Written by Montez Louria
Art by Victoria Borodinova
I remember removing the plastic from brightly colored DVDs which held the contents of John Hughes’ films. I remember admiring Hughes’ film, they are cute and campy. (If you are unfamiliar with his work, he is responsible for movies about teenage misadventures and mishaps. He even did the Home Alone trilogy). Of course, there were love stories, zany comedies, and films that challenged the way we think of high school archetypes. These films sound legit, yeah? Like most things, they were cool for their time and I watched them religiously. I am 26 now and I realize my not so cool, “I’m so cool, I’m into nostalgia that I was never a part of,” phase has contributed to some social oblivion. Of course, we have to start with the most obvious and most shameful. Sixteen Candles. Now listen, I loved Molly Ringwald. (Hey, I discovered these films in late middle school). So naturally, I wanted to watch all the things with her in them. I started with The Breakfast Club and made my way around to Sixteen Candles, then other films not involving her, too. The first problem of many in the film is none other than Long Duk Dong.
“What’s happenin’ hot stuff?” The character Long Duk Dong says as a gong is smashed as an introduction to his character. He is a foreign exchange student from an unidentified Asian country. Are you cringing yet? I definitely am. Despite not having much screen time, the character is one the most memorable and quoted of the film. He is part of the long tradition of misrepresenting Asian people and culture in American cinema. Stereotypes that reduce Asians to people of mysticism, restaurant owners, kung fu and ill spoken immigrants. I know that someone will read this and say, “OMG! Pipe down millennial, stop ruining everything! It is funny. Comedy. Tee hee… a character.” But it isn’t and like many stereotypes in the media, I was made to believe that this was true. That it was okay. Even watching it back then, when I was a teenager, something didn’t feel right about the character but I didn’t have the vocabulary or conceptual awareness to explain it. I do now, and I am ashamed that I watched that film repeatedly.
The film shows him using a fork and spoon as chopsticks and he speaks in a generic, stereotypical Asian accent. The one almost every actor has to do for cheap laughs. With lines like, “oh sexy girlfriend,”, “no more yanky my wanky,” and “Donger need food,” accompanied with ridiculous laughter and a gong every time we see him, it is very easy for me to want to push this movie in the back of my mind to die. I remember not laughing at this character, but I had a relative who snickered at his on-screen appearance. Maybe the snicker was at how Hughes could have ridiculously crafted a caricature like Dong, even down to his name. In Hughes’ creation of the character, he gave ammunition to already rampant Asian hate and racism. I am not Asian, but I can imagine what it was like being an Asian student after the premiere of the film. Being called, “Donger” instead of your actual name. What a treat! What a wonderful nostalgic film. What culture to look back on. I look back at that movie and I want to bury it. A part of me hopes that younger people do not discover Hughes’ films because a lot of them have very problematic things.. Stereotypes like Long Duk Dong aid in maintaining the long history of Anti-Asian rhetoric,as well as stereotypes that lead to hatred and mistreatment. I’m not going to say that the recent spike in Asian hate crimes is because of John Hughes but I will say that the people who cannot sympathize or empathize with Asian communities today, probably laughed at something like Long Duk Dong’s character in the past. Hollywood is only good at positively portraying cis white men.
Aside from the racism present in Sixteen Candles, it’s also very sexist and creepy. Looking back, I can tell that this script was written by a man. The decade as well as the 90s seems to be romanticized a lot. The 80s was the decade of recreating the American dream and likened itself to the 50s. (I won’t go on that tangent). Many of the themes are similar in some ways. Much of its comedy lies within the problematic nature of the film. Rape Culture is so intricately woven into the plot that it is masked by a ‘dream boy falls for geek’ story line. Even after the dream boy participates in the date rape of his girlfriend Caroline, we, the audience, are supposed to be in on the joke. All because Caroline is deemed the 80s “slut” archetype. The film tells young women to not be like Caroline. Be responsible. Don’t drink. Don’t party. Don’t be mean. Don’t have sex. Oh, and by the way, cheerleaders are always, always mean and dumb. (This trope hasn’t really died yet in present day TV and film). We are made to think she deserves it. Also, the horrible writing of the female characters here is beyond toxic.
Obviously, I’m not saying that Hughes is responsible for every God-awful value that we have as a society but what I am saying is that films, television shows, music videos, media work like time capsules. They capture the good, bad, and problematic of the time in which they exist. That means as we progress, and I use the term loosely, we need to look back on previous media. We need to look at the societal issues of the time and work on not repeating those same mistakes. Somehow, in 2021, we still have stereotypes of Asian people in TV and film. We still have archetypes and harmful messages about young women’s bodies being presented to us. Somehow, they are still at work and they need to end.
So please, in the future, no more “Dongers” or angelic jocks who sacrifice their unwilling and unsuspecting girlfriends. I had a John Hughes phase and no, I am not proud of it. I’m not boasting about seeing the classics and will not think fondly of them. Thanks, John Hughes, for capturing the problems of the 80s in your films.