Representation Matters?

25th April, 2018

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I

recently watched Homecoming Queens. For those too lazy to click, it's a webseries about a pair of twenty-something women doing young Brisbane people things like attending house parties and doing drugs. One of them is Asian and has an Asian love interest, so hooray for diversity and representation in media.

When I showed it to an Asian male friend, he was mostly irritated that the love interest wasn't good looking enough. He doesn't understand why people are so intent on having more Asians in Western media, and if he had to be represented, then it had better be more flattering. Nobody is beautiful or exciting enough in these ABC shows. I had to explain to him that many people want to consume relatable media so they can feel that their existence is validated.

It reminded me of when I tried to show my friends The Family Law, another Australian autobiographical dramedy. It was lauded for allowing Asian-Australians to finally see people themselves on TV, and providing a fresh perspective on life in Australia. My friends were not so enthusiastic. "They can't speak Canto properly!" said one. "Why is the mother so nice to the son?" asked another. "This is just a thing for white people to watch so they can feel ~diverse~" said an even more cynical friend.

Meanwhile, I saw comments on Twitter and Facebook from white people saying things like, "I'm not an immigrant but I totally relate!" Yeah, because the show was basically screaming that Asians have problems like divorce and and food poisoning just like you, dear SBS/ABC watcher. We deserve respect because we're just like you!

But we're generally not just like Anglo Australians. Quite frankly, I (and my friends) can't relate to these shows much. When I think of the migrant Asian experience, I think of endless after-school tutoring and being yelled at for three hours for coming home after dark at the age of 20. I know there are people out there who are basically "normal", but it's not all of us. I can't relate to someone completely different just because they sort-of look like me.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed both shows well enough (I'll eat up anything set in Queensland). It's just that if the goal was for Asian Australians to feel seen, then I don't think they quite succeeded. There's a huge chunk of us out there who don't care about representation and would rather watch Korean dramas. Someone needed to say it.