Source: Racebending.com, May 23, 2012
K-Town, the “Asian Jersey Shore” reality show
Donny Tru wrote:
Hey guys! Not a Tumblr user but I keep up with this blog as often as I can.
Just wanted to know your thoughts on the K-town reality show. I saw their trailer: http://youtu.be/LqMh0IAJo20
My feelings are still mixed about it but I’m not articulate enough to explain why exactly. I’m really happy for them coming out with their own reality show especially since Angry Asian Man recently tweeted that the Real World has never casted an Asian American male and don’t get me started on the lack of Asian contestants on such shows as The Bachelor/ette. But at the same time, it feels exploited, you know? Perhaps I’ll be wrong once the episodes air this July. Anyhoo, would love to read an educated response to the show and also see other readers’ response on it. Thanks, keep up the good work!
I (Marissa) am not that familiar with K-Town but I know that Mike (who also works on Racebending) has spoken a lot about it with Michael Le, who is one of the producers of the reality series.
I think any time there are going to be depictions of Asian Americans on TV it is totally legit to be nervous, especially after seeing how crappy depictions can do so much damage to the community. There is an entire generation of Asian Americans still reeling from the inaneness of Long Duk Dong, for example. (The Asian American’s glorious contribution, as dictated by white Hollywood, to the John Hughes movies everyone waxes so nostalgic about. Yay?)
It’s also true that Asian Americans are not cast on reality shows as often. People of color aren’t cast as often in general which is why there is currently a lawsuit against the show The Bachelor pointing out all 23 seasons were incredibly white. Things have gotten better for Asian Americans on reality TV since Yul Kwon won “Survivor”. Several years back the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and other groups in the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition asked studios why they were not casting Asians. The studios responded that Asians did not respond to casting calls. The APA groups challenged them to target casting calls to Asian Americans (hence why Angry Asian Man posts them sometimes) and since then they’ve been able to cast Asian Americans if they want to (so there’s almost always Asian Americans on “The Amazing Race”!) But it hasn’t been easy to get Asian Americans on screen, it is something we have had to struggle for…as evidenced by the fact that “K-Town” couldn’t get any networks to distribute the all-APA show and is distributing episodes online instead.
What I find interesting about K-Town is that it challenges not only depictions of nearly all-white reality shows but also challenges depictions of Koreatown in and of itself. In a lot of other television series, especially procedurals, there is always the “Chinatown” episode where the intrepid white heroes go to an Asian ethnic enclave where they run into the only Asians that entire season to troubleshoot some of the Asians’ problems (triad related murders, arranged marriages, snakeheads, prostitutes in sweatshops, honor killings, honor, honor, honor) with a handy helping of Asian American actors forced to affect a heavy accent and scripted to act like pathetic victims or inscrutable, unscrupulous business people. Someone who bases his preconceived notions of Koreatown on that kind of media would, by watching the series or hearing about it, learn that K-town is something different…a diverse area of mid-town LA with a hopping night scene and Asian Americans who can speaka English and are not victims or criminals.
I think all reality shows are exploitative to some degree. The worry would be if “K-Town” is racially exploitative, but I think that speaks more to the limited amount of roles available for Asian Americans in entertainment media more than anything else. White actors are depicted in a broad range of roles ranging from heroes to villains, so when reality shows depict people who are white as say, reckless partygoers with interpersonal drama, no one would ever say “ah, all white people must be like that” or worry if there will be new stereotypes formed or repercussions on how white people are perceived or treated. There are enough other different and nuanced depictions of white people that it isn’t seen as a threat or something that might have sweeping racial repercussions.
The same is not true for Asian Americans because we are not depicted in a way that allows us to showcase our community’s full diversity. There are restrictions imposed on by Hollywood as well as our community’s own—completely understandable and considerable—anxiety over radical depictions of Asian Americans. To me, the issue isn’t that K-Town might depict Asian Americans as _____, ______, and ______ people, so much as that when contrasted against other depictions of Asian Americans in media, it is clear that our full diversity is no where near represented.