Evil “Oriental” villains
he is there lurking in the shadows, just beyond the periphery
of your watching eye. Even if one could catch a glimpse of him,
he is still only visible to the trained eye. You can't exactly
say why, but you know that he is responsible for the
dread and threat you have felt as soon you entered this dark,
unknown terrain. Nevertheless, you proceed into unknown danger
. . .
He is the evil “Oriental” villain
from popular culture. Perhaps not as prevalent in contemporary
popular culture, the evil Oriental villain was a familiar staple
in early and mid-twentieth century popular fiction, comic strips,
motion pictures, and radio serials. While certainly a racial
— and racist — stereotype, the language of stereotypes does not
explain the evil Oriental villain. Knowing what something is
necessarily explain how it works or why it came to be. The question
to ask is what specifically the stereotype or figure represents
and why. In other words, the key to understanding the evil Oriental
villain is to situate the figure within the specific historical
social and cultural circumstances that produced it.
“Orientalism” in American culture
To state the obvious, evil Oriental villains are not real.
They do not correspond to, were not modeled on any actual Asian
American person. They do not express any aspect of the experiences
of Asian Americans. They are part of Asian
American “culture” because
they are, or were, a larger American popular culture’s expression
of ideas, largely imagined about Asians and by extension, people
of Asian ancestry.
Like other racial tropes in American
popular culture such as blackface “ministrels,” they
were products of a complex racial dynamic within cultural practice
and representation: racial social categories
allowed ideas — indeed, whole structures
of ideas — about a
racial group by the dominant group to substititute,
almost to exclusion, ideas by members of the racial group itself.
Often expressing the dominant group’s anxieties, such
expression reinforced and recapitulated social and political inequality
in cultural terms, solidifying imagined racial tropes so they
became more “real” — often with the additional weight
of “objective” truth and verifiable fact — than the
experiences of members of the racial group.
The term, “orientalism,” comes
from Edward Said’s
book of the same name. Although there is a long and general tradition
of European – and later American – fascination with
the “Orient,” “orientalism” is a more specific
Villains in popular culture.
Not just your standard Yellow Peril
Villains were singular, not mass hordes. and the issue wasn't
labor, but science, expertise, and knowledge.
Asians, aliens, and science fiction
Some Famous and Not So Famous examples
"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered,
with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven
skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest
him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated
in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past
and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy
government—which, however, already has denied all knowledge
of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental
picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu
Wu Fang and Yen Sin
Ming the Merciless