Thursday, January 04, 2007
This Life + 10 + a Chinese character = ???
I found This Life compulsive viewing during the 90s. At the time, it was the only TV drama to set itself in a world anything like the one I was experiencing although when I look back at the shows now, the dialogue seems incredibly cheesy and unrealistic. Of course, this could mean that I and the people around me at that time were also incredibly cheesy and unrealistic but never mind.
So it was with some anticipation that I tuned in to watch 'This Life + 10' - the much hyped reunion show that would presumably try to portray thirtysomething life in contemporary Britain as insightfully as the originally series showed twentysomething life. Surprisingly, a Chinese character appeared early on in the show. Specifically, a Vietnamese model based in Hong Kong who had married one of the lead characters, Miles (he's the guy on the far right in the picture above, if you don't know the show).
Interesting... How, I wondered, would TV drama's 'voice-of-my-generation' portray a Chinese/English mixed relationship?
Well, sadly, the Chinese character was a bit of a cliche - all timid and awkward - only coming to life mid-way through the show when she had a semi-breakdown (brought on by being around the characters of 'This Life', I guess).
It didn't seem to occur to the writer that a professional model based in Hong Kong might in fact have quite a personality, confidence and energy about her. Clearly, we were being asked to see her as an 'ornamental Oriental' and before long, the acerbic female character, Anna was referring sarcastically to Miles' wife as a 'geisha'.
Later on, Miles says his wife naively married him because she thought he would be 'an English gent'. Anna suggests he went along with it because he thought she would 'an easy ride.'
I thought this was the most interesting aspect as it's not often you see a white, female's perception of mixed relationships expressed so frankly, and it got me thinking.
In Paul Courtenay Hyu's Missing Chink programme of 2004, people in the street were asked to give their general perceptions of Chinese people and at least one (white) female described Chinese women as 'pleasure givers'.
From Little Britain's Dudley and Ting Tong to This Life + 10, white male + Chinese female relationships tend to get a bad press. Often it's suggested the woman is needy or subservient to her man whilst the white male is, by implication, a bit of a loser and inadequate - in some way not good enough to get a 'normal' girlfriend. It struck me that this really isn't a positive view of Chinese or Asian women.
The question is should the media be criticized for these kinds of portrayals, or is it simply reflecting the truth? After all, 'This Life', whether you like the show or not, does strive to be authentic in a way many other shows do not.
It seems to be one of the strange quirks of western media that Asian females are portrayed as universally attractive to white males, whilst at the same time, relationships between white males and Asian females tend to be portrayed as something derisory, sad and not quite as 'real' as other relationships.
Now all we need is for someone to depict a Chinese male + white female relationship and things would really get interesting :)