Cool Asian: Ignorant romanticization of Asian countries


Graphic illustration by Neha Ayyer and Lina Mezerreg

Although Asian entertainment sometimes accurately reflects true life, common tropes create generalized portrayals of countries in order to boost the country’s global reputation for socio-economic benefits.

Timothy Kim, Copy Editor

With recent surges in the popularity of Asian entertainment, a wave of support for Asian countries has emerged. However, admiration can lead to stereotyping and the romanticization of these countries, particularly east Asian nations.

Many people generalize themes explored in Asian entertainment to a country’s people as a whole, believing that these countries are perfect. However, all countries have their own societal issues and hardships, and not everything portrayed in entertainment is reflective of society in other countries.

Although Asian cultures have occasionally reached American audiences in the past, recent technology has allowed for greater access to foreign entertainment. East Asian media in particular have soared in popularity, with TV shows like South Korea’s Squid Game, Japanese anime like One Piece and K-Pop bands like BTS dominating the interests of younger generations.

“One of the positive results of the successes of K-Pop groups is that South Korea has more recognition in America now,” said Aarthi Gopal, junior and member of the Ravens, Lynbrook’s K-Pop-based dance group.

But what is initially considered appreciation for foreign cultures can become ignorant favoritism if entertainment themes are generalized to the lifestyles of their respective countries. However, mainstream entertainment has always idealized aspects of life. Media tropes that are taken at face value or twisted into stereotypes by Western audiences have many parallels with orientalism. Unlike instances of Western European colonizers handpicking certain aspects of Asian culture to promote discrimination and justify colonization, modern-day Westerners’ subtle favoritism for Asian countries is marked by higher levels of attempted appreciation for Asian culture through entertainment, but romanticism is still a similarity between the two time periods.

“Romanticization blocks people from having meaningful conversations about culture,” junior and Ravens member Netra Ramantham said. “For example, when Squid Game came out, many were unwilling to discuss the fact that its message was about issues of poverty in South Korea due to  misconceptions of that nation being perfect.”

Favoritism also becomes problematic when nations with popular entertainment are considered superior to other Asian countries. For example, many people praise Japan on the Internet for its perfectionism and excellence over other Asian countries simply because of its positive media presentations.

“Anime fuels stereotypes of Asian countries, and many people see Japan as a mere source of entertainment, relating it only to anime instead of actual people and culture,” junior Jeffrey Su said.

Xenophobic views are rooted in Western history — tracing back to the 19th century in America, when Chinese people and immigrants were perceived as aliens in society. These perceptions only grew throughout the 20th century with conflicts like the Vietnam War, after which much of Southeast Asia became associated with poverty and barbarism by the U.S.

“Growing up Vietnamese-American, I realized that Vietnam didn’t have a lot of public recognition,” history teacher Nhat Nguyen said. “We see Japan and Korea being the leading countries in cultural recognition, but the rest of Asia is not something that Westerners are interested in, because they haven’t been exposed to the cultures through media.”

Although Asian entertainment sometimes accurately reflects true life, common tropes create generalized portrayals of countries in order to boost the country’s global reputation for socio-economic benefits. Realizing that Japan, South Korea and every other foreign country for that matter, regardless of how appealing their media exports are, all ultimately have their own economic and societal hardships, is crucial in preventing disrespectful and ignorant misunderstandings.