Remember that Survivor started with an entire *team* of Asian-Americans, not just Yul. How far back do we have to go before we find another US TV show that had that many AA's featured? (Don't count single episodes of dramas that take place in Chinatown or some such stereotype. The only one that jumps out to me was Margaret Cho's failed sitcom). At least Jeff Probst suddenly realized that AA's aren't a monolithic culture. Duh! Way to show some intelligence, dude.

Change may be slow, but hopefully at least some blinders were knocked off in Hollywood and across America.

Superha said...

Ahhh... Russell Wong. :)

Ka_Jun said...

Yeah, +1, but I think its clear Yul knew that there were going to be important ramifications to how he "represented".

All I have to say is that it's nice to see, and I only had to wait 3 decades to hear someone other than an academic say,

"I didn't see people like me on television when I was growing up. I wanted America to see Asian Americans as they truly are."

and to have that broadcast nationally. Yes, today is a good day.

Jeremy C. said...

As a chinese-american father married to a white woman, raising a mixed daughter, I feel compelled to make a comment on this post. YOU, yes you, the rice daddies, need to be the role models for your children. Not somebody on TV that will be forgotten by the time next season rolls around. It makes no difference to me if there are asian americans represented on TV because I don't believe other people being my daughter's role model, other than my wife and I. As arrogant as this sounds, it is part of parenting. If I were going to have a role model for my child, it will not be an athelete, an actress, a model, etc.. It will be somebody of historic importance. Asian or not.

As a species, the asian males, traditionally are soft spoken and just dealt with whatever was given to them. I encourage the asian males to stand up at your work place, to challenge authority, instill some confidence in ourselves and our children. One person on TV ain't going to make a difference, it takes every single one of us to do it TOGETHER in order to break the stereotype!

Great blog, my wife actually sent it to me. She enjoys reading it as much as I do. keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

in response to jeremy c:

i agree with you, but there is no way to avoid the effects of seeing AA's in the media and their message by your child(ren). Look at the way "thin" is portrayed and the effect it has on girls and eating disorders or negative body images, etc, etc . . .

I have a father that is strong, outspoken when he needs to be (esp. when it comes to family) and yeah, he's a great role model in a lot of ways, BUT wouldn't it be nice for our child(ren) to see more than the overly-sexualized Asian female or the under-sexed Asian male in the media?

OF COURSE we as parents should be the ultimate role model for our child(ren), but sometimes it's nice to get a more even mix of who we (as A's and AA's) in the media.

thisislarry said...

Yul rocks. I have nothing but respect for what he's accomplished, even if its on the 13th edition of a cheesy reality game show (which I am also pretty addicted to). Any opportunity to show asian americans as real people is a good opportunity.

Although he's not a rice daddy, I'm sure he will have ample opportunity.

Tangentially, the previous Bay Area survivor personality, Lex the bad-boy from episode whatever, managed to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into a pizza named after him at Pizza My Heart, the d'Lex. a good pizza, anyways....

Twizzle said...

If nothing else, winning Survivor will help Yul find a wife, which will make his mama very happy!

daddy in a strange land said...

Welcome Jeremy C. I think you'll find that 1) though this organized around the idea of "AsAm dads blogging," we don't all agree about everything or have the same experiences, and 2) I think most of us, if not all (wait, am I just contradicting what i just wrote? heh), would agree that parents are the most important role models in childrens' lives, and that's a role we're all trying to live up to.

But, esp. as many of us have ethnic studies/pop culture/journalism backgrounds, the issue of representation, esp. vis-a-vis bringing up children in a changing world, comes up often. It's not an either-or proposition, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.

Anyway, glad you and your wife are coming to the site, and hope to see both of you commenting often!

The Beast Mom said...

I think it's a step - how "significant", I can't say. I agree that Asian males have been potrayed negatively for a very long time.

I admit to formerly being one of those Asian girls who was more attracted to white guys during my younger days. I grew up in a totally white community and the only Asian male I interacted with was my younger BROTHER. Not exactly a great formula to get me "interested" in Asian guys. :) And the negative media sterotyping sure didn't help. Remember the cook on "Bonanza"? Yeah. And remember "The Dong-er" on "Sixteen Candles"? Yeah.

And then later on, I met this really great, very alpha-male Asian guy that I eventually married. He's by far the most masculine and studly guy I ever dated. I'm glad my daughter has him for a dad. She may actually mistakenly expect ALL Asian guys to be real men, which they're not, just as all white/black/purple guys are not either. :)

I'm glad an Asian guy was on the show and did as well as he did. Maybe it will balance out the incorrect picture to some degree.

-Beast Mom

Henri said...

Hey Jeremy,

Thanks for enjoying the blog. I think Daddy In a Strange Land put it very well with his nice comments correcting any misconception that you may have about how similar/dissimilar the contributors of this blog are. In fact, some crass members of this blog, after reading your comment, would happily tell you to please f-off and don't tell me how to raise my kid. I mean his yeah.

Most Asian males are nothing like what is depicted in the media. In fact, growing up in a mixed community you slowly see the opposite stereotypes emerge. Koreans can be known to be a little belligerent. A lot of Koreans are very very very alpha, even with Prada loafers on (cough*MetsDad*cough). But in business or barrooms I have never met that unassertive Asian "species". I've seen him on TV and in the movies but not in real life. Now, granted if you're new to the country sometimes there is a communication barrier that forces you to be a little quiet. That's called I can't speak English yet and affects tons of ethnicities. It's not that I am seeking more Asian representation in order for my kids to have something to look up to. That's like asking the Portuguese community how they feel about a lack of Portuguese role models on TV (I can only count 3 offhand). It's usually a non-issue. What I do have a problem with is the misrepresentation of the Asian community in the media. People like Yul and Ozzie are being held up as anomalies by a lot of America. "Wow for an Asian guy that Yul is (fill in the blank)" And I say F-That. Wow, manipulative Korean guy with Ivy League Education that loves to do sit-ups and is smart. That IS the Korean Stereotype. C'mon Yul is even a Lambda for god's sake. Enough said. Of course he's educated, or course he's smart and of course he's narcissistically obsessed with his abs....welcome to Koreatown, please don't step off the marked path, you will get shot. "For a Korean guy that little kid sure can shoot the crap out of me"

If there is a misconception in the media, do you think you can reach middle America by being a good individual role model? Are you going to personally show the rest of the world what Asian men are really like? ("No, I'm just going to show my daughter." Yeah, I saw that coming a mile away) Media is a beast. Marketing is powerful. Of course I'm gonna be my kid's biggest role-model. That is by default (sorry kid, you too will grow up to work too hard and never be satisfied by any measure of achievement, and you'll hang with MetroDad and slowly drink up all the Scotch in the world). And thank god my kid's going to grow up in a diverse community where Asians are not a novelty. But it is good, very good for a normal Korean guy (who for some reason doesn't get to be called Korean) to be shown in the media for what he really is. Normal. Ok ok he is a little abnormal. The fact he couldn't solve that damn compass puzzle had me screaming "Go Musclehead GO" at the TV. All I'm ranting about is that you can't ignore how Asians are depicted in the media. No that's not what I'm saying. Wait...Ok what I'm really trying to say is that you cannot underestimate the social impact of media representation of a class of people. It has a powerful effect. At the same time you cannot fight this only by being a great individual. Ask those great Americans at Manzanar how well that worked. Go ahead ask them. It would be nice to live in a world where the guy I got in a fight with the night before...

1)Doesn't call the cops over a fair fistfight.
2)Doesn't tell the story to his friends as "Dude I got in a fight with this little Asian guy...."

Not that I condone middle-aged fistfights (although they are hilarious). But telling a story about the Asian guy should one day be like telling a story about a blonde guy. "Dude I fought this blonde guy the other day..." That story sounds ridiculous.

Blahblahblahblah...damn I hate people who rant.

All I really wanted to say is that some of "us" RiceDaddies don't like to be told by you how we should parent. And if we really wanted to know what your opinion on the matter was, we would start a blog with comments or some crap like that....oh wait. Ok sorry Jeremy, you're right. I'm wrong. Just messing with you. Thank you and pleasecomeagain.

Ozzie was robbed.

Jeremy C. said...

hey Henri,

I think I might have come off a little strong for a first time commenter! Trust me, I didn't mean to offend anybody and the last thing I want to do is to tell people how to raise their kids. (I know I hate it when people tell me how to raise my kid!).

I agree whole heartedly with the sentiment that Asian Americans (or AA's, right?) are misrepresented in the media. And I do know that the media has a powerful effect on the society. There's no question about it. However, I guess I just don't see how a television character can somehow be turned into a representation or mis-representation of a race as a whole. Maybe it's part of the blessing of living in a diverse community, where I've never had the comment of "don't you know Karate?" or "Can you tutor my kid in Math?" come up. But I honestly have not run into some of the more blatant racial slurs.

Anyways, GREAT BLOG, and great writing. I am glad there are a lot of asian fathers out here in this crazy world, and we have an open forum to share our thoughts and things that apply to us. Keep writing, boys!

Jeremy C

Henri said...

Oh and the fact that he could stand on that pole and resist doing a karate kid crane kick shows me that he is a much stronger man that me.

Obiwanhavanese said...

Speaking of bad representation have you seen the show beauty and the geek? Poor asian boy.

PIAO (Only Kissed One Girl)

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