Beautiful Empire: Race, Gender, and the Asian/American Femme on U.S. Network Television
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Since the earliest days of broadcast television in the 1950s, network television has maintained a keen fascination with Asian/American women, who implicitly helped secure the boundaries of white women’s “empire of the home.” This dissertation inquires into when and how Asian/American women have been represented on U.S. network television. Bringing together questions and analyses of beauty, race, and gender to better understand how Asian/American femininity has been negotiated within the conventions of network television, I argue that the figure I call the Asian/American femme—suspended between feminine subject and feminized object—appeared on network television to mediate and obscure moments of U.S. national and imperial crisis. In addition to analyses of specific programs and network television texts, this dissertation examines the racialized and gendered mistreatment that Asian/American performers have experienced working within the television industry. By combining textual analysis with analysis of industrial practices and performers’ star-texts, I work to understand how network television has imagined Asian/American women’s gender and sexual debts to the nation, as well as how key Asian/American performers, through their own feminine labor, enact the “resolution” of Asian/American women’s tenuous status in the nation. Far from advancing in a linear progression from stereotypical to more sensitive and complex representations, the Asian/American femme on U.S. network television, I argue, instead demonstrates how television, as a social and racial technology, accommodates shifting racial, gender, and sexual discourses in U.S. dominant culture.