Created by Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings, the nationally-syndicated show on CBS, 2 Broke Girls, manages to transcend the thin line that constitutes political correctness. It wholeheartedly—for cheap laughs, nonetheless—embraces ethnic stereotypes and sexism and, by doing so, further solidifies it in the audience’s consciousness.
King was in a heated debate with the show’s creators in a panel discussion about the racial and sexual overtones used throughout the show:
“The big story about race on our show is that so many are represented,” King said. “The cast is not only multi‑ethnic, including the regulars and the guest stars, but it’s also incredibly not ageist. We represent what New York used to be and what is currently very much still alive in Williamsburg, which is a melting pot.”
On the show’s Asian character, Han Lee, King said:
“I like Han. I like his character. I like the fact he’s an immigrant. I like that he’s trying to fit into America. I like the fact in the last three episodes we haven’t made an Asian joke, we’ve only made short jokes … Would you say the ‘blonde rich bitch’ is a stereotype? Would you say that the tough‑ass, dark, sarcastic‑mouthed waitress is a stereotype? I like all of them.”
King uses his sexuality to try to defend his use of stereotypes, saying, “I’m gay! I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week. I don’t find any of it offensive, any of it. I find it comic to take everybody down.”
King conveniently forgets, however, that Asian stereotypes were extremely hateful up until the 1960s, when both black Americans and Asian Americans were finally given the right to vote and participate in civic duties.
There were a string of riots against the Chinese in the early and late 19th century by Americans. In Los Angeles in 1871, seventeen Chinese were massacred in broad view of public eyes. In fact, the public enthusiastically took up violence along with the perpetrators. “Hang them!” was a common phrase exclaimed by the bystanders and “as the Chinese were hauled up, a man on a porch roof danced a jig and gave voice to the resentment many Americans felt over the Chinese willingness to work for low wages. ‘Come on, boys, patronize home trade,’ the man sang out.” Seventeen Chinese men were lynched in front of men, women, and children. (Scharf, J. Thomas, “The Farce of the Chinese Exclusion Acts,” The North American Review. Jan. 1898. Volume 166, Issue 494, pp. 85-98.)
I’m surprised that the show doesn’t have Lee wear some “traditional” Asian attire and have him speak in a farcical “Chinese” language to further drive him from the realm of the American. When King says, “I like the fact in the last three episodes we haven’t made an Asian joke, we’ve only made short jokes,” he means, Asians are short, so we’re going to run with that. The New Yorker called the show ”so racist it is less offensive than baffling.”
Look at successful comedies out on television now: How I Met Your Mother pokes fun at contemporary social life with complex characters (Barney Stinson is an enigma), New Girl shows character-layering while still allowing Zooey Deschanel be her bubbly self, Modern Family portrays all likable characters who, although they may follow some stereotypes, are able to present complexity, and the cast of the long-cancelled Arrested Development consists of diverse characters all with their own specific personalities, not just a quick scheme to establish what’s already known in our collective consciousness.
Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter probably put it best:
“Every time Han gets to say something on 2 Broke Girls, the undercurrent is that it’s funny because it’s broken English. Plus he’s really short and geeky and non-sexual (there may have been other stereotypes to plop on top of him, but maybe creators Whitney Cummings and Michael Patrick King thought too much was enough, which would certainly stick with the general theme of the show). In any case, what CBS is doing every Monday night is trotting out one of the most regressive and stunning racist devices a network has produced in five or more seasons.”
King does admit that he wants to flesh out the supporting characters, but that’s what stereotypes create—one-dimensional figures for the sake of cheap, unwitty and predictable laughs. Count the number of times you hear the laugh track played throughout the show—you’ll understand what I mean.
I’m surprised the show hasn’t ended up yet as two broke writers. Michael Imato and Michael Anderson call the show “creatively bankrupt” and “just bloody awful.” I also found a comment on Grantland to be very poignant:
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