The Politics of Inclusion: Masculinity and Heteronormativity in “8 Angry Asians”

Last night, Asian comedy group Stir-Friday Night brought its run of “8 Angry Asians, Starring Scarlett Johansson” at Second City to a close. The hour-long show consisted of a series of short comedy sketches, bits specifically tackling Asian American issues mixed with a number of “race-blind” shorts. While some parts of the show fell a little flat, it was still a good experience to attend a show where for once, rather than being the butt of the joke, Asian Americans got to tell the jokes.

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Promotional photo for the show. The eight people pictured are both the writers and actors in the show. They come from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Indian backgrounds.

While a comedy show completely written, produced, and performed by Asian Americans is a powerful feat in itself, “8 Angry Asians” still participates in the upholding of hegemonic norms perpetuating sexist and heteronormative narratives. Several sketches in the show feature couples, but all of these couples are heterosexual pairings. The only bit that features a queer character is a scene in which a transgender woman comes out to the man she’s seeing (even though Stir Friday Night has no transgender cast members.)

One particularly problematic bit is a sketch in which a woman returns to the home she lives in with her boyfriend. She tells him about how she just returned from helping her friend clean out her apartment following a nasty breakup. The woman brandishes a book her friend let her take, since for reason she had two copies of the book. The boyfriend panics, saying the book is haunted by the breakup and opening it will unleash negative energy into their apartment. The woman shrugs off his concerns and opens the book, which allows the couple to hear past arguments between her friend and her ex.

In these arguments, the woman’s friend is portrayed as a stereotypically irrational and overemotional woman. In one argument, she is heard blowing up at her then-boyfriend for leaving an empty can of Sprite on the coffee table. At the end of the sketch, the transmission of negative energy is shown when the woman snaps into a demonically-possessed state and asks her boyfriend if he wants to get married.

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This sketch upholds sexist stereotypes, constructing the female as crazy, overly emotional, and irrational in contrast to the sane, logical, rational man. The bit depicts romantic love with a woman as a burden, and employs the sexist trope of marriage as a form of male enslavement. Some maintain that placing Asian American bodies in traditionally white models (in this case, white gender stereotypes) is progressive, arguing that this form of representation combats the Otherization of Asian Americans, showing that “we are just like everyone else.” However, I, along with many others, believe that the substitution of Asian bodies into existing dominant narratives is not an effective method of subversion. The desire to conform to white gender stereotyping can be seen as an expression of Asian American men’s reaction to their hegemonic emasculation. In an effort to assert their masculinity, they attempt to conform to the image of white masculinity, painting themselves as intellectually superior and unemotional (Chou 114).

The exclusion of queer identities in “8 Angry Asians” also upholds hegemonic norms. By portraying solely heterosexual couples, the show perpetuates the construction of Asian America as a heterosexual entity. Asian American art that excludes queer identities contributes to the chasm between racial and sexual identities. As Takagi discusses in Maiden Voyage, “many [gay and lesbian Asian Americans] experience the worlds of Asian America and gay America as separate places” (25). “8 Angry Asians” renders queer Asian Americans invisible and essentializes the Asian American experience.

While Stir Friday Night’s “8 Angry Asians” is betraying hegemonic norms in some ways, the group still needs to address ways in which it perpetuates sexist and heteronormative narratives. By only presenting heterosexual depictions of Asian Americans, Stir Friday Night supports the idea that heterosexuality and Asian American identity go hand-in-hand, further marginalizing queer Asian Americans. As Un Jung of the Visibility Project says, “A lot of times we focus on one particular identity…there’s a whole spectrum of identities I could really be a part of.” Increasing representation of queer Asians helps bring the intersections of these identities to light.

While Stir Friday Night is giving a voice to some Asian Americans in show business, some narratives the group supports erase or mischaracterize a large chunk of Asian America. It is important to acknowledge these shortcomings in order to recognize the heterogeneity of Asian Americans and work to break down the walls that have been built to separate Asian American and queer identities as well as Asian American men and women.

Works Cited:

BWW News Desk. “Stir Friday Night to Bring 8 ANGRY ASIANS to Second City.” Broadwayworld.com. Wisdom Digital Media, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.

Chou, Rosalind S. “Asian American Masculinity.” Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Takagi, Dana Y. “Maiden Voyage: Excursion into Sexuality and Identity Politics in Asian America.” Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience. By Russell Leong. New York: Routledge, 1996. N. pag. Print.

“The Visibility Project – A National Portrait and Oral Story Collection of Queer Asian American & Pacific Islander Women and Trans* Community.” The Visibility Project. The Visibility Project, 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

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