The video is a collection of clips from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”, a show which chronicles a group of young entrepreneurs from Palo Alto struggling to push their innovative tech company forward. All the main characters live together in a tech startup incubator that the character Jian Yang moves into directly from China. The scenes in question show the owner of the incubator, Erlich, trying to explain to Jian Yang the customs and culture of “normal” households in America and how they normally operate. Clearly Jian Yang is used to a completely different culture in his home country. Although most people in china might not skin fish in their sink or burn their trash, this is the stereotypical image of China that is portrayed by the show through the character Jian Yang.
In Joann Faung Jean Lee’s Asian American Actors: Part II, “Asian American Actors in San Francisco and Los Angeles” and Wajahat Ali’s “Minority Reports’ Series: The Portrayal of Asian Men in Cinema”, both authors bring up the stereotype of asian Americans often portrayed in common American media. Although Ali’s delivery was more personally moving to me, I appreciated how Lee’s article is filled with more personal accounts from asian Americans in the industry and how the stereotypes have actually affected them as individuals. The actor hired to play Jian Yang is employed explicitly to asian stereotypes. A seemingly very easy role with very little dialogue and a heavy asian accent that play directly into the American Stereotype for asian people in modern television. This role could be considered offensive for Asian American actors aspiring to play larger roles with more depth in the industry. Obviously this role wouldn’t be effective or make any sense if the actor was caucasian. In Ali’s piece he mentions that most Asian actors portray roles in which they speak with a broken English accent. I think this is the most stereotypical part of how Asians are portrayed in television, the broken English and ineptness at “normal” American behavior is seen as hilarious in a detrimental way to the character, but in reality traveling to a new country leaves everyone struggling with the language and adapting to the culture, regardless of race or destination. Jian Yang is an extremely stereotypical Asian portrayal as his only purpose in the show is to bring comedic relief and provides no plot contributions. I also found it interesting that the top comment on the youtube video (admittedly not part of television studies) is “Haven’t watched the show yet, is Yang just a walking stereotype punchline or does he actually do anything?”. Jian Yang is a great example of how modern television uses the stereotypical view of asian culture to their content, and how inherently flawed its representation of actual asian culture has become.
What other characters can you think of that break the asian stereotypes?
Do you think Asian characters are usually portrayed with negative connotations?
Do you think Asian actors face the same challenges as other minority actors such as African American actors do?