Like every other reality TV-addicted Aussie, I eagerly watched Sophie Monk’s promo for her season of The Bachelorette. And as always, Sophie made me laugh with her signature goofy-yet-hot schtick. She’s walking down a pretty street, looking longingly at couples smooching, and emoting both loneliness and sex appeal. But soon, I stopped smiling, when I noticed something missing: a person of colour.
In the promo, Sophie saunters past several couples who are in a loving clinch. They are all white. There are even two dogs who lick each other – and they are also white. At the end of the clip, Sophie faces the camera with a horde of
stalkers supporters behind her, and in my bleary, midnight haze, I couldn’t spot a single person whose skin tone was darker than pasta.
I know it’s just an ad for a frothy, reality-ish show. But pop culture can be a micro-representation of how society is perceived. And the perception here is that only white people are desirable, dateable, pashable…and visible.
There is not a lack of performers of colour, here in Australia. Surely, one person of colour could have been cast to make out with someone in the street, as Sophie sashayed by?
I know there are tons of performers of colour out there, because I used to be one. Once, I waited with several dozen Asian actors, all vying for a part in a KanTong ad. I wish I was joking about that. And as we waited, we discussed the difficulty we experienced in finding decent parts (the roles I was usually offered were migrant, refugee and nail technician) – and decent boyfriends. Many of the women I chatted with told me that they met guys who had “yellow fever” – a fetish for Asians. It was hard to find someone who saw beyond their race.
Clearly, I’m writing from the perspective of a Chinese-Australian woman who has personally experienced the invisibility that haunts us within the entertainment industry. I always notice when a cast lacks ethnic diversity. But what about my friends who are gay, who are disabled, who have body types different from those on the covers of magazines? Yep, they miss out on a pash in this ad, too.
Again, I’m aware that this promo for The Bachelorette is for entertainment purposes. And yet, what we see on TV is sadly a reflection of who we are. In government, in businesses, in positions of power and visibility, we need more diversity.
As a child, I grew up thinking that no-one would ever have a crush on me, and that I would never be seen as attractive, because I never saw images of Asian people on TV or in magazines. I feel for any young person who sees this ad, and learns (incorrectly) that they, too, will never have a chance at love.
Obviously, parents have a role in how their children perceive themselves – as a parent myself, I know. Today, as I stood in the beauty aisle at the supermarket, looking for sunscreen, my daughter pointed up at a poster of Carrie Bickmore, holding up a BB cream. “What’s that?” she asked. I explained that it was a cream for her face. Then I had to say, “They need to have more posters of different ladies in here. They all have the same skin colour [i.e. white]. It would be so great if there was a photo of an Asian – someone who looked like you!”
I get tired and bored of having to constantly say stuff like this to my kids, to remind them that they have a valid place in society because they rarely see images of Asian or half-Asian people. You belong, you deserve to be here, you are worth something, you are beautiful, I want to constantly whisper to them.
Lately, I’ve given up on watching Australian reality TV. Instead, I’m obsessed with Terrace House on Netflix, a Japanese reality TV show about young people who share a house. At least now, I can see some people who look like me and my children, who eat similar food to us, who use chopsticks and have crushes on each other.
And in case there’s any casting agents out there, I am one hundred percent free next year to kiss my man in the street, for the next Bachelorette promo. Anyone?