Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Asian Ken Doll

     I first read about this new Ken doll from the lovely ladies at Disgrasian. However, I had read only the title of the post (Welcome to the World, Asian Ken Doll!) and thought to myself, Golly gee, an Asian Ken Doll! It's about time! I wonder what he'll look like? What will he be wearing? This is so cool! 
     And then, of course, when I saw the picture...

     Oh my god. Oh dear Lord. Spare us, please, O Mighty Ones at Mattel!
     This is not Barbie's boyfriend. This is Barbie's cousin who's got an Asian festish. This looks like... an obviously white Ken doll dressed in faux-samurai garb with facial hair and... Is that a samurai outfit? It can't be! Is Mattel striving for authenticity? No. Could they try? Yes. What's with the hair? THE HAIR?
     Take it away! Take it away!
     Why are they releasing this now? Shouldn't they have made a Captain Shang Ken-esque doll back when Mulan came out in, oh when was it, 1998? Oh they did... he's just soft and plushy... Mmm. Real "Ken" material... So Captain Li Shang, one of the few "eligible" Disney boyfriends, gets made into a shapeless, cuddly Happy Meal Toy and not into a Ken doll? Even this Captain Shang isn't the plush doll, but it's still not Barbie's boyfriend "material." Then comes along this regular Ken doll who gets some new, ugly ugly hair, a - I don't even know what to call what he's wearing - and a dinky little sword, and voila! Asian Ken doll! Barbie's new boyfriend! Ta-da! 
     Is this an example of yellowface? Because it's still the "regular" Ken model with some minor minor adjustments? Or is it an example of whitewashing? Obviously this is Ken with long hair, funky clothes and some hair in need of a trim. Why does Asian Ken got to have this sort of un-specified Asianism? Shade of his skin and non-Asian features aside, why does he wear such a modernized "Asian" outfit? Is there something wrong with dressing him in a traditional samurai attire? Or does it even have to be Japanese? Why not Chinese? Why not a Korean Ken doll? 
     Is a doll like this only marketable if it is recognizable as a Caucasian face? Is it more approachable than a more Asian-looking Ken doll, clothes aside? Are authentic clothes so irrelevant and dated that the only way to really sell something that looks even remotely "exotic" and unrecognizable is to make it more... dare I say it, white? Did Mattel even hire a cultural consultant with the design of this new Ken doll? 
     Above all, why can't Asian Ken doll be a contemporary Asian male? Why can't he be Barbie's boyfriend who just happens to be Asian? 
     I suppose it's better than having a doll of Charlie Chan or Fu Manchu. 


  1. Check it out! Even scarier is Ken doll's female counterpart...

  2. he looks WAY too much like a white dude who lives in his moms basement and likes to pretend he's a samurai warrior cause he thinks chicks dig it

  3. Isn't this Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai?

  4. Dear me, I hope not... I thought he was a little more respectable than this! ;D