Customer Review

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely, Fascinating Though Somewhat Myopic Book on Asian Stereotypes, August 7, 2005
This review is from: Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and the Myth of the Exotic Oriental (Hardcover)
As the Asia editor for Business Week with fifteen years of experience on that continent, author Sheridan Prasso has a wellspring of observations to contribute to Western misconceptions about Asia, most of which are routinely based on fantasy, positive or negative. As a Japanese-American myself, I am quite familiar with many of them, as even transplanted Asians experience the same stereotyping. The impact can be felt on the diplomatic and business fronts, but the most common application of these myths is the area of personal relations, in particular, the "yellow fever" that some Western men have in idealizing Asian women as feminine, attentive and seductive.

Prasso seizes on "Madame Butterfly" as the archetypal story of Western notions about the Asian mystique: a delicate Japanese woman with undying love for a dashing American naval officer. It is the loyal, self-sacrificing Asian beauty who is betrayed by a fickle Westerner. The fable continues to regenerate in various iterations such as "South Pacific" and "Miss Saigon". In fact, women are either passive and sexually obtainable geishas, or cruel, domineering "dragon ladies" like Tsu Hsi, the empress dowager of China, who was falsely rumored to be bedding men forty years her junior. Asian men don't get off any easier, as they have been branded vulnerable and emasculated when they aren't considered sneaky and inscrutable.

Prasso divides her book into two halves. The first part analyzes the mistaken notions that Westerners have about Asia and how Asians often reciprocate by catering to such stereotypes. For instance, at a nightclub in Bangkok, Prasso surveys white male customers who are greeted with the available flesh of delicate Asian bodies and drawn by a cultural dynamic akin to a candy store. She astutely sees this experience of Asia as not only fantasy-inducing but also "remasculating", i.e., engendering feelings of masculinity or dominance which these Western men may have found diminished in their own cultures. The author delves quite a bit into Hollywood images of Asians. She recounts the tribulations of Margaret Cho, a caustic, gay-friendly Korean-American comedian who was told by ABC executives to act ''more Asian" on her short-lived sitcom.

However, Prasso's more blanket statements about racist stereotyping seem rather myopic when it comes to Hollywood's historic treatment of Asians. By documenting Asian film roles through the decades, she says flatly that Hollywood has been the "incubator and firing kiln" for misreadings of Asia, but I feel she may be mistaking cause for effect as producers were more likely to capitalize on prejudices that already existed due to more pervasive influences like WWII. She makes another shaky broadstroke in the political arena when she states that US officials have underestimated the military might of Asian leaders and nations, but I don't feel it's directed to Asia as much as any developing nation with a tendency toward nuclear armament as we have witnessed the ongoing bloody insurgency in Iraq.

Perhaps because she lets her observations speak for themselves, the second half is more intriguing as it offers conversations with contemporary Asian women without mystique, whether they are housewives in Japan, bar girls in the Philippines, flight attendants on Cathay Pacific Airways or college students in China. This is where Prasso's interviewing skills shine as she gets women to talk about deeply personal issues. By the end of the book, the author reveals them as human beings, prone to the same frailties, resilience and misconceptions as people anywhere. One interesting subject is Mineko Iwasaki, who inspired Arthur Golden's wildly popular bestseller ''Memoirs of a Geisha." She talks about her life as a geisha and contrary to the subservience one associates with that profession, she also talks about the lawsuit she filed against Golden for defamation of character.

I am somewhat disappointed that Prasso separates herself so completely from her subjects, not expressing a sense of commonality with the women she interviews. Having lived in Cambodia, Hong Kong and Japan as a single white female, Prasso acknowledges being part of a group sometimes "guilty of racist sour-grapeism," of feeling overlooked and betrayed by Western men who are chasing Asian women. Yet, you are not left with an understanding of why she is so intrigued by the Asian mystique herself. Regardless, this is a fascinating book well worth the time to read and absorb. Prasso achieves her primary goal and that is to make clear the destructive nature of stereotypes about Asia and how they shape social, cultural, and political perceptions that are ultimately detrimental.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 

Comments

Tracked by 1 customer

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 12, 2012 10:09:41 AM PDT
"By documenting Asian film roles through the decades, she says flatly that Hollywood has been the "incubator and firing kiln" for misreadings of Asia, but I feel she may be mistaking cause for effect as producers were more likely to capitalize on prejudices that already existed due to more pervasive influences like WWII."

That's the "chicken vs. the egg, which came first" argument...both are one sided. HOWEVER, given that it is now 2012 and that Asian stereotyping in Hollywood is still common and widely accepted, Prasso's assertion that Hollywood is "the incubator and firing kiln" for this CONTINUING stereotyping of Asians, is more or less accurate.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2012 11:49:36 AM PDT
Ed Uyeshima says:
Agreed.
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details

Item

Reviewer

Ed Uyeshima
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)   

Location: San Francisco, CA USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,277