NBC’s Community: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back in Portrayal of Minority Americans

By Brian

I previously wrote a post asking if NBC’s Community was racist and seeing as how they just aired their Season 2 finale earlier this month, I have to answer that so far it’s been two steps forward and one step back. Warning, spoilers ahead!

First the good: during the two-part paintball finale Troy (Black male) takes charge of regrouping and rallying the main characters’ team with his pal Abed (half-Arab half-white male) after they discover their opponents’ conspiracy. Jeff (the main white male character who usually takes charge of the group) questions Troy’s leadership, they compete to come up with plans which turn out to be complementary, and both plans kind of work out. At the end of the episode Jeff gives Troy credit and asks him to pick the class for the group to take together next semester. Pretty cool for Community to have this subplot! One step forward.

While Troy is playing hero, Abed plays anti-hero, specifically Han Solo as the episode has a Star Wars parody element. Abed explicitly says he’s taking this role before “Jeff slouches into it by default,” which is indeed what often happens in the series. Abed even borrows a leather vest from another character to complete the Hans look. He proceeds to work the Hans angle on Annie (white Jewish female) which culminates in a pretty epic smooch in a shower of paint. Hot damn! But don’t get too excited since Abed’s role-playing is just that given his mental issues, and Community has already put several of its characters in other throwaway romantic moments. One more step forward, with significant caveats.

Finally we come to Chang (Chinese male), in the paintball finale he was his familiar inept villainous selfish self, first betraying the main characters to the math club, then betraying the math club to the cheerleaders, then getting shot by a paintball Gatling gun!!! Gotta get excited about a paintball Gatling gun! During the math club betrayal Chang asks the math club if they’re Asian, to which they reply that’s pretty racist (they are all Asian, and all male). Chang also comments that the math club’s gotten better at paintball, to which Jeff comments that the math club’s been busy practicing while others have been going on dates. (Side note: while tiger mothering is probably bad for girls, it’s probably just as bad or worse for boys.)

Just for the paintball finale’s instances of banal stereotyping of Asians, Community is taking one step back but there’s more of the same. During the “Competitive Wine Tasting” episode, there is a Chinese villainess who is a combination of femme fatale, dragon lady, and gold digger. Chang did get his Community-style redemption by encouraging Shirley (Black female) through childbirth during the “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts” episode but it was done with such crazy lines it’s barely a redemption.

Still, for the first two seasons of Community, it’s net one step forward for racial portrayals. The show has been picked up by NBC for a third season, so I hope that besides from continuing their creative style of humor, they also break out of the same old same old negative stereotyping of Asians who bore the brunt of their one step backwards.

ABOUT BRIAN: Brian Lam is a 1/2th generation Chinese  American (immigrating to the US during high school), techie turned comic book and storyboard artist.

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