The Portrayal of Asian Americans in Mainstream Magazine Ads: An Update

By Lee, Ki-Young; Joo, Sung-Hee | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

The Portrayal of Asian Americans in Mainstream Magazine Ads: An Update


Lee, Ki-Young, Joo, Sung-Hee, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Mass-circulation magazines were analyzed for the frequency and nature of advertising portrayals of Asian Americans, along several dimensions related to the "model minority" stereotype. Findings were compared with those for African Americans and Hispanics. Despite some improvement in the frequency and scope of representation, the presence of Asian Americans is still limited to narrowly defined stereotypical roles. Logistic regression analyses provided further support for the findings. Drawing on both cultivation and expectancy-violation theory frameworks, the authors suggest that, to the extent that the stereotype is reflected and reinforced through advertising, biased and undue expectations may be formed, resulting in negative consequences for the group members.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, with a 72% increase from 1990 to 2000, a decade in which the total U.S. population grew only 13%.' In the 2000 U.S. Census, 11.9 million people, or 4.2% of the U.S. population, identified themselves as being Asian or Asian in combination with another race, making Asian Americans the fourth-largest ethnic group in the country, behind whites, Hispanics, and African Americans.2 By 2050, the percentage of Asian Americans is projected to reach 8%.3 This ethnic group forms a desirable market, with a high average income coupled with an annual spending power of over $200 billion, a high level of education, and exceptional brand loyalty.4 Nevertheless, Asian Americans are not yet considered a major minority and are typically portrayed as "foreigners" in the media.5 Moreover, compared to other ethnic groups, they have been almost invisible in mainstream American popular culture.6 When Asian Americans do appear in movies and other pop cultural venues, stereotyped or narrowly defined roles are pervasive. For example, Asian women have been frequently portrayed as passive, exotic, and humble, or at the other extreme, as oversexualized, treacherous, and evil. Asian men, on the other hand, are often portrayed as incompetent, asexual, and supremely wise, or as martial arts experts.7

Stereotyping of Asian Americans also occurs in ads. Their portrayals in ads usually reflect the "model minority" stereotype, in which they are depicted as diligent, hard working, technologically competent, and mathematically skilled.8 Although this stereotype may seem complimentary, it can lead to negative consequences for individuals both inside as well as outside the group.9 For instance, continued portrayals of Asian Americans based on the model minority stereotype and repetitive exposure to these images may create undue pressure on Asian Americans to confirm stereotype-driven expectations, consequently undermining their performance.10 When failing to meet expectations, Asian Americans may be more harshly penalized than others," and suffer lowered self-esteem. Furthermore, to the extent that Asian Americans are viewed as industrious, hardworking, and serious, they may be prone to experience the more negative stereotype of being less sociable or "workaholics."12

The current study examines whether the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans is reflected in magazine ads. Unlike previous studies on Asian Americans, however, it further examines whether the portrayals of Asian Americans differ from the portrayals of other ethnic minority groups and, if so, the extent and nature of that difference, by using logistic regression techniques.

Literature Review

The Model Minority Stereotype: More Harm than Good? This study is couched in two theories: cultivation and expectancy-violation.13 Cultivation theory suggests that audience perceptions toward a group are influenced by how the group is portrayed in the media.14 Specifically, heavy television viewers develop a social reality that reflects the television world because that world is relatively "consistent" and "uniform" in the images and portrayals it conveys. …

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