When news broke that Nickelodeon would be producing a musical sitcom centered around teens in a K-Pop inspired band, the initial reaction was relatively positive and optimistic. Asian-American representation has been making leaps and bounds in modern media with the help of Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead and Eddie Huang of Fresh Off the Boat, just to name a few. As lame as the premise of Nickelodeon’s Make It Pop seemed, it was refreshing, and kind of validating, for Asian culture to be embraced instead of mocked. But more often than not, this “progress” is merely by product of seeking profit, which doesn’t end up in the hands of the “progressing,” anyway.
After the producer’s presentation, during the Q&A, I mustered up the courage to ask “Will there be an Asian guy in it”? In a joking manner, the producer said “Nope! Never! Asian guys in my show? not gonna happen.”, while everyone else–albeit uncomfortably–laughed it off. Come on now, it’s a show about Korean pop. Half the artists from the K-pop industry are Asian men. Most K-pop fans are actually non-Asian girls / women who are a fan of K-pop men. Excluding Asian men in K-pop is like going to Hooters without scantily clad waitresses – nobody wins. The producer began to answer the question seriously and said he was hoping to get PSY to play the father of the main Korean girl. Mentally, I was shaking my head in disappointment.
Psy created an extremely unique bridge between American and Asian pop culture, which only he could have done at that time and I whole-heartedly appreciate that. However, Psy is still a caricature of the goofy, Asian, funny man which only perpetuates an existing stereotype. When does the Asian guy get to be cool? /u/dtmuniversal goes on to list examples of Asian males redundantly taking on-screen L’s:
- 21 (Real life story of Asian MIT students are replaced with white actors)
- Romeo Must Die (Romeo and Juliet story except Jet Li doesn’t even kiss Aaliyah)
- The Forbidden Kingdom (only a white guy can save China and the Asian girl from evil)
- The Wolverine (every Asian guy is useless and dies)
- Full Metal Jacket (me so horny me love you long time)
- The Last Airbender (all the ethnic heroes are replaced with white people, but the villains remain ethnic)
- The Man With The Iron Fists (all Asian women are sexualized whores)
- The Last Samurai (a white guy goes to Japan, kills your brother in law, sleeps with your sister, and beats your best friend in a sword fight after only training for a few months, and saves Japan)
- 47 Ronin (only a mixed Asian born from a white father can save the princess, the other 47 ronin are apparently useless)
- Red Dawn (Chinese are evil, but they actually watch Hollywood movies so let’s make them North Korean instead)
- Dragonball Evolution (Let’s make Goku a white guy but keep the Asian girl in it)
- Pacific Rim (only a white guy can save the world and protect those poor helpless Asians and save that Asian girl from distress, Asian guys are useless and they die)
- Iron Man (The Mandarin is a wimp instead of a bad ass villain)
- The Hangover (Asian penis jokes in the 21st century, how mature)
- Sixteen Candles (Long Duk Dong, the emasculated Asian nerd who is the laughing stock of his whole generation)
- Breakfast At Tiffany’s (that old stupid looking bucktoothed angry Asian man played in Yellowface)
- Entourage (Lloyd, the gay fat comedic Asian)
- 2 Broke Girls (another fat Asian nerd character)
- And of course, The Interview (white guys go to poor Asian country to make fun of / kill Asian guys while having sex with Asian women, while the supreme leader of North Korea is actually another emasculated idiot who secretly dreams of being American but is also useless and dies).
Now, Make It Pop seems like low hanging fruit when considering a fight worth fighting but walls can’t be knocked down without moving the bricks out of the way. Reddit user /u/boycottnick felt compelled to write to Nickelodeon about his problems with the casting of the show.
I have come across the following post about Nickelodeon’s upcoming show “Make It Pop” on Reddit.com. Please, take a couple of minutes to read the post.
As an Asian American, I am very disappointed that this producer (allegedly Thomas Lynch) blatantly joked about not having any Asian male character in such manner. After looking at the trailer, it does seem that there is not a single main Asian male character. I am deeply offended and saddened that a prominent youth TV network like Nickelodeon is continuing the Hollywood trend of the unfair media representation of Asians described in the Reddit post.
Do you realize that this is a K-Pop inspired show? Have you done any research on K-Pop? Are there any Korean/Asian people on the production team that can offer Korean/Asian American perspectives?
How do you plan to make a K-Pop show without any main Asian male character when K-Pop fan culture is comprised of a disproportionate number of teenage girls who are fans of Korean boybands like Big Bang, EXO, Super Junior, SHINee, etc. This is cultural appropriation. You are taking the Korean pop culture and re-packaging it to fit the American “mainstream taste.”
I firmly believe that Asian American youth should not be exposed to such a biased media representation. Therefore, my family will be boycotting Nickelodeon network until this is corrected. I hope that, as one of the biggest youth TV networks, Nickelodeon commits to represent all demographics of the American youth fairly.
Being accused of cultural appropriation is the new scarlet letter, but I feel the accusation fits in this instance. Just like when Vanilla Ice took Hiphop culture and re-packaged it to fit the American “mainstream taste”, Nickelodeon is doing the same with K-Pop. Maybe this isn’t the refreshing validation we once thought it was. Is Make It Pop another case of fetishizing Asian women and desexualizing Asian men by ignoring them all together? I read through the audition script to dig deeper.
Although this storyline reinforces the stereotype of the overbearing Asian parent (which holds a lot of truth so I’m not that tight about that), it also celebrates the idea that this Asian kid can do something cool and not bookish, which I can get behind.
The show is a step, but it’s more lateral than forward. It would be progressive if a studio (any studio!) would be brave enough to take a risk and show an Asian male love interest instead of playing along with the notion that an Asian man is incapable of being admired.
I’ll end this with a spoken word piece by Beau Sia from Def Poetry Jam 8 years ago which still rings true today and is appropriate in this context.