Thursday, April 18, 2013

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Two depictions of white men in Taiwanese media

4/18/2013 Taiwan Explorer
I didn't intend to write about foreigners in Taiwan that often, but because there's a lot of talk about them in the local media these days, I feel somewhat compelled to add my two cents. The most recent case of "bad laowai" is a story from Kaohsiung: A Canadian English teacher was abusing his Taiwanese girlfriend (an older woman), he was reportedly beating her, secretly taking sex videos of her, and threatening to leak them online in case she would dare to leave him. In addition he was also searched by the police, because he jumped bail a year ago. He was finally caught these days, and that's how the story became big in recent days. He did the yellow press a big favor by providing a very memorable photo of a victory sign accompanied with a cynical facial expression which is now circling around Facebook, news sites, and various forums. You can read a little bit more about this case here. No doubt this specimen doesn't deserve a tiny bit of sympathy for his current overexposure, but the same goes for Taiwanese netizens who use him to once again lump all foreigners together, and shamelessly write racist comments all around the web. But that's not where it ends: The issue is much more complex.

Two examples, two extremes

So while I was browsing my Facebook feed I came across two stories on Apple Daily's Facebook Page. These two stories are both related to white men, the first one is about the aforementioned Canadian, the second one is about the British band Lawson who's members took semi-naked photos for the Cosmopolitan to raise awareness for cancer. What is interesting is the fact that these two stories were shared one after another (go here and click on the photo or "next"), and both happen to discuss white men, one in a negative way, and another in a positive way. Let me show you what I mean:

BAD LAOWAI, Link to source

Top comment, male, 85 likes: "I am not criticizing, even foreigners agree, one person maybe just a single case, but how many cases should we get to learn the lesson from them? Being with a white guy makes you feel great? Must be because you're watching too many movies. We are both earth's residents, please read more about Western history and literature, and international events. And then make a comparison, and you'll realize Eastern men are thoughtful and romantic, these qualities can't be replaced by Westerners."

Top reply, male, 10 likes: "Foreign cocks are bigger! Taiwan also has some great men! There are always girls crying on the TV accusing [Taiwanese men] that they got cheated for money and sex."


It doesn't take long before someone throws in the "foreigners have big genitals argument" (國外的屌比較大吧!) into the discussion, reducing the whole complexity of cross cultural dating and relationships to this often cited generalization. Most of the comments, reshares, and likes on this thread were made by guys (which is hardly surprising). By repeatedly saying these things on forums they are doing all future white guys who come to Taiwan a big favor, because this positive stereotype will enable them to get more girls.

GOOD LAOWAI, Link to source

Top comment, female, 31 likes: "Taking away guitars would be better, hahahaha..."

Most of the comments, reshares, and likes on this thread were made by girls (no surprises here, either) and most of the reactions were positive. A mere mouse click away white guys were discussed as dangerous cheating scumbags, Taiwanese girls were warned to stay away from them, but on this thread the situation is completely opposite: Girls are drooling all over the image, whites are now awesome, desirable, sexy, lihai. It's amazing how quickly the perception can change!

It's all about perceptions

Sometimes I have the feeling that there is no middle ground when it comes to the depiction of white guys in the Taiwanese media: We're either idealized or despised. I believe the example above is an indicator of a bigger problem, because I observed the same two extremes elsewhere on the web, especially this year. There are so many factors at play here that it would take a lot of time and effort to thoroughly analyze this phenomenon, therefore I won't go further here because I don't have the time and the energy. Instead I'm going to ask you what is your take on this. Please drop a comment, and let me know how you see white guys depicted and discussed in Taiwanese media and online forums.