Still desperate for Asian Americans on TV

Desperate Housewives

There’s a petition started that demands an apology for a derogatory remark about the Philippines made in last week’s episode of Desperate Housewives.

In the show, Susan was told by her gynecologist that she might be hitting menopause, when she replied, “Can I just check those diplomas because I just want to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines.”

OK, I admit it, I watch the show. When I heard the line in question, I did take notice. It made me wonder if medical schools in the Philippines had a bad rep. If they do, I wasn’t aware of it. As the petition points out, there are a lot of immigrant Filipino Americans working in the medical profession so they must be doing something right.

I’m not defending them, but the writers seemed to have chosen a country almost at random to pick on. Probably any country they used would have offended someone. More than 24,000 signed the petition as of this posting.

Given that, I wonder if there had been some or more Filipino Americans or Asian Americans in the cast or writing staff of Desperate Housewives, would that line have made it?

And it also made me do a mental count of Asian Americans on TV. Masi Oka of Heroes is everywhere these days (cover of Entertainment Weekly, promos for Sunday Night Football), and there’s Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy and Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim on Lost. Continuing a tradition of Asian spotting on the Hyphen blog, here’s two from new shows this fall. If you know of more, please post in the comments.

  • Moon BloodgoodJourneyman: Her last show, Day Break, also had a time travel theme, and it didn’t stick. Time travel always creates plot and logic problems, often confusing the viewer. Plus, how implausible is it for a newspaper reporter to live in what looks like a huge multi-million dollar house in San Francisco. This show may travel forward to cancellation quickly.
  • Will Yun LeeBionic Woman: Lee plays one of the bionic team members who rebuilds Jamie Summers in this remake of the 1970s show. I missed the premiere but I’m looking forward to seeing this show.

I just instinctively take notice when I see someone who looks Asian on mainstream TV. I’m sure many Asian Americans do, probably because there are still very few images of themselves on the tube. As Oka says, things are slowly changing, but do we pay too much attention to this? I ask because I was part of a conversation recently about how some people spend too much time “navel gazing” about identity and not tackling real issues like poverty or education or other harder issues. I’ve certainly done my fair share of navel gazing, and Asian spotting on TV is part of this, yet I still do it. Do you?

This post can also be found on Hyphen magazine’s blog.

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