Harry Shum Jr: Dancing With and Without Glee

In Media Res is a project of Media Commons. Every day, a media scholar posts a clip and some commentary which is intended to spark conversations. These clips are ideal for incorporating into teaching, but can also be considered resources for the ongoing virtual community of media scholars around the world who use the site to wake up their brains each morning. The format is one which exploits the properties of the web environment well in order to expand our teaching to larger communities. This week, In Media Res is running a series of posts themed around “Transmedia: New Platforms,” and I was asked to provide one of the post. My materials are found below, but you will want to check out other great posts from Janet Murray and Chuck Tryon so far, with Christina Dunbar-Hester and Jeff Watson rounding off the week.

Transmedia Narrative is simply the most high-profile of a series of different transmedia logics shaping convergence culture. Today, I want to focus on another transmedia logic — performance. I’ve chosen as a case in point Harry Shum Jr., perhaps best known as the “other Asian” (more recently named Mike) on Glee. Several critics have noted Shum’s status as an eternal extra and what this says about racial politics surrounding television’s treatment of Asian-Americans. Even one Facebook fan page for the character calls him simply “the Other Asian.”

By contrast, Shum plays a central role in The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD), now finishing up its first season as a direct to Hulu video series, designed to showcase spectacular urban dance performances. Shum was allowed to essentially solo episode 8, “Elliott’s Shoes” in a performance which echoes back to Jim Carry’s rubbery movements in The Mask. Check it out, since Hulu doesn’t allow us to embed clips.

Shum is never given a chance to dance like that on Glee! There, the camera placements and choreography subdue his performance to make his co-stars shine. Yet, after seeing him in LXD, his efforts become much more visible when I watch Glee. His Showreal, shared here, suggests how often Shum has appeared in shadow (as in his appearances for iPod) or in the edges of frames (as in countless music videos), while LXD finally allows him to take center stage.

Prior to the series launch, the LXD dancers were featured on the Oscar telecast (which was produced by Adam Shankman)

and on So You Think You Can Dance, which features Shankman as a judge.

Shankman in turn was the executive producer for Step Up 3D, which also featured Shum and was directed by Jon Cho, who is the executive producer of LXD. Step Up, which was released near the end of LXD‘s first season, also features Twitch and Little C’, two other veterans from Dance, while Little C appears in a cameo role in LXD. And the LXD dancers opened for Glee‘s summer road show (where Shum was given his own spotlight moment).

Will his character get more screen presence on Glee this season? As the magic black ball hints, “Signs Point to Yes.”

What seperates these transmedia performances from more conventional strategies of star development may be the intense coordination across these various properties which are clearly designed to move attention from one media platform and one text to the other. I would love to hear of other examples of how transmedia performance is operating today.


  1. It’s interesting that the camera placements and choreography subdue his performance, yet dance in it’s purest form is so individualistic.

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