Whenever I tell people I watch eastenders they are shocked. Believe it or not I don’t spend my life reading Das Capital. Yet right now it seems to be ethnic cliche season. We’ve already since the Mitchells’ christmas ruined by a vicious debt collector with a conspicuously Jewish surname (“the name’s Issaacs”). Now we have a more widespread and popular cliche. Those who watched Amira prison visit last week would have seen it. Yep it is evil, authoritarian Asian father who yells about respect in a foreign sounding accent. Of course what gets portrayed is not standard bourgoies moral authoritarianism. No its the sometimes violent, quick to lose his temper, semi-barbarian village elder type authoritarianism.
And its not like they haven’t done this before. Remember that Asian elvis impersonator in Eastenders a few years back? Like Amira’s dad he starred in a storyline that revolved his violent, authoritarian attitude towards his children, yelling half formed sentences in a foreign accent. Indeed it seems that East is East, a hugely overrated, unnuanced movie – full of cheap humour about circumsisions and what not – has established an archetype that must be regurgitated.
This is not to say that Asian family life – like family life all over the world – isn’t affected by patriarchy. But what I would suggest is that form in which such patriarchal authoritarianism is portrayed – namely irrational, violent and often inarticulate men – owes something to colonialism as well as to feminism. Meanwhile, as somebody who works day in day out with lots of Asian families I have never met anybody akin to the goofy caricatures constantly portrayed on TV.