reality tv

'As an Asian Australian I just wanted to see myself on TV. Instead, I got "China girl".'

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On Wednesday night during the premiere episode of The Bachelor, we were introduced to a 24-year-old China researcher named Kristen.

Kristen has spent the last two years living in China, she speaks decent mandarin, and wants the nation to know that sometimes her friends call her “the China girl”. When she comes onto screen, the producers play ‘oriental bamboo flute music,’ and she gives the bachelor a fortune cookie… again because China. We also mustn’t forget the bit where she says “Hopefully I remember how to speak English,” because unlike riding a bike, your mother tongue sits a lot more precariously in the left frontal lobe.

This is how Kristen makes her cringe-inducing appearance on The Bachelor:

Video by Channel 10

Being The Bachelor, and Australian reality TV in general, it’s not a surprise to see race being commissioned for comedic relief.

We’re meant to laugh at how ‘Chinese’ she is, but because she’s white, it’s okay. Things would have been much more different had she been, god forbid, an actual mandarin speaking Asian person, of which there was conveniently no representation of.

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From Brooke’s bisexuality in Nick Cummin’s season, to stripper Carlos’ over-the-top gesture of giving Georgia Love a Tiffany’s bracelet on the first, and his last, episode, the Bachelor franchise has a habit of othering anyone who isn’t stock standard Caucasian. Instead, it creates a catastrophically narrow definition of ‘normal,’ that isn’t reflective of Australia’s actual multicultural population.

However it’s 2019 and the way we represent other cultures on TV shouldn’t give people of that culture second-hand embarrassment. The same goes for language and race. It’s icky, unnecessary, and a cheap punchline.

Watching Australian TV as an Asian Australian in the 2000s, wanting to see yourself reflected on screen felt like futile pipe dream. It looked like the token ethnic person making a mockery of themselves during an Australian Idol audition to a panel of snickering judges, or over-the-top accents, that weren’t reflective of my ‘Aussie’ r’s and inflections.

A lot has changed in 15-odd years. We have shows like Benjamin Law’s The Family Law, Redfern Now, and Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. SBS’s latest drama The Hunting also features Indian Australian actress Kavitha Anandasivam, in a way that’s considered, sensitive and free from stereotype, while still exploring issues affecting people from other backgrounds, and this is slowly becoming the norm.

Part of this is because we as a society have learnt to do, and demand better, and it’s about time reality TV catches up.

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