Materialism and Female Subjugation in modern Asian soap operas

*Written by theowner23

Sunday night. I should be studying for my midterms, but instead I
looked for some new way to procrastinate. All of a sudden, I
remembered my reason for not getting into Harvard. I spent half my
time in high school watching Asian soap operas. Ah, the glory days.

What was it that I liked so much about these cheaply produced soap
operas? I can answer that honestly and easily but it won’t be pretty.
It was a huge part of my youth and helped form my ideals and
perspective, and now looking back, I am not sure I am too happy about
that. There is so much materialism, female degradation, and general
shallowness in these modern idol shows that I am surprised there
hasn't been any real discussion or protestations over it.

No matter how "creative" the plot is, there are some elements that
remain exactly the same. "Creativity" in Asian soap operas is just the
formula with some decorations. What is this formula you ask?

1) Must have normal, average looking and lower to middle class female
2) Male protagonist must be strong, super rich, successful and HOT
HOT. Oh and they secretly have to be a deep, nice guy.

3) They fall in love and in the end, and she gets the fairy tale
ending because of him.

I feel 1) is probably the most significant factor on why the soap
operas sell so well. Any teenage Asian girl (which is 99% of the
audience) can relate. Growing up in America, I could still relate to
the protagonist on these shows a hundred times more than Buffy,
Charmed, etc. The producers know that average looking middle class
girls are their audience so why not make the main character just that?

That would be okay if they remained like that to the end, which
reflects 99% of our futures. But nope. The ugly ducklings usually get
makeovers to reveal the (usually stunning actress hidden under hideous
glasses or cheap makeup) beautiful swan! Fated to Love you 2008

2) Secondly, why is it always the guy who is the more successful one
and the girl has to depend on him for a good ending? Think about All
about Eve (the first Gen Y drama). The main girl bumbles around and
isn’t half as good of a broadcaster as the evil one. Yet, she is
pulled out of her dull career and becomes the company’s son’s wife.
Ah, the ultimate goal of every woman. This sends out the message that
striving hard for your career will get you less than sleeping with the
son's boss. Then, comes Meteor Garden. The ultimate rich and poor
story. She claims that she doesn’t care about money but the ending of
any version illustrates how her life is so much better and glamorous
with money and power.

Sadly, that is the allure of these shows. You cheer on the protagonist
as she hooks up with the man of everyone’s dreams and gets to share
the wealth and glamour he has. I am not saying that wanting wealth and
glamour is wrong. But these girls are basically gold digging and using
their bodies to get to the top. Why can’t we cheer for a protagonist
who worked for all that, who reached the top because of her own hard
work and studies? Then, she can date the man of everyone’s dreams all
she wants because they will be equals.

Recent shows have tried to change it up a bit. Let’s take Taiwan's hit
drama Frog turns into Prince, or whatever the translated title is. The
synopsis says, “Soon enough, Tian Yu finds herself falling for this
kind-hearted and intelligent stranger although he does not have a
cent. Dang Ou also sees through Tian Yu's [gold-digging] greed and
discovers that there is an angel that lives in her heart”. The
producer is obviously trying to show how it is just two strangers who
fell in love without money being a factor. Okay, BUT WHY DO YOU STILL
MAKE HIM THE HEIR OF A COMPANY? Because in the end, tian yu still
needs to fulfill her (and the audience’s) dream of marrying up and

Next: Realism. How many heirs of huge companies do you know that fits
that description? I went to high school and college (on scholarship)
with these kids. Let me tell you, almost none. You want to know what
these old money kids are like? They are even more shallow and snobby
than their parents and the chances that they will marry poor is nil.
Asian soap opera’s main protagonist stereotypes (shy, innocent, ugly
girl or loud annoying ugly girl), haha it’s almost laughable, will
never get the guys the show is referencing to. The ugly truth is: If
you are poor and wants to marry up, you have to have a huge, likable
personality, the drive to climb, and the beauty to match. Sadly, that
is not 99% of the audience.

The obnoxious flashes of wealth also characterize these shows.
Lavender (2002), the male protagonist is a celebrity and shows up
everywhere in this beautiful sports car that the camera focuses on for
like 2 minutes in the intro. In countless soap operas, you have the
obnoxious way of introducing the guy with them walking into their
company with a designer suit and everyone bowing to them. GAH.

I know some of you would say that it is suppose to be fantasy. But
teenage girls don’t take these shows as fantasy. Gold digging and
social climbing becomes ingrained in their minds as higher priorities
than academics and career life. Please, Asian media, stop propagating
these values in your TV shows, because you are the strongest vehicle
of them all. Have a true female hero for once. Someone who uses her
brains and personality. Be bold and try reversing the roles of these
shows. We are living in 2010, not 1910.

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