Looking for Dong


I was thinking about Tina Fey’s second season of Kimmy Schmidt. In one episode she tackles the criticisms that were lodged at her regarding the character Dong.

Dong, rather predictably, is a variant of the classic Asian Male Buffoon, but with a twist. Although he and Kimmy have a romantic interest in each other, his driving motivation is to get married so that he can become a US citizen. Through wacky hijinx he ends up marrying an old and possibly senile woman instead of Kimmy.
Again, predictably, the Asian Male cannot achieve anything that resembles romance. That and his lilting voice pretty firmly denotes the usual narrative of Asian Male in Western Media as sexless and impotent.
So, Asian Americans on the Internet responded with criticism. Myself included.
And Tina Fey did the responsible thing and addressed these shortcomings by making Dong more complicated and providing a more satisfying interpretation of the character, right?
Hahahahahahahaha. No.
Instead she had her black gay character, Titus, don yellowface for his one-man show regarding his Japanese geisha past life. She introduced a bunch of Asian American protesters (us), and at one point a protester who found herself enjoying Titus’s performance had nothing bad to say, mumbled “I can’t breathe.” and disappeared in a flash of light.
The message was twofold: without anything to gripe about, we have no reason to exist. Also, the Asian-Americans who protest shabby representation in Western media are just babies because black people have it harder.
Which is true. Black folks do have it harder. 

But a white woman saying so reads as the pernicious and typical attempt to drive a wedge between blacks and Asians. It’s an old tired tactic that doesn’t work anymore. Tina Fey needs to stay in her lane with this garbage.
                                         * * *
The other thought I had about this was how white writers can’t write PoC, at least not in a comedy.

Stick with me:

-If they write PoC characters as comedic foils, we’ll criticize them as writing us off as nothing as a joke to them.
-If they write us as serious-only in a comedy, well how does that work? It would be off tone.
-The only way it really works is if we aren’t treated as The Other. It can work if the jokes aren’t targeted against our ethnicity. But, white writers just can’t resist. They can’t not do it. Oh there are exceptions, like Lucy Liu in Sherlock and Daniel Dae Kim in Hawaii Five-O, but these are dramas, not comedy.
That being said, my sympathies for white comedy writers is just not there. They should stop being so damned lazy.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. kazei5 says:

    I’ve never seen her show, and after reading about it, yeah, I don’t think i will. This is continuing another proud tradition of showcasing Asian characters as completely unlikeable in regards to romance.


    1. twbruhn says:

      See that’s the frustrating thing: Dong is eminently likable, we want to see him out there and having a successful romantic life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kazei5 says:

        Wow, that DOES make it that much more frustrating. And your point about Lucy Liu, as I’ve never seen Hawaii-5 O, was a good one too. It’s like if it’s NOT a comedy, then comedy be at but NOT at the Asian character’s expense.


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