The 2011-2012 Essay Contest:
Honorable Mention

High School Division Honorable Mention

Michelle Kim
Grade 11
Oshkosh North High School
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Asians in the Media: Comedic or Heroic?

When told to think of superheroes, one would most likely think of Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. In all of these superhero movies, producers have cast Caucasian actors as the heroes. Throughout the years, the media has created a link between heroes of movies with Caucasians. However, the media has also developed a link between sidekicks and Asians. This bias defines Asians in movies as the supporting role. This perception of Asians has led to the public eye's distorted image of the Asians, thus stunting the acceptance of Asians in American culture. Movies and television shows have shown these supporting characters as followers who act unusually intelligent or strange; however, I would promote a positive view of Asians by inventing plots with Asians as the protagonists.

In the popular drama Gossip Girl, Blair Waldorf, the Queen Bee of the clique, has a group of trusted followers. Her group includes Nelly Yuki, portrayed by the Chinese actress Yin Chang. The producers portray Yuki as a stereotypical Asian: a merit scholar, a violinist, and eventually, under her strict parents' watch, a Yale student. The show depicts Yuki as a weak follower to Waldorf. Young Asians need a role model, and a timid follower does not act as a proper role model. Casting Asians as leaders would ensure young Asian Americans the kind of example they need.

In the box office hit Hangover, the comical character of the movie is none other than a heavy accented, Asian man named Mr. Chow. With his obviously prominent Asian accent and outrageous mannerisms that created laughs among audiences, Mr. Chow undoubtedly attributed to the rising perception of Asians as a joke in the media. This portrayal of Asians as only comic reliefs hinders the Asian pursuit of acceptance, and minimizes the rising youth's pride in their own culture. In order to expel distorted perceptions of Asians, producers need to cease portraying Asians in such bad light.

Another Asian sidekick became known in the movie The Green Hornet. In the movie, Jay Chou portrays Kato. Kato, the trusted sidekick, follows and obeys all the commands of the movie's hero, The Green Hornet, portrayed by the Caucasian actor Seth Rogan. Young children tend to look up to their favorite superhero. Children act as their favorite superhero does and dress up as them on Halloween. Young Asian children need an Asian superhero to look up to. In order to end the famine of Asian heroes, I would produce a show and cast the main character with an Asian actor.

The solution to this degrading view of Asians lies in the casting of Asians as principle characters. The television series Hawaii Five-O succeeds in tearing down the biased cover on Asians by casting two Asian Americans as main characters. Rather than cast stereotypically as the comical character or the abnormally smart character, Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua are casted as part of the main police group, the protagonists of the show. Rather than the outrageous, comical character, Kelly and Kalakaua portray heroic police officers, suitable role models that young people can look up to. Hawaii Five-O does just as many other shows should look to do in using Asian actors as more than the comic relief.

Receiving my fair share of nerd, chopstick, rice, and accent jokes, I believe the time has come to showcase Asians as heroes rather than a joke. An alumnus of a performing arts college once came and spoke to my class about the obstacles he faced as an Asian in the theatre industry. He talked about how casting directors based their decisions on appearance, and how he would only be considered for supporting, comical parts due to his ethnicity. I believe writers should create new shows brandishing Asians as heroes. Rather than sidekicks, the time has arrived for Asians to tear down the stereotypical views and break through strong as heroes.

Rebecca Lyga
Grade 11
Oshkosh North High School
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Islamophobic America

In 2006, a reporter for ABC news showed three separate, diverse groups of children photos of an Arab man and an Asian man. He then asked questions such as "Which man do you like better?" and "What are they talking about on the phone?" The children said that they liked the Asian man better because he was nicer, and not weird like the Arab man. When the children were asked about what the men were talking about on the phones one child even said that the Arab man was probably planning a robbery. To see children making assumptions about people they know nothing about is sad and scary. However, it also makes one think about where children are learning to stereotype. Yes, the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001 are extremely sad and terrifying, but the al-Qaeda are only a small percentage of the Islamic culture. Ever since this tragedy and the resulting events that unfolded, the fear of al-Qaeda has spread to include the entire Islamic culture. This fear is generalizing due to the news programs and how their way of showing cultures is disproportionate; however, with some changes, beginning with magazines and newspapers, this can be stopped.

Television shows and movies appear to be cautious about how they represent the different ethnic groups. The news, however, is only helping spread the idea that to be Islamic is to be a terrorist. The news programs have become very sensationalistic which has caused the broadcasts to become disproportionate in that they focus on all the negatives like the al-Qaeda and other extremist groups and not on how the other ninety-nine percent of Muslims live. In the news here recently was a segment about a Muslim group in Oshkosh who wanted to build a mosque. The news showed members of the community who opposed it and why. Some of the reasons include that they did not want it because they did not trust the religion and that because mosques were slowly spreading around the world Muslims must be trying infiltrate other cultures and religions. When combined with the broadcasts about September eleventh, all that the American public sees about the Muslim religion is that they are a bunch of terrorists set out to 'infiltrate' us. It is important that 11 September 2001 is remembered. However, the media needs to be careful in how they portray other groups of people. How is it fair that people can make assumptions about an entire culture after watching news programs based on a small number of extremists? Proof of this is a protestor in New York with a sign that said "All I Need to Know about Islam, I Learned on 9/11." That someone can condemn an entire culture as terrorists is distressing. All this protestor knows about Muslims is that the al-Qaeda, an extremist group, attacked the United States. They learned what they did through the news.

Chances are that the majority of the people who believe that all Muslims are terrorists would never look into the topic, because if they did they would find that they were wrong. How does one reach out to those who only know what they watch in the news or read in magazines and newspapers? More importantly, how does one go about helping change ten years of biases? The older generations need to be educated of this as soon as possible. This way they can teach the younger groups of people. If I were a magazine editor, I would make it my mission to educate the readers about not only the al-Qaeda but the Islamic culture. I would also promote cultural understanding by making sure more emphasis went into making sure that not only the Islamic culture was well represented but others as well. To show how unjustly Muslims are treated is also important. An example of this is the pastor in Florida who planned on burning the Koran. Basically, in order to balance the news I would make sure that both negative and positive views were addressed so that the reader can better understand other cultures.

One decade has passed since the attack on our country by al-Qaeda and still many Americans know only about Muslims from what 9/11 news coverage has depicted: that all Muslims belong to this violent, extremist religious group. Because of news programs being disproportionate, the way Americans view other cultures, especially Islamic, has become distorted. Through magazines the Muslim reputation could be restored by writing about all aspects of their culture and not focusing on just the negatives. Although America might be a free nation, it is still not free of prejudice. The time has come that we educate ourselves about other cultures so that one day, like Martin Luther King Jr. said, "... all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"

Johnathon Peters
Grade 12
Judson High School
Converse, Texas

Portrayals of the Mentally Ill

Traditional media portrays various minority groups in stereotypical ways. Movies, television, radio, books and newspapers are marketed to specific audiences made up of people from all walks of life. It is widely known that the media does this because it is trying to reach broad audiences, so it is necessary to give them a quick, common understanding of a person or group of people as they relate to their class, ethnicity or race, gender, sexual orientation, social role, occupation, or health condition. This practice inevitably leads to stereotyping. When stereotypical images are displayed, they perpetuate a limited and distorted view of how individuals and/or groups behave. Minority groups are often the target.

As a member of a minority group, I can say that this tactic can build resentment toward the media because of how it lumps many people into convenient categories. It can cause divisions within groups, as some seek to separate themselves from others to avoid association with such negative portrayals.

One group of people that is often targeted for bias is the mentally ill. Mental health patients are stigmatized primarily due to the images projected in the media, especially through movies and television. One way people with mental challenges receive unfair media attention is by the presentation of them as homeless bums. Though it is true that many homeless suffer mental illness, it is an unfair portrayal. In fact, according to SAMHSA National Mental Health Center, 39% of homeless people surveyed reported some form of mental health problems, only 20-25% meet the criteria for serious mental illness. Yet, there are many other health related problems associated with homelessness, such as alcohol/drug use, HIV/AIDS, and/or other communicable diseases, and/or chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

Other images projected are those of homeless people, with assumed mental illnesses, begging for money. Not all people asking for money suffer from mental illness; however the two are often linked together. To assume that people with mental challenges make up most of the homeless population or that it is they who primarily ask for handouts, is baseless.

People with mental illness are sometimes depicted in movies and books as dangerous, and this obviously influence peoples' perceptions of their conditions. Many horror films utilize the concept of the "insane asylum" and the "madman." An example of this is the recently released, star-studded movie Shutter Island. It appears to fit this pattern with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as a delusional murderer whose therapy is to investigate the crime he committed. Studies have found that dangerousness and crime are the most common themes of stories on mental illness, according to the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry. However, the BBC reports that people with psychiatric disabilities are far more apt to be victims, not perpetrators of violent crime.

Still other representations leave distinct impressions that a person with a psychiatric diagnosis is deranged and unpredictable. In 1999, a young New York woman was savagely struck on the head with a brick by an unknown assailant. Although no one knew who the assailant was, and no suspects had yet been arrested, assumptions were made based upon pre-conceived notions. All of the local papers alleged that the perpetrator was mentally ill. As a result, the New York Daily News front-page headline read: "Get the Violent Crazies off Our Streets," including a two-page editorial entitled "Hospitalize the Deranged."

Though the degree of severity varies among psychiatric disorders, which could range anywhere from mild depression to schizophrenia, people who have a diagnosis of mental illness are shunned. These myths do not just influence public perceptions; they also affect those suffering. In fact, the fear of stigma can prevent individuals from seeking treatment.

Whether it is a film, television program, newspaper or book, the media perpetuates many myths about mental illness. The effects of such media stereotyping is an issue close to my heart because my mother suffers mental and emotional challenges. This portrayal has affected me. I feel distress when I see her shy away from sharing her suffering with others. The media does not take into consideration how their depictions affect family members as well. No matter how subtle, biased images projected about people with mental illness is hurtful, because I know that while the disease can sometimes present severe challenges, with medication and therapy, those with this type of disability can function normally and experience much success in life in spite of the picture painted about them in the mass media.

While it may be impossible to stop all negative images in the media, there are ways to ensure a more objective and balanced portrayal of people with mental illness. As a producer of a television news program, I would begin by insisting that staff writers use more respectful language. It is also important for them to get precise facts for fair representation in news stories. I would distribute to reporters materials from mental health advocacy groups, such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), which provides guidelines for media professionals. I would encourage television station management to include positive public service announcements in its programming. The media is greatly criticized for a lack of diversity among decision-makers. I would put in place a team of reporters which reflects the face of the community.

One of the most important contributions I believe I can make in the battle against stigma is whenever possible, I would allow people with mental health issues to speak for themselves through interviews and sound bites - giving them a voice in their own coverage.

A fair representation by the media of different groups of people will go a long way in breaking down the barriers of ignorance and insensitivity by promoting education, understanding and respect.

Read the High School 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Essays

Middle School Division Honorable Mention

Ally Jaksen
Grade 8
West Hills Middle School
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Zoey 101

I often hear the term, "That's so gay," or "Don't be gay." But honestly, what does that even mean? Just because somebody wears a pair of pants that look different than yours doesn't mean they're gay. And anyways, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. Everybody is different. If we weren't, the world would be an extremely boring place. Some people, like Nicole from Zoey 101, are obsessed with boys, but where would she be if she liked girls? What would her friends think? What would her parents say? These are the questions that prejudice forces us to conjure up. It's become our way of life: judging people by their face, their clothes, and their sexuality. Yet they would still be the same person on the inside, one way or another. So let's take a step in their shoes, and see what being judged so harshly can feel like.

Nicole Bristow is Zoey's best friend on the show Zoey 101. She's funny, bubbly, and flirty; especially with cute boys. All she can think about is cute boys. She eats, sleeps and breathes them. At one point in the show, she even has to be sent away to an all-girls school because being around boys all the time was too distracting to her. Nicole is pretty, popular, and is not the least bit insecure.

Now, close your eyes, and erase from your mind everything I have just told you about Nicole Bristow. Listen to the new Nicole. She is a lesbian. She came to her new school, Pacific Coast Academy, insecure and fearful that people would find out her secret. She doesn't tell anybody because she is afraid she will be judged. Zoey and her friends notice that she wears different close, like baggy shorts and washed-out tee shirts unlike their tank tops and figure-hugging jeans, and that she doesn't socialize much. They wonder about her and try to figure out what the deal is. Then finally, when they see her staring at the group of them, a light bulb goes off. If she won't talk to boys, and is scared to talk to girls, there's only one logical answer: she must be a lesbian. The girls now keep their distance, fearing that Nicole will develop a crush on them, or worse, try to acknowledge them in some way. Nicole ends up sitting alone at lunch, being the last of her classmates to be picked as a partner for the science project, and spends longs hours locked in her dorm room sobbing to herself when her roommates aren't around. Her teachers don't see her pain. And neither does anybody else. The sorrow and humiliation she feels every day is trapped on the inside, while a straight face reflects no hurting on the outside. She's a cool girl, though. She's an amazing artist and even writes her own short stories. She likes clothes, but is too involved in her schoolwork to bother with them. No boys come near her. Why would they? She's a lesbian, so she must hate boys. Zoey stays far away. What if they became friends, and Nicole began to think they were more than that? Who would want to be around a shy, badly dressed, lesbian? Apparently, nobody at Pacific Coast Academy.

Witnessing a girl who happens to be lesbian, wanting nothing more than to be accepted in this world, be ignored and frowned upon by her peers is painful. It makes you take a step in their shoes for a moment, and realize just how appalling prejudice can be. Like I said, Nicole is a really cool girl, but because her fellow students are too afraid of her sexuality, they won't even take a moment to get to know her.

I have friends and family who are gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, Asian, and Indian. I love them all just the same, and love them for who they are on the inside, not by what they look or feel like. No human being should be treated like they're strange, or different based on something that has nothing to do with their personality. Judging people is wrong, plain and simple. Do you know the phrase, "Think before you speak"? Well the same goes for taking a chance on people. Here's my proposition to you: Think before you judge.

Alan Shi
Grade 8
West Hills Middle School
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Good Will Hunting

There's a terrible problem in the world that must be resolved. It's the discrimination of those with a different sexual orientation is sadly common in our society. There is a lot of it shown in our media and Hollywood. They're not any different from the majority of society. They can be tough, they can be smart, and they don't always hang out with girls. People would probably respect gay people more if they saw their favorite characters being as such. Gay people aren't very different from anyone else; more people should see this.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Good Will Hunting. The plot revolves around the main character Will Hunting, a janitor in his early 20s working at MIT. He has a gift for mathematics, however, his best friends do not share his intelligence and their futures seem dim. Will is soon discovered by a famous mathematics professor in MIT named Gerald Lambeau. After Will gets in a violent fight, he must see a psychologist and attend regular sessions with Gerald. After many sessions with his therapist Sean Maguire, it is soon discovered that his emotional problems root from his abandonment as an abused foster child. He hangs around with his unintelligent friends because their loyal to him and they never would betray him. Meanwhile, he meets a girl that he loves but even she can't convince him to move on to greater things. Will eventually does, though, when his friend Chuckie Sullivan convinces him otherwise. He says that it's fine that he has no future, but for Will to stay here for the rest of his life is a waste of his time, and the best part of Chuckie's day is when he walks up to Will's house and just maybe, he won't be there to answer the door. In the end, Will goes to California with his girlfriend to start a new life.

If Will was gay, his story wouldn't be so different. The only major difference is that girl he's chasing after will be replaced with a guy. Will would still have that brilliant mind that got him discovered. He'd still have his loyal friends that have his back no matter what. He'd still be that funny, tough, and deeply troubled genius who's not afraid of a fight. The only other difference I could see in the story is Will was already abused as a child and I think him being gay may increase the amount of abuse. I can't imagine the pain he must have gone through.

I feel this change in the plot would have an effect on people in the same way Brokeback Mountain does. The audience would come to understand that being gay doesn't make them different as a person. I think the audience would respect gay people more because they see; they just have a different sexual orientation. That's it; the stereotypes don't apply to most homosexuals. There are many people out there who a still in the closet. There are many gay people who refuse to reveal themselves to the world. I doubt they have no friends or family that love them. If someone can hide themselves for that long without being discovered, then obviously gay people aren't freaks or outcasts. I feel like the audience will respect what Will would have gone through in a tough neighborhood and being a homosexual. I feel like the audience will show empathy. It's people's disapproval that brings them down and makes them different.

The discrimination of gay people is widely expressed within our world. I can see it changing however, and that's a good thing. I hope one day everyone will be accepted in our world and prejudice will be obliterated. Homosexuals are not so different from heterosexuals. I dare anyone to change a favorite character's sexual orientation. I can't think of anyone who'd have their personality changed significantly by that change in their life; at least not negatively. It's only society's ignorance that leads to changes in a homosexual's life and that isn't right. Homosexuals deserve the right not to be judged just by being who they are. Prejudice can kill.

Read the Middle School 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Essays