Asian Americans in TV– Fresh Off the Boat (Alissa Final)

December 16, 2019 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

This semester we have analyzed how many films have set negative precedents towards the portrayal of Asian Americans today. The lack of Asian American representation in media causes many to struggle to find their identity since Asians are predominantly presented in two types of images: Asians as generic model minorities who excel in everything academic-related and or, perpetually foreign characters that are typically shown as “awkward” and those who do not fit in. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have only begun to open up and provide an even more accessible way for creators to get their voices heard regarding Asian and Asian American experiences. 

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Fresh Off the Boat is a family sitcom inspired by Eddie Huang’s autobiography of the same name. In Huang’s 2013 memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, Huang discusses and shares insight regarding themes of culture and identity by exploring how a Taiwanese-American family navigates themselves in hardcore suburban Florida. ABC’s television series, Fresh Off the Boat is one of the very few shows that challenge the Hollywood status quo with its Asian American majority cast and multi-dimensional characters that captivate how it is possible to negotiate cultural citizenship as both Asian and American. 

Huang and the creators of Fresh Off the Boat successfully created a platform in which they can share Asian and Asian American experiences by drawing inherent humor that stems from culture clashes, but never makes cultural differences the central part of the joke. By satirically presenting many Asian stereotypes to the viewer’s urgers the audience to witness and experience culture clash, racism against the Asian American community, stereotypes, and misrepresentation, in a casual, playful, and undemanding way.

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Most of the culture clash within this television series takes place between Eddie Huang and his parents or various members of the mostly white oriented societies and neighborhood. While this show challenges many racial stereotypes and common misconceptions of Asians and Asian Americans, there are still racial stereotypes at work in this television series. However, all the characters in Fresh Off the Boat carefully function to subvert common stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans while also humanizing Asian-American immigrant parents and immigrant experiences. 

Many scenes in Fresh Off the Boat poke fun at numerous themes that although might be controversial, have helped to normalize conversations surrounding the topics of race, stereotypes, and popular culture, making it more accessible to everyone. Some of these examples include the humor and utter astonishment viewers experience when witnessing clueless white neighbors insensitively “compliment” Eddie on his good English, regardless of the fact that it was his first language. Or perhaps the rollerblading suburban white mothers that are shocked to hear that one of the main characters, Jessica’s name is non-exotic. 

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In the episode, “Home Sweet Home-School” Jessica Huang is represented as an Asian “tiger mom”, which is a common Asian stereotype. While some may interpret the choice of representing Jessica’s character as a “tiger mom” as one of the shows many stereotypical tropes, others firmly believe and remind us that stereotypes do not always have to be negative. In this very case, Jessica’s unapologetic confidence shows the true message of how Fresh Off the Boat combats racial stereotypes—by not hiding behind them but instead, facing them head-on. Throughout the episode, we see that Jessica can be at times an overbearing “tiger mom” when it comes to grades. However, the audience also witnesses the reasoning for which this stems from—her care, love, and drive for her family. Although the show satirically intertwines a common stereotype of Asian parents being overly obsessed with grades, the show also manages to pinpoint the reasoning for why depicting Jessica as a three-dimensional character that can be understood and related to. 

Asian Americans have witnessed time and time again that media represents Asian Americans in stereotypical ways, pushing them into a box, and manifesting inaccurate representations of Asian Americans in viewers’ minds that affect the way they view the minority group long into the future. However, Fresh Off the Boat, through its humor and wit, caters to both general audiences, Asian-Americans, and second-generation immigrants, all while simultaneously urging the audience to witness and experience culture clash, racism against the Asian-American community, stereotypes, and misrepresentation, in a casual and undemanding way. Eddie Huang as well as the producers, actors, and actresses of the show attempt to continue the discourse surrounding the plethora of difficulties that most immigrants and their families experience in assimilating and Americanizing themselves while also struggling to keep hold of their own ethnic heritage, practices, and beliefs. Fresh Off the Boat captures the essence of why diversity in media matters.

 

Fresh Off the Boat. Produced by Rich Blomquist, Eddie Huang, and Justin McEwen, season 1-3, ABC, 4 Feb. 2015.
Jen, Gish. “’Fresh Off the Boat,’ by Eddie Huang.”The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Mar. 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/books/review/fresh-off-the-boat-by-eddie-huang.html

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 24, 2019 at 7:28 am

    “Fresh off The Boat” is an interesting case study in terms of contemporary Asian American media representation. And your post demonstrates a good use of the web context for this project, where you made strategic use of different media that is available as links and embedded content to enrich your discussion here. I believe this approach works better for contemporary as opposed to some of the historical case studies you discussed in the previous post.

    Structurally, I do not see a thesis argument that connects this with the previous post, other than the fact that they are about Asian American media represent—the subject of our class. I would like to see a more focused thesis in this final project.

    Your writing seems to work best when you are focused and specific in your discussion. Your discussion of Jessica’s character development in a specific episode is a good example. I think your point about the subversion of stereotypes in the show can connect nicely to Shohat and Stam’s chapter on stereotypes and realism, which we read in class. I would like to see you engagement more with the ideas and scholarship from Asian American and media studies in your analysis.

    Prof Ma

    Reply

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