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Professor Examines Asian American Representation Across Media, Diaspora

Part of the harm of the model-minority myth Asian Americans face in the United States is that they are often not understood as being interesting, said Dr. David Oh, an associate professor of communication arts at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Dr. David OhDr. David Oh“I think that also leads to a lack of opportunities for people to play interesting roles [in the dramatic arts],” said Oh, noting the underrepresentation of Asians in popular American media.

For years, Oh has been studying Asian American representation along with matters of identity, critical media studies, and the diaspora.

Oh joined Ramapo in 2013. Before Ramapo, he held appointments including special assistant professor at Colorado State University, visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, assistant professor at Denison University, and visiting assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He holds a Ph.D. in mass communications and an M.A. in broadcast journalism from Syracuse University as well as a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University.

Oh cites — among the reasons for Asian underrepresentation in TV, music, and film — the “Black-white binary” through which Americans view race. Other people of color are not as visible on the United States racial landscape, he said, noting that Asian immigration became a phenomenon after the 1965 Immigration Act.

“I think perhaps … it’s taken a while for the second and the third generation to come of age and to join the entertainment industries in ways in which they can make a difference,” Oh said.

And stereotypical views that Asian Americans are often discouraged by their families from pursuing entertainment careers are dubious, said Oh.

“I think it’s probably largely more structural reasons than it is family reasons,” Oh said. “I’m sure that’s part of it but I don’t think it’s the major part of it. … I think that fits very well with model minority stereotypes. But I don’t know how true that is. I haven’t seen evidence to demonstrate that that is the case.”

An expert in his fields, Oh has authored or co-authored several publications, including Navigating White News: Asian American Journalists at Work in 2023, Whitewashing the Movies: Asian Erasure and White Subjectivity in U.S. Film Culture in 2022, and Second-Generation Korean Americans and Transnational Media: Diasporic Identifications in 2015.

Another aspect of his scholarly work is how different people and populations perceive Korean media, Oh said. The research becomes more relevant with increasing recognition and popularization of Korean entertainment in the United States through music groups like BTS and award-winning films such as 2019’s “Parasite.”As with many social formations, Oh said, this popularization comes with its own complications and contradictions.

“K-pop (Korean popular music) tends to have a higher percentage of queer fans because its representation of masculinity is interpreted in the West as more ambiguous and fluid than Western notions of masculinity, even if this isn’t exactly what it means in South Korea,” Oh explained in an email. “Its representations of homosocial friendships and affection with girl groups and boy bands also make it easier to imagine queer possibilities, especially as ‘idols’ rarely date openly.

“Because of how queer fans interpret K-pop, it can be a resource for affirming, counter-hegemonic meanings,” he continued. “That said, Korean media do not often overtly represent queer identities, so the very same texts can simultaneously be interpreted as conservative and heteronormative.”

Oh said he believes that interest in media from a different country is positive overall.

“Especially here in [the] U.S., our media industries have been largely siloed so that foreign media have a very negligible presence, except in like arthouses and things like that,” Oh said. “And so, to the extent that people are gaining fan interest in things that are outside of the U.S. I think helps to open up a way of relating to the world and opening up a perspective that is beneficial.”

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