Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Mike Chang, Glee and The Asian "F"

Tonight was a good night for Asian-Americans and Gleeks.

Thousands of us heaved a big sigh as Mike Chang, played by Harry Shum Jr., aka as "The Asian Guy"  finally not only got his own story line, but sang two whole solos including the whole song "Cool" from West Side Story--one of my most favorite songs!
Boy, boy, crazy boy, 
Get cool, boy! 
Got a rocket in your pocket, 
Keep coolly cool, boy! 

I admit it, my whole life I've always looked out for whatever Asian actor or actress somehow squeezed onto a show, from Bernadette on Zoom, to the Asian girl on the Electric Company.  And call me racist, but that person was always also my favorite character.  I craved seeing people like me in art and media.

So when Glee came out and I immediately fell into Gleekdom, it made me happy that it showcased 2 Asian-American actors, Jenna Ushkowitz and Shum.  Jenna's adopted, hence her ability to even become an actor.  But at least her character sang and talked. . . sometimes.

Almost all of Season 1, Mike Chang and the only Black guy in New Directions never spoke, never sang, danced occasionally and did reaction shots.

Really Glee?  For diversity you have 2 minority guys but you don't give them a voice?  (Hmmm, I think that's often the issue. . .)

In Season 2, Mike Chang's role slowly grew, a little.  He even did a sort of solo "Sing" from A Chorus Line, which is a song all about how he can't sing--and he didn't.

Despite the lack of Asian-American sensitivity, Glee was my guilty pleasure.  We didn't let the kids watch because Scott didn't like the disrespect of the kid characters and the terrible behavior of the adult characters, and we weren't clear they would get "This isn't how high schoolers should behave."

Last year Ling was allowed to watch it with me, but we never could find the time, so we missed the last half of the season. The only consolation is that I bought all the songs from the first season.

This fall we caved and our whole family watches Glee on Tuesday nights, but only if kids have done ALL their homework, piano practice AND cleaned the kitchen.  (A teeny bit of Tiger mom remains)

But tonight!  Tonight the show opened with Mike's father excoriating the principal that Mike got an A- in Chemistry--an Asian F.  My girls cheered as they recognized those words--not because I tell them they get Asian Fs with an A-, but because their Asian friends do.  (Only Ling says in Winchester an Asian F is an A.  You should have gotten the A+)

Even if Glee dealt in Asian stereotypes, it's a stereotype that rings true in our community, and they gave us something to talk about.  I think my kids recognized a little of themselves up there on that screen.  Kai even asked to "process" what we saw.  (I said tomorrow, tonight, bed!)

It was even cooler than Bernadette twirling her arms on Zoom!


Greg Metzger said...

This is so true, sad that there are not more media. We have not gotten to watch Glee as a family yet, but MyLan loves it! Quyen

athanasius said...

I like how you explore the many sides of this issue. (A+!)

My mother long played organ for a Korean church. One of the grown "children" was on a well known teen drama. He didn't talk much about his work, especially in church!