Fox News has recently been under heavy scrutiny this week for a segment called “Watters’ World” on The O’Reilly Factor show. The widespread clip shows correspondent Jesse Watters conducting interviews to sample political opinion in New York’s Chinatown. The show felt that the segment would be “gentle fun,” after China had been negatively mentioned several times in the first presidential debate. Watters perpetuates racist stereotypes and tropes while openly mocking each of the interviewees in a highly derogatory manner. The offenses imposed a hegemonic construct that Asian Americans are monolithic and apathetic in the political sphere (Chou, 8).
Watters reduced the heterogeneity of Chinese Americans to white hegemonic stereotypes (Lowe, 67). To name a few offenses, he asked the first interviewees if he was supposed to bow to say hello. He inquired to another, if they called Chinese food, just food in China. He asked about karate—a Japanese martial art—and made a poor attempt to try it at a Korean Taekwondo studio, all while remaining in Chinatown. This reflects the homogenization of distinctive Asian nationalities and cultures into one uniform identity, erasing important dimensions of difference. Last but not least, he ridiculed elderly Chinese men and women who clearly did not speak English as their primary language. The collective of these affronts reinforces the current hegemonic relationship between the dominant white and minority Asian American positions.
Furthermore, the skewed editing of the raw footage was another mode for racism. The transition from one interviewee to the next was done through movie clips that propagated stereotypical tropes, such as Mr. Miyagi. The background songs were also deliberately chosen in this manner. The clip began with the song “Kung Fu Fighting,” when the segment had nothing to do with Chinese martial arts. Additionally, subtitles were added to the clip although the interviewees spoke comprehensible English. These added elements marginalize Asian Americans and distill them down to inaccurate portrayals from popular media in the past. Due to the lack of Asian American representation in media, it seems the news outlet inserted any clip with an Asian actor for relevancy. These practices seek to meet the white gaze, further homogenizing Asian American identities and maintaining stereotypes.
Watters went into the segment with a preconceived notion of the model minority and left the segment with solidified beliefs. At the end of the segment, O’Reilly discussed how surprised he was to see that Chinese Americans had actual opinions about the election. Watters scoffed in response, stating that the interviewees did not seem aware but did not walk away because “they are such a polite people; they just sit there and say nothing.” O’Reilly agreed, expressing that “they’re patient” and that “they want you to walk away because they don’t have anything else to do.” Espiritu argues that Asian American women and men are both characterized as feminine, manifesting in the passive model minority myth (129). O’Reilly and Watters’ misconception about Asian American political engagement is fueled by the model minority stereotype they impose as white patriarchy.
The Daily Show released a segment, led by correspondent Ronny Chieng, to unpack some of the offenses. Chieng visited Chinatown himself to gauge Chinese Americans’ political opinion while speaking Chinese. Through doing so, the Chinatown community claimed agency and humanity from hegemonic discourse by conducting hybridity (Lowe, 67). Through engaging in critical dialogue about difference, Asian Americans can avoid inadvertent support of racist discourse that labels Asians Americans as homogenous. Chieng destabilized the dominant hegemonic construction of Asian Americans as a homogenous group by providing a fair platform for Chinese Americans to voice their varying thoughts on American politics.