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Are Stereotypes in the Media Funny or Just Distasteful?




Outsourced, on NBC. (NBC.com)

Outsourced, on NBC. (NBC.com)

When it comes to stereotypes, are we more politically correct for some communities and less for others? What's funny and what's just inappropriate? Where should lines be drawn—and where should we cut some slack?

I share the sentiments made by Priyanka Mantha of Hyphen Magazine in a recent blog about NBC's freshman series Outsourced.

The show depicts the exploits of an American salesman, Todd, as he heads a call center in India. What ensues is a series of one-liner gaffes that traffic in ethnic stereotypes and induce serious gag-reflexes.

Here's what happens in one scene. Todd wants to win the heart of one of his employees, Asha, who is determined to find a spouse by comparing resumes of would-be suitors. To do this, he tries to slip his biodata covertly into her file of prospective husbands. But not before an Indian colleague-friend suggests he uses an Indian name so that he can stand on his merits, rather than race or nationality.

Manmeet, Todd's colleague: You can use my cousin's name. It means "bliss."
Todd: Perfect, use that...what's the name?
Manmeet: "Sakdeep."
Todd: "No, I'm not going to be suck deep."

...Are Mantha and I the only two gagging? Maybe.

Ratings for Outsourced are rising every week. Either the percentage of jokes poking fun at sexual-sounding names is raising its popularity, or Michael Scott from The Office is losing his battle with maintaining his King of Cringe status.

If these stereotypes prevail, minorities such as Indians (a group in which Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis are also conveniently pooled) in the West may start to say, "Hey! That's not funny." In The Simpsons, a show also packed with stereotypes, characters like Apu, an Indian convenience-store owner immigrant who prays to Ganesh, holds a noticeable and dissimilar accent. Arguably, this is a stereotype, which is observed by young children and is perceived as humorous; they apply this knowledge towards those they meet in real-life.

Similarly, in Steven Spielberg's popular 1984 film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indians are stereotyped as eaters of monkey brains. Yvette Rosser of "Teaching South Asia," responded: "It seems to have been taken as a valid portrayal of India by many teachers (in the US), since a large number of students surveyed complained that teachers referred to the eating of monkey brains."

But do such negative stereotypes in the media result in longterm effects that go beyond the eye-rolling offensiveness of a lame joke? 

South Asians are constantly depicted as IT-specialists (computer geeks) or New York cabbies, cricket-ball tamperers or tele-marketers, and this, I feel, could potentially hurt them in the workplace.  

Asia Society President Vishakha Desai wrote for The Huffington Post recently on the lack of leadership opportunities for Indians and Asian Americans alike in the United States in this day of globalization. She writes: "Engineers, accountants, and computer programmers—but not CEOs. That's the prevalent image of Asians in American corporate life, and calls are growing to dismantle the so-called 'bamboo ceiling' impeding Asian American career advancement once and for all."

In this age day and age, it is evident that stereotypes still exist. With much at stake, stereotypes can potentially cause divide amongst melting-pots such as the United States. But is stereotyping of Asian Americans or minorities in the media a legitimate concern, or should it be laughed off as harmless? Share your thoughts with us below.

Related link:
Beyond 'Ching-Chong,' or The Changing Face of Comedy

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