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!