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Immigrant stereotypes on TV

A recent study of several American TV shows has revealed the prevalence of stereotypes that present immigrants as linked to low levels of education and high levels of crime. Should TV shows be doing more to combat these stereotypes, instead of feeding into them?

In a generation where we live surrounded by people from all over the world, it is surprising to still see TV shows depict immigrants as uneducated or as criminals. At university, we are surrounded by intelligent peers from such diverse backgrounds, therefore the depiction on American TV seems unnecessary.

From The Simpsons to Modern Family, you can clearly see the stereotypes associated with different races. Whilst these perceptions might seem marginal on first glance, they can create long-term associations with different cultures. Ultimately, these stereotypes create a divide between different cultures based on completely arbitrary ideas.

In the case of The Simpsons, it looks as if writers may have gone as far as writing out Apu, the owner of the local supermarket and only Indian character, to avoid controversies. Following the documentary The Problem with Apu, the show tried to play down the accusations that their only Indian character was based on racial stereotypes.

I grew up watching very few Asian characters who I could relate to on Western television

Much like the creator of this documentary, I grew up watching very few Asian characters who I could relate to on Western television. In many shows, you would see characters similar to Apu – large families, uneducated people and funny accents. These characters completely contradicted my own upbringing, and whilst at first it was funny to relate to these minority characters, I slowly began to question what the world thought of me if all they knew were these (often untrue) stereotypes.

For modern TV viewers, it might be important to ignore these stereotypes and focus on the positive attributes immigrants can bring to communities. In film, you can see these types of representations in newer films like Crazy Rich Asians. By highlighting the diversity in communities from a positive perspective, it could encourage more positive interactions in public.

At the same time, not all TV follows these stereotypes. There are programmes that depict immigrant success stories, both with and without humour. Jane the Virgin’s Alba highlighted a more realistic process of becoming a documented citizen in the United States. Fresh off the Boat humorously depicted the first experiences of a Taiwanese family trying to achieve the American Dream. Dr. Ken, similarly, describes the experiences of a Korean-American doctor raising two children in an American culture.

It is important for American TV to become more progressive in its depiction of immigrants

Some shows don’t even necessarily mention diversity all the time. Long-running Shonda Rhimes shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal feature a multitude of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds, all doing high power jobs, with few comments on race. In fact, if race is ever mentioned, characters usually comment on how they feel empowered by the fact that they are in the minority.

Ultimately, it is important for American TV to become more progressive in its depiction of immigrants. Whilst there are indications that there is a shift, it is a slow one. However, could The Simpsons be creating a trend in writing out culturally demeaning characters? If so, this is an indication that American television is finally changing to reflect on the diversity of the people working and living in their country.

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