the lawyer writer

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Television Says My Cabdriver Can't Get Laid

A word to the entertainment community: Enough already, with cowardly, dorky, sex-starved Indian men. Seriously.

I grew up with some pretty cool Indian guys--investment bankers who could discuss Moby Dick and play guitar, doctors who worked with AIDS patients, artists, musicians and dj's. I do not see these men on television. I do see cabdrivers and doctors and newstand owners and computer programmers and convenience store managers. Unlike many Indians, I do not find this inherently insulting. A lot of us ARE doctors and cabdrivers, etc. etc., and after having grown up with no Indian role models in the media (even my beloved Apu, alas, cannot be seen as a role model), I am just happy to see us represented. That's the first step in assimilating into a culture, after all. The media, always with an eye on the trend, is always the first to acknowledge and legitimize the existence of a minority; political systems are much farther behind.

Invariably, early portrayals are negative, or, at least limiting. Hence the fact that almost all Indians portrayed in the media are Indians Fresh off the Boat. This, too, is fine with me, although, thank God for that the Bend-It-Like-Beckham chick on ER. They all have accents, and most often the accent gets the laughs. Okay. I can be big about this and overlook that too.

But do they always have to be horny, frustrated, chickenshit dorks? Ajay Nadu in Office Space--funny as hell, couldn't get laid. I endured the dorky Indian sidekick in the otherwise excellent Van Wilder because I was sure he had real talent. He did. Kal Penn later played Kumar in Harold and Kumar White Castle, a brilliant stoner with enough passion to imagine making out with a giant bag of weed, and enough game to get himself laid. With Kumar, I thought we were done with the Indian nerd stereotype.

And now this new guy on my beloved show Weeds, Maulik Pancholy, playing Sanjay a....dorky science major who's goofily in love with Mary Louise Parker but runs away, yelling "Forgive me" every time she's in trouble. Weeds is such a good show because in its skewed universe, nobody--not cancer patients, ten-year olds, deaf girls, drug dealers, stoners--is predictable; nobody acts the way you'd expect them to act. Except the sexless Indian guy.

Once upon a time the drunk Mexican in the poncho was de rigueur if you were talking about Latinos. Once upon a time all laundrymen were Chinese and wore pointy hats, or talked like Charlie Chan. Once upon a time, black matrons were supposed to be plump and wear kerchiefs and raised their employer's white kids. All that is Not Acceptable in the mainstream media of today. Let's send the impotent, skinny, FOB-y Indian-American sidekick there as well.

As for the real life impotent, skinny FOB-y Indian-American sidekicks...they need some decent role models in the media so they can class up their act. More Kumars, less dorks. Then we can start give the Indian-American women some representation....

But one step at a time.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, i love your blog and drop in often. i liked this post because it is SO true. there are no good role models for Indian-Americans on TV.

which brings to me my question: you mentioned that you are a huge fan of reality TV. so, have you been following this season's The Apprentice and if so, what do you think about the most recently fired Toral Mehta and her representation of Indian women on a reality TV show? i believe she is one of the few, if not first, Indian women to appear on a reality show and i am just wondering what you think of her behavior on the show and your opinion of the danger of stereotypes arising from these shows.

i personally found Toral's brief stint on The Apprentice to be extremely disappointing and not representative of most female Indians who are well-educated professionals.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hmmm.... the impression I get from my American-born Gujarati friend is that most Indian men in the US (in her experience) are doctors or med students and intent on dating and marrying only (Indian) doctors or med students... maybe an attorney if they want to lower themselves. No insult intended!

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