Stereotypes on TV: Harmful in Real Life

By Kris Wright
Second year, intended Journalism major
Entertainment section writer

From the grandparents who dislike a person because their national heritage “is not good people” to the students who automatically flock to the Asian in their class because they think they are the smartest, stereotypes range in their connotation and level of hurtfulness.

The American media is an especially prominent stage for the acting out of stereotypes. The supposed “melting pot” of the U.S. has managed to distill entire nations of peoples into a few typical, redundant characters. It is easy to find instances on television wherein African Americans are portrayed as criminals, Indians as smelly and Asians as nerds – none of which is necessarily true.

One group that receives the most obvious stereotyping is people from Asian nations. Examples run the full range of nationalities: Rajesh Koothrapalli, an Indian man, is too worried with academics to even know how to speak to a woman on “The Big Bang Theory”. Mrs. Kim, a Korean woman, enforces strict rules on her daughter’s social life in “Gilmore Girls.” Han Bryce Lee, a Korean man, is portrayed as nothing but a hard worker and is referred to as a rainbow of nationalities by other characters in “2 Broke Girls.”

Each of these examples shows the Asian character (a character that could be from anywhere across the huge Asian continent) as mainly focused on being the best – whether it be in work or in academics – and totally incompetent when it comes to normal communication with other people.

Being a ‘geek’ is not the only common stereotype for Asian cultures, though. They are also stereotyped as Kung Fu fighters, dragon ladies, prostitutes and more.

Even worse than the stereotypes themselves is the way that Asians are grouped together. Just like Han Bryce Lee in “2 Broke Girls,” Asian characters are often ambiguously Asian, as if their actual country of origin doesn’t matter. This tendency further de-humanizes an entire continent of individuals by turning them into caricatures instead of fully-rounded characters.

But the effects reach beyond the television screen. Negative stereotypes on such a major media channel can create prejudices about people in real life. If, for instance, a viewer who never encounters Asians in real life watches TV shows in which the Asian characters – no matter their heritage – are portrayed as bad at social interaction, that viewer might believe all Asian people are bad at social interaction. That viewer might then seek to avoid the supposed awkwardness of interactions with Asian people in real life.

These stereotypes can thus engender negative emotions for Asian people about their identity and where they are from. So, these simple stereotypes that are meant to make people laugh can end up hurting people.

People who watch shows that commonly use stereotypes can be influenced by it without being aware that is what is going on. Even if people are aware that Rajesh Koothrapalli from “The Big Bang Theory” is portraying a stereotype the ideas informing the character still work their way into a person’s understanding of the world.

No matter the nationality or ethnicity, group stereotypes can hurt people by affecting the way that others see them and the way that they see themselves. They can damage peoples’ quality of life and restrict the opportunities presented to them. Characters that reinforce these stereotypes may earn laughs for a comedy series, but we have to ask ourselves: is there anything really funny about them?

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