A guest post by Jefe:
“Fresh Off the Boat” (2015– ) is a US television sitcom that features an Asian American main cast, the first since “All American Girl” (1994) starring Margaret Cho. It is pretty much “The Wonder Years” with Asian faces. Critics have largely praised the show.
It is inspired by a book, “Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir” (2013) by Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese American lawyer and restauranteur.
Premise: Eddie Huang’s family moves from Washington, DC’s Chinatown to suburban Orlando, Florida in the mid 1990s to run a steakhouse. The family struggles with assimilation in their new environment while Eddie finds solace in hip hop.
Eddie Huang sold the television rights for his book to Hollywood and provides the voice-over narration, but hates the show:
“The network tried to turn my memoir into a cornstarch sitcom and me into a mascot for America. I hated that.”
“Then what did you buy my book for? Just make A Chink’s Life … With Free Wonton Soup or Soda: A reverse-yellowface show with universal white stories played out by Chinamen.”
He sees executive producer Melvin Mar, who is Chinese American, as a “Booker T. Washington –Professor X–Uncle Chan” who forgets that “successful people of color are in many ways ‘chosen’ and ‘allowed’ to exist while the others get left behind.”
The show is indeed sanitized:
- The virtual lack of any racism. Asians are held back by a lack of Anglo-American assimilation, not racism – in the very suburbs where Trayvon Martin was killed. The only times any racism was hinted at was when the only black character used “chink” and tourists assumed that Eddie could not understand English. There is no hint of any ching chong, Asian bullying, bamboo ceiling, or negative impact of Asian stereotypes central to Asian American experience in white suburbs.
- The removal of any violence central to Eddie Huang’s personal life. Eddie Huang found solace in hip hop to help him navigate around his Chinese heritage amidst the violence he experienced growing up. None of that is found in the TV show.
- Unrealistic depiction of Washington, DC and Orlando. Orlando’s neighborhoods were not hyperwhite in the 1990s. Washington DC’s Chinatown was nothing like what is shown. Eddie and his brothers would have attended hyperblack elementary schools in Washington, DC – at the height of the crack epidemic.
- Characters are reduced to stereotyped caricatures. Eddie Huang points out that, in order for American audiences to have a frame of reference, the characters must conform to stereotypes and the jokes are ones that whites make about Asians. Hence the neutered father, the exotic Tiger Mom mother and the urbanized son into hip hop. In the fourth episode, Eddie’s father and uncle make fun of each other’s names, the way that white people do to Asians.
The last point makes “Fresh Off the Boat” come across as a yellowface minstrel show, with Asians doing yellowface, together with hip hop, another white minstrel theme. Fifty-sixty years ago, whites would have done the yellowface, as in Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961).
The show has just been renewed for a second season.
- External links:
- Vulture.com: Bamboo-Ceiling TV – Eddie Huang’s article in New York magazine.
- Deadline.com: “Fresh Off The Boat” Creator Eddie Huang Continues to Trash His ABC Comedy
- Salon.com: Eddie Huang blasts “Fresh off the boat”: “An artificial representation of Asian American lives”
- baohausnyc.com – his restaurant’s website
- Tips on visiting Disney World – the original Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse was on International Drive near Disney World
- minstrel show
- hip hop music
- growing up Asian American
- How to tell if a character is a stereotype
- The blackness of American television – also helps to explain the situation of the Asians and US television.
- Trayvon Martin – Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in suburban Orlando.
- The White Default
- White Entertainment Television
- Three ways Americans write about Asian
- Taiwanese Americans
- Anglo-Protestant culture
- Empire – TV show that relies on black stereotypes to entertain white audiences.