The next of my case studies is ‘The Office’. I’m going to be analyzing Mindy Kaling’s role, that of Kelly Kapoor, on that sitcom. This character, unfortunately, falls victim to many of the stereotypes that are often associated with women from India or Indian descent. References are made to her parents, who had an arranged marriage. She is portrayed as being interested in gossip and is shown to be quite talkative and that she’s keen on getting married and having babies. This stems from the way most girls in India are brought up, where they’re told that no matter how educated they are and how successful they might be professionally, their main aim in life is to get married and have children and be the perfect wife and the perfect mother. I wonder if this was a deliberate jab at this age-old system, since Kaling who was a writer and producer of the show.
On the show, Kelly makes many misleading statements about her heritage and that leads one to wonder if that’s an attempt on the character’s part to assimilate more into the all-White office racial makeup. Of course, none of the jabs can be taken seriously on this show, as it’s more in the spirit of social commentary than actual goof-ups. However, I must observe that, many of the stereotypes and situations are spot-on and effectively and accurately depict situations that many Southeast Asian-American may have had to go through. For instance, the episode where the employees are being given the ‘Dundies’ (awards as recognition for their work in the office), Kelly is given the award for ‘Spicy Curry’, which the lead male character Micheal Scott admits doesn’t even mean anything. When she questions the validity of her being chosen for the award, she is asked to go back and sit down. In another episode, when the employees are celebrating Halloween in office by dressing up in costumes, Kelly comes dressed as Dorothy from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Scott’s reaction is by telling her that that’s an interesting take on Dorothy. These situations get framed around the fact that she is the only female character of color on the show, with the other characters of color being male.
One could count Kelly Kapoor as one of the main characters of the show. She is romantically interested in a temporary employee, Ryan, who is Caucasian. This is a weird relationship because she wants to marry him and have children with him, but he doesn’t seem that interested in her. Later on in the show, Kelly’s parents criticize her for her choice of partner and suggest that she marry and Indian guy instead. She is, obviously, a working professional and she is subject to most of the stereotypes associated with that racial group.
All in all, this character is one of the more interesting ones portraying racial stereotyping on American television, albeit in a reverse psychological way. I will definitely use this as a benchmark for my future posts commenting on the general changing perceptions of Asian women on American television and film.