“Disney never knows how to handle Asians.” Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist . Bookmark the permalink.

marvel shield

(another email from pastabagel, this time about the 12.1M viewer opener for Marvel’s Agents of Shield.)


Disney owns ABC, so I like the cross-platform brand synergy.

I like this picture of the cast. I didn’t see the show, but this is what I know.  Sunglass Dad runs everything.  The show is about the girls and their challenges.  The guys work tech and weapons.

First, you have the grown up white man, who like in real life, runs everything, handles everything, manages everyone’s bullshit, but does it all from the background. That’s why he’s in sunglasses. He’s basically invisible.    He’s there, front and center, handling everything, so you can relax and enjoy the eye candy.

Right after the older white businessman, you have the three women.  Notice that they are standing in front of the guys.  And here is where Disney puts its stamp on the show.  All the ethnic diversity is in the women.  Because Disney put this on ABC, it means that this is a show for suburban and rural America.  In the minds of that demo (i.e. white guys),  multiracial women constitute “flava”.  Non-threatening, exotic.  A bit of variety for the white males with low-definition calves and cargo shorts who are watching the show. Let’s see what’s on offer for them here.  Working left to right, we have the sexy and physically agile ingenue.  But don’t let the blonde highlights fool you, this firecracker has a pinch of “la raza” in her, to let you know that she’s two mojitos away from being a wild child.  She’s on the edge of the group, tough to control and free-spirited.

Next up is the female version of Matt Smith’s incarnation of Doctor Who. Definitely brainy, probably sciency, a bit reserved (notice the crossed legs), but with a sharp wit and a highly developed moral compass.  I’m sure she’ll get a chance in the series to refuse Sunglass Dad’s orders by telling him, “It’s wrong and you know it!”

On the right, we have the Asian girl.  Disney never knows how to handle Asians. As a demo they are very educated and have a lot of money and love going to Disneyworld, so Disney would naturally like to empty their pockets like everyone else’s. But the culture is different enough from the fairy tales Disney endlessly recycles that they don’t know how to sell into them when they grow up.  So Disney here is running with the default Asian badass minx that white guys are comfortable with (See Tarantino, Die Hard 4, etc.).  She’s all in black, buttoned up, belt cinched tight, with really long sleeves with thumb holes cut out of them.  No doubt a disciplined martial artist.  I guess they figured black gloves would have been too cliche.  She looks exactly like white America sees Asians: disciplined, cold, motivated, aloof, and colorless, and hot.  Does she play the piano?  Your goddamn right she does.  And the violin, too.

Now for the guys.  What a mess. One guy is in a skinny tie like he’s the British Invasion and the other guy is Dead Poet’s Society.  The guys are just drones in this show, endlessly circulating around the females hoping for a singular opportunity to mate with them and then die.  All of the men in this photo are wearing ties, which conveys a managerial or executive look which makes sense, because everyone knows as they grow up they’ll inherit management from Sunglass Dad.  They are fashion conscious now (skinny tie, jeans and sneakers) but as they grow up, they just move laterally into the suit. These guys probably do a lot of the tech heavy work for SHIELD, heavy weapons, demo, etc.  You know, the kind of stuff where the boss is comfortable saying to them “just make it happen” and he knows it gets done.  That frees him up to support the girls emotionally along their journey as they look for love and husbands in a world of power-mad men who don’t know that the only way to forward is together, and with “flava.”

The guys look identical.  I notice this a lot in these fantasy and adventure shows.  The males are cast with actors who almost look identical.  It’s because they don’t really matter.  The women are the stars here.  The two guys’ hairstyles are identical non-descript mushes of off-black on top of eggheads.  The guy standing behind Lady Doctor Who is probably named “Colin” or “Grant” or something. The guy on the right is named “Hey you.”  I’d say one of them was British if I didn’t think SHIELD was all Americans.

This is Disney’s superhero alliance.  Disney Americans defending Disney’s America.  I’d like to know how many episodes in before we encounter our first villain of African-American descent. 

No related posts.

27 Responses to “Disney never knows how to handle Asians.” Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD

  1. somebodynobody says:

    1.) The girl with highlights isn’t Latina. She’s half-Asian, half-white.

    2.) The co-writer for this show is a 30-something Asian female. Coincidentally, there’s an Asian female that looks 30-something (actual age: 49) in the cast.

  2. max says:

    > It’s because they don’t really matter.

    That’s ’cause everybody knows it’s the bad guys who are interesting. Female superheros only like bad boys.

  3. tmservo says:

    You are aware that the show runner and script writer, Maurissa Tancharoen, is an asian woman, right?


  4. stiffbreeze says:

    In case the photo made anyone else wonder, heights, from left to right…
    5’5 3/4″

  5. DataShade says:

    The guy standing behind Lady Doctor Who is probably named “Colin” or “Grant” or something.

    Hah! Joke’s on you, sucker! That’s Leo, Skinny-tie is Grant.

  6. walruss says:

    Not only are you right, you’re super duper right.

    Of course, we live in a post-racism society. In the… first episode the agents had to save the African American villain from himself. See, he wanted to use his unusual strength and speed for evil, but they taught him that the true heroes are the ones who labor in poverty for almost no pay their entire lives.

    • DataShade says:

      Alternatively, in the first episode the villains prey upon vulnerable people who have labored in poverty for almost no pay for their entire lives, and the heroes have to convince a man that a symbolic rampage against “the system” that kills thousands of bystanders is not a meaningful victory for him or anyone he wants to help.

      • walruss says:

        Either way the moral is clear. The black man is a victim who is incapable of controlling his circumstances (or whose attempts to do so are disastrous to society as a whole). He needs a benevolent protector to keep him safe, not only from villainous forces that would use him as a tool, but from himself.

        It’s a new age for racism. Ironically, the people perceived to be the most “racist” are the ones who (sometimes ignorantly) treat the races the same regardless of their situations or difficulties. Meanwhile, thousands of progressive college kids step out to “come to the aid” of the marginalized by allowing them to wallow in their poverty more comfortably. In five years, they’ll all have kids and move to the suburbs where the schools are better.

        Our fiction reflects this new “progressive” racism by making certain that marginalized groups are always portrayed as noble savages, struggling to survive and provide for their families, but ultimately powerless victims. It’s a reassuring image, I’m sure, but one with a clear message: Know your place.

        That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy SHIELD. Today you can’t escape the brain poison that is the theme of any popular media. You just have to notice it when it shows up.

        • Kinro says:

          Interesting, so the group of “racists”, with the scare quotes, treat everyone equally. It’s implied that you place yourself in that group. The other people, so the non-“racists”, help the races, meaning blacks, by making the poor comfortable.

          So marginalized equals races equals black equals poor.

          And trying to comfort the poor marginalized is non-“racist” because they happen to be black poor. And then later, they’ll move to non-poor places where, presumably, to you, there are no marginalized black races.

          I’m sure you and your “racist” group take great comfort in your scare quotes.

          • walruss says:

            You’re knee-jerking. Read what I said.

            There is a long history of oppression and exploitation that makes my scare quotes “racists” wrong. E.g. affirmative action is an attempt to level the playing field by acknowledging that, up until recently, minorities had little earning power, and that they are comparatively worse off because of that. My scare quotes “racists” wouldn’t get into whether this was an effective leveling of the playing field, they would simply claim that there was some kind of reverse discrimination happening, and that ignores years of history. So I’m not claiming they’re right, I’m claiming they’re not (necessarily) racist. Racism implies that you believe everyone of the same race shares certain internal characteristics, not as a product of their situation, but as a product of their race itself. It would be a correct observation to claim that there are an enormously disproportionate number of poor black Americans. It would be a racist observation to claim that there are an enormously disproportionate number of poor black Americans because black people lack a good work ethic.

            An example of a racist belief system is the belief in the white savior. The idea that white people, as the more privileged, more enlightened race, have a duty to care for the Black Man, unable to rise above his ignoble birth. My scare quotes “racists” obviously don’t buy into this myth. SHIELD’s first episode (and the scores of liberal college students I was describing), obviously does.

            We can acknowledge the power imbalance between the races in the U.S. without decreeing the unempowered helpless without our aid.

            The only sentence that hits on truth is “So marginalized equals races equals black equals poor.” Fair enough, I guess I’m a sucker for statistics even when they involve race. It’s foolish to pretend that black and hispanic individuals don’t face a lower lifetime income in this country than other races. I’m railing against people who acknowledge this fact, accept without thinking that that’s just the way it’s supposed to be, offer pity and some sort of ridiculously self-interested penance that does nobody any good but assuages their guilt, and then can feel free to go on perpetuating a system that maintains that power imbalance. At least my scare quotes “racists” treat the other people in the world as though they are people.

            The actions of progressive racists, on the other hand, are not in service to just treatment, they’re in service to their own self-image.

            “It’s implied that you place yourself in this group.” Please point out the text which implies that.

          • Kinro says:

            I did read what you wrote.

            But perhaps I was a bit overeager in unpacking your statement.

            And perhaps my my knee jerked a bit.
            When you called people who want to help marginalized people racist.
            Because being marginalized is being made powerless.
            And wanting to help the powerless is a noble sentiment.
            Despite how misguided you may think their methods are.

            And perhaps they do it for self-image or some selfish reason.
            But you are what you do.
            And if you see a problem and try to help, then you are the kind of person who tries to help.
            Which is much better than being a person who is the kind of person who sees a problem and tries to do nothing.

            But I do apologize for any fault I had in this misunderstanding.

          • walruss says:

            And I apologize if I came off as harsh. Also for the scare quotes, which are a bad habit I’m trying to break. I suppose we all tend to protect our identities when we feel attacked. I didn’t want that racist pendant hung around my neck, despite the fact that the label shouldn’t have mattered to me. And with that in mind, perhaps there is a better term for people who try to project a progressive image, but who continue to support a system that is inherently unequal.

            You folks have a great community here, I’ve enjoyed reading not only the articles, but the insightful comments. I hate that I got off on a bad foot, and hope I can be less abrasive in the future.

        • dovahkiin says:

          I’ve always seen the same sorts of things, it’s weird, but I think the answer to the puzzle is found in SHAME.

          It’s that upper middle class whites, especially costal whites have been trained that expressions critisizing other races/cultures/countries are shameful (and depending on job, career damaging). They still have those thoughts, those feelings, but they can’t really express them. They can’t suggest that a problem in Africa is the result of … Africans, it gives the Africans too much power. If Africans are responsible for causing the problems, then Africans are capable of solving those problems. And thus they don’t need Whitey to “atone for the original white sin” by saving them. OTOH, if the problem is caused by whites, only whites can fix it, and thus they need a white savior who is atoning, symbolically for however many years of sin.

          To do so, or to suggest, as happens in political circles, that blacks or hispanics or asians are not the cause of the problems is to suggest that those same people cannot be expected to solve them. If drugs are caused by racism, then of course blacks can’t be expected to get rid of dealers.

          It allows a person to be racist, but to cast themselves in the role of hero. You keep your ego intact, you, in fact, get to boost your ego by helping the inferior people. You think that their problems are all about you, and thus they need you. And in the process, you infantilize them and make darn sure they never take charge of themselves. Probably why tourist-charity work always focuses on places in Africa and South America rather than Eastern Europe. It would be hard to infantilize another white person, even when the problems are the same.

  7. dovahkiin says:

    go for it.

    If you want a better explanation, it’s basically narcissistic shame. It’s shameful to be a racist, so people try to not get caught being a racist. But, since the same people cannot consciously admit that they are racist (which would bring them shame) they have to hide their racism by being the most vocal anti-racist you’ll ever meet. They’d be the Whites against racism who make a huge show about getting offended at racism FOR minorities. Because minorities are apparently incapable of noticing or pointing out racism. Or doing anything about them. Or gays for that matter — why do gays need a bunch of idiot muggles protesting for them? Does gay mean deaf-mute as well?

    If you put narcissism into the equation, it all makes sense. Whites aren’t protesting the bigotry of Chik-fil-A because it’s the right thing to do, but because it allows them to hide the changes they personally would have to make. And it had to be a protest. Just not buying a chicken sandwich isn’t noteworthy enough, you have to be seen not buying a chicken sandwich. And it’s great for the ego — Look at me, I’m so enlightened that I’m out here calling attention to how awful it is that people are bigots. Except that it assumes the you had to be there. Why? Why is YOUR presence required? Why is it so important the YOUR mug be seen. Because if they aren’t seen not getting the chicken sandwich, or they aren’t heard shouting about how a certain turn of phrase is “racist”, no one will know that they aren’t racist.

    It’s been my own personal observation, and I suppose your milage may vary, that the more someone needs to be seen as something, the less it’s really true about them. The people who like to be seen as helping the poor don’t really care about the poor. The people who protest loudly about morals have less of them than the person who doesn’t. Bottom line — if it’s important to be seen as something, it’s because, deep down, you know you aren’t that thing.

    • walruss says:

      Not to get too off-topic, but you’re absolutely right. More in-depth, people area dying to be seen supporting something EVEN THOUGH their public support hurts the cause. Every time somebody equates any person who is anti-gay marriage with Westboro Baptist, they end discourse. That’s it. That person will never be convinced of the validity of your point of view. You made an emotional argument that was designed to enrage them and make them hate you. Why would you do that unless your vocal support was more about you than it was about the cause you’re supporting?

      But where all this confuses me is that people seem to be willing to purposefully create a negative self-image, when a positive one would obviously be more fulfilling. In other words, why brand yourself as anti-anti-homosexual instead of pro-homosexual? If you are, as these people are doing, crafting an identity out of thin air, why be anti-racism when you could be pro-tolerance? Put another way, why do these people feel the need to oppose something? Is it because if the opposition disappeared, they wouldn’t know what they stood for anymore? I guess I answered my own question.

      Just to briefly relate this back to SHIELD, we have one character who is defined as anti-authority, and a group of characters defined as anti-whoever the bad guys are. At the end of the episode, after saving the black man from a figurative and literal murderous explosion of anger, they still have work to do because the bad guys “are still out there.” The second episode has the team in third-world South America, learning to be a team only when they had a common enemy. In fact, Coulson explicitly states that. The idea of teams forged by opposition isn’t anything new. The important part to notice is that they claim to be in opposition to the oppressive powers that be, and they verbally sympathize with the disenfranchised, but the guys who get shot are always minorities. Huh, just like real life.

  8. dovahkiin says:

    i think it’s because it’s easier.

    Superman will never get on anyone’s bad side. Why? because he doesn’t actually stand for anything. He’s anti-Lex Luthor. But since Lex Luthor doesn’t actually have a cause, neither does Superman. Superman isn’t a Democrat, a Republican, or an Aristocrat or an Anarchist. He’s not for the rich or the poor. There’s no way anyone wouldn’t assume that Superman would fight on their side. If he was FOR something, it would get uncomfortable fairly quickly. He’s not on your side anymore. He might even fight someone uncomfortably like you.

    In relation to the racism thing, again pretty easy. You want to be anti-racist, that means you’re not for anything specific, and thus you’re not going to make other people uncomfortable. Being anti-racist doesn’t mean you hate your own, on the contrary you probably like them. It doesn’t mean that you’ll call out blacks either. Being anti-anti-gay isn’t being pro-gay. It doesn’t require anything more than sniping. You aren’t going to necessarily change your mind on anything, You aren’t going to look for solutions, all you’re going to do is hate the haters. Self-righteously. As in look how good I am for hating on the haters.

    The easiest way to define something is to say what it’s not. You don’t have to come up with your own agenda. You don’t have to come up with solutions, or answers, or anything else. You just have to point out what’s wrong with the other guy’s plan. It’s EASY to be anti-racist. Very easy. All you have to do is be hypersensitive to instances of racism, to privileges, to words and code words. And you point them out, which of course is an ego boost. If you have to be pro-tolerance, you have to come up with answers. How do you get Christians and Muslims and Gays to all get along? What does getting along mean? What does each group have to give up to make the system work? And you don’t even have to understand the reasons WHY people think what they do. No reason to worry about why Christians dislike muslims and gays, or why muslims don’t like jews — just call them haters. They couldn’t have a reason, at least not one that’s worth looking at. Christians don’t like muslims because they aren’t Christians. The fact that muslims blew up a few skyscrapers in New York has nothing to do with it. If you’re just sniping, history and context don’t matter, which is great if you don’t want to waste time listening to other people.

  9. inarticulateinthecity says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think either pastabagel or you, TLP, would have a field day with this:


    She deleted this blog yesterday, after the shit hit the fan.

    Possible tags: binge drinking, image branding, responsibility, victim-hood, internet vigilantism, the inability of Americans, or at least American women, to understand male sexuality (or their own, for that matter).

    • dyslexistential says:

      I didn’t see any “shit hit the fan”–just one person claiming that she’s a liar and a couple of people defending her against that commenter.

      I don’t think there’s any debate whether it was sexual assault: yes, I understand that men are expected to make the first move, but putting your hands down someone’s pants without sufficient indication of consent, let alone doing it to someone who is your subordinate, is completely unacceptable.

      The last thing I want to do here is moralize about someone’s traumatic experience, nor do I want to do anything that feels like unsolicited advice. So let’s make this value-neutral and ask why some people end up in this state while others recover. I think a big part of it is whether we choose to outsource our superego by attributing our actions to something, abstract or concrete, that is completely external to us. This is not the same thing as not acknowledging our lack of control: everyone gets changed in some permanent way by traumatic events, whether that involves going to war, being in a car accident, getting sexually assaulted, losing a loved one at an early age, etc. Her guiding belief, however, is “this ruined me”, which is the logical corollary to attributing the entirety of your self-destructive behaviors to the external cause.

      And I’m in no way blaming her for this (which makes me very uncomfortable writing this): it’s hard enough to refrain from saying “I did X but that’s not who I really am” when you don’t have extenuating circumstances, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is when the past simultaneously makes it that much harder to keep it together and that much easier to avoid accountability. It’s extremely unfair to ask of her, but whatever path she has to take to get there, she has to eventually take ownership of her self-destructive behavior and decide that it’s up to her to restore her feelings. It might require therapy, antidepressants, moving to a new town, confronting her assaulter, venting, finding new meaning, or some other intervention, but it all has to lead to a concept of self that does not give the horrible event that transpired complete power over her.

      So in conclusion: if we attribute our own self-destructive behaviors to something outside of us, the inescapable corollary is that that something has power over us; and if it has power over us, then there’s nothing we can do about it. This means that no matter how bad things get, and no matter how unfair the situation, none of that can change the choice we have between taking ownership and ceding power.

      If the writer of said blog post is reading this by some chance: I hope you did not in any way misunderstand me, but if you find what I’m saying to be hurtful and inconsiderate, let me know and I will take this comment down ASAP. I mean no harm, and I am so sorry about what you were subjected to.

    • Also, as much as driving drunk is wrong no matter what, the fact that commenters are jumping so readily to it reveals evasion via crying “hypocrisy!” She gets sexually assaulted, people are made uncomfortable by the reality of sexual assault and would rather roll their eyes, so what better way to alleviate the cognitive dissonance than to dodge/derail the issue by bringing up her DUI and framing the entirety of the subject as an exercise in entitlement and victimhood.

      Again, that’s not to disregard that one is morally accountable for drunk-driving whether or not they have PTSD, but I know from experience (I’ve been the uncomfortable white-man in the room before) that these commenters are more interested in derailing the issue than the actual DUI.

      (Note: I just saw the non-archived post and there are many more comments than I thought)

  10. Workinprogress says:

    I know that this was mentioned previously, but I think it adds to the punch to know that Maurissa Tancheon (show Co creater, executive producer etc) wrote a song on this theme for the Doctor Horrible musical commentary (which she Co wrote and played an extra)


    You’ll notice her first stereotyped role for Asians is ninja.

  11. Gais says:

    My biggest beef with this new series is the lack of diversity. Now, you may be arguing that there’s three characters who are minorities so what the hell am I complaining about? I know that there’s the half-Asian, half-white (Sky), full Asian (May), and half-something, half-white (Agent Ward)

    Of course, if you examined the first season, you would rapidly recognize this: What little minorities they cast, with the exception of the Asian women, are ultimately bad guys or got killed quickly (Mike Peterson–black man, Flower Girl–Ethiopian), Scorch–Asian man, the Asian SHIELD agent who was murdered by Scorch and barely had any lines, and Agent Ward). Now, you can also argue that the major bad guys are all white and how is Marvel portraying minorities as evil?

    The point I am trying to make is that it has been some 30+ years, and the media still treats minorities this way. They still play to their stereotypes. When is this madness going to stop? When will the majority of people watching this show, who are minorities, say, “Enough is enough!” and boyscott this smut?

    You may be thinking that I am an overly-bitter person, but I come from a personal place in all this. I grew up actually hating myself because I am a minority. I grew up believing that we are inferior, compared to whites. I grew up with severe self-esteem and self-image issues. It took me long time to finally accept myself for the way that I am. I no longer own a TV or watch the news as a result of my epiphany.