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A Conversation with Sheridan Prasso, the author of "The Asian Mystique" - Part II

mystique


This is the second of a two-part interview with Prasso, the author of "The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient". The first installment of the interview is below.

On "Memoirs of a Geisha" and Hollywood stereotyping of Asian women (a.k.a. an Asian/whore ratio on prime time TV)

What did the book, "Memoirs of a Geisha," do? I mean, just about every American read it.


Many, many people read it. The book reinforced the stereotypes, the number one stereotype for Japanese women, which is, an undying love for a man, this kind of perpetual devotion. When in fact, as any Japanese woman would know, it's not like that, at all.

Why was the book such a huge hit?

Because it's an American story. It's a Cinderella story. The movie, "Pretty Woman," was the same story, that a woman can be like that. It was also Pygmalion, another version of the same story. You can find the same story at many different places, just bring it to Japan, and Wow, it's so beautiful, so interesting, but, you know, so untrue.

Now, the movie version of "Memoirs of a Geisha," starring Chinese action stars, will open in December. What will that movie do?

I'm not optimistic. Steven Spielberg has been careful to say that this is not a realistic portrayal, that he's taken fictional license with the movie. However the book itself took so many fictional licensees that how can you have anything that resembles the reality? What it'll do is, it's likely to continue to exoticize Asian women in the Western culture.

From recent random TV watching, I saw on "CSI," a guy who works at a burger joint explains why he got cash from an ATM: "I sell this tight little Asian chick a $3 Tasty Meal, and she says, for $300, I can get a very tasty meal."

In another show, "Joey," the hero is an actor, who gets interviewd by People magazine. He says: "Wow, People magazine. My mom is gonna be so excited. If you just get me into Playboy with an Asian on the cover, my dad can read about me too!"

These things come up all the time. Every day in America, on TV, you can find stereotypes about Asian women. Every day.

What if Joey said, "If you get me into Playboy with a blonde on the cover..."?

It doesn't have the same power. It doesn't have the same other-ness, the same eroticism. There are much more blondes in America-people are used to it. Also, it doesn't have the same sexual connotation. There's an equation of Asian women with sexuality in the Western culture.

After awhile, you know.... at first as an American, you don't realize this. But once, as I did, you realize what's going on, you can't stop seeing it. You see it every day in America. If you said the same things about African-American, Al Sharpton would be on your doorstep with... it's completely a double standard.

You said that in your book. So, is it a litmus test? If you said the same thing about African-American....?

Yes, that's right. "Can you say that about African American" should be a litmus test. "Can you say that about Jewish people?" "Can you say that about any group..." If you can't, then don't say it.

Why is it okay to do that about Asian women on TV?

It's not okay, it's not acceptable. That's my point. I'd like to see an Al Sharpton from the Asian American community. I'd like to see that.

But number one, the Asian community is not unified. And they hold stereotypes about each other. Anybody who lives in America, anybody who's grown up in the American culture, is affected by stereotypes. Even if they are Asian Americans.

For example, when I'm traveling in Vietnam, I meet Vietnamese American men, looking for Vietnamese women, because they think Vietnamese American women are too assertive, too tough.

Another TV thing, because I run a Japanese blog about American TV, with a section called "Asian Sightings." I've been watching the first season of "Six Feet Under." So far I saw only one Asian character, and it was Sandra Oh, before her break, guest starring as a porn star.

Of course she's a porn star. But if you see "Sideways," she's the one who's most promiscuous, and the only character who's not given any resolution for her story. All the others can love again, can get married. But for her, we just let her go, we don't care about her story.

Right--she's promiscuous, and then she gets violent.

And that's all. Right. Just because she's Asian, I argue.

And she didn't even get nominated for an Oscar.

No, she didn't. There's been only one Asian woman who won an Oscar, Miyoshi Umeki. She went on to play Mrs. Livingston in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," on which she kept saying, "Yes, Mr. Eddie's Father," and that's what she is best known for.

Here, I reprint a bit from "The Asian Mystique" about Lucy Liu in the promo posters and DVD/video covers for "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle."

In them, Liu is dressed more provocatively than the other two (Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz). Shown from the front, Liu is the only one in a low-cut top. Shown from the back, she is the only one in spaghetti straps revealing a bare upper back. The other two wear high-necked, short-sleeved T-shirts.

People say Ming-Na has a great character as a doctor on "ER," which is evidence of progress of Asian actresses. But she's just one doctor on one show.

She, too, kind of plays a promiscuous dragon lady, you know. But there's no other roles for Asian actresses. Have to be seductress, promiscuous, or a dragon lady. And there hasn't been any change. You hear people say, oh, it's great, Asian women made such a progress, Lucy Liu is playing these roles. But in reality, there hasn't been any change.

----

You can buy the book here.

Find more information on the book here.
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