QuickTakes: Fresh Off the Boat

ABC’s latest sitcom, “Fresh off the boat” has been touted as a more accurate representation of asian american culture in the media, but has also garnered criticism for its use of stereotypes.

New Sitcom Perpetuates Worn-Out Asian-American Stereotypes

Turn on the TV these days, and you’ll most likely see yet another white person in the lead role of a show. ABC’s new comedy Fresh Off the Boat attempts to change this, but ends up showing viewers a stereotypical picture of Asian Americans. Based on celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoir, the show diminishes the diversity and culture of Asian Americans, starting with the title. In a CNN news article, Boston College history professor Arissa Oh notes that the term FOB is dangerous and derogatory. “It aligns with Asian Americans always having to negotiate the fear of being perceived as a perpetual foreigner — because the consequences can be anything from bullying and ostracism, to violence or internment.”

At a press conference with TV critics in Jan. 2015, Huang admitted that ABC “toned down” the reality of Huang’s experiences because the producers felt that the average viewer would not understand the nitty-gritty of what he truly experienced and felt. Sugarcoating the truth will only make viewers more inclined to perpetuate those stereotypes.  Huang even admitted that the characters meant to depict his parents are “neutered and exoticized.” That sounds a little too much like how Asian Americans are depicted in other media.

In an essay for the New York Magazine, Huang argued that “the network’s approach to pacifying [the public] is to say [Asian Americans] are all the same.” Lumping together a large minority group is not the answer to diversifying television. It is surprising that there are even shows today portraying minority groups. Ultimately, though, Fresh Off the Boat is far from fresh.

— ROSINA GARCIA Staff Writer

Fresh Off the Boat Skillfully Portrays the Asian Perspective in America

Fresh Off the Boat offers a fresh take on the family sitcom genre by putting Asian-American actors in the spotlight, a group whose representation in Hollywood has long been sparse. Notably, this is the first television show centered around an Asian-American cast since the widely panned 1994 series All-American Girl.

Interestingly enough, a lot of Fresh Off the Boat’s charm overlaps with where All-American Girl fell flat. Whereas the latter series featured poor writing that failed to transcend anything beyond the cast’s ethnicity, Fresh Off the Boat’s characters are relatable to all audiences, while still stressing the Asian-American viewpoint.

Another twenty years have also given Hollywood a bit of clarity in terms of casting. All-American Girl offended many by labeling the show’s family as Korean-American, even though the cast was Korean, Chinese and Japanese, giving the impression that all Asians are the same. Fresh Off the Boat is better in this regard, having a Taiwanese family portrayed mostly by actors of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, with only one character of Korean descent.

Additionally,  two out of the five episodes that have been aired were written by Asian Americans and the series is produced by Eddie Huang, who wrote the memoir that inspired the show. In contrast, no Asian Americans were involved behind the scenes of All-American Girl.

Fresh Off the Boat isn’t perfect, but it shows how far Hollywood has come in just twenty years. If the trend continues, in a few decades people will look back and realize that this series changed the game for Asian-American representation in the arts.


Show Implies That Minorities Should Assimilate to Dominant Culture

Nothing says middle-class America like a cowboy steakhouse, at least, that’s what the Huangs believe on ABC’s new show “Fresh Off the Boat.” The title implies that the Huangs have just shipped in to the United States when they actually moved from Washington D.C. to Florida. According to a U.S Census Bureau report from 2010, Asians represented at least 4.2 percent of the U.S. This show is a rare effort to appease a minority demographic while adhering to dominant cultural expectations. It seems edgy and racially inclusive but actually promotes the assimilation of minority groups to white culture.

Audiences are presented with Louis Huang, the traditional All-American dad with neatly gelled hair and polo T-shirts despite his Asian heritage. His son Eddie embraces aspects of black culture such as hip hop, which he claims showcases his status as an outsider. The act of an Asian individual engaging in so-called black behavior is played for laughs, which preserves white prejudices about the inferiority of black culture.

Melvin Mar, an executive producer of the show, said, “We want to be the Chinese Steve Levitan!” This demonstrates that “Fresh Off the Boat” aspires to the success of white- dominated programs like “Modern Family” (which Levitan created). By trying to keep up with these shows, it’s possible that “Fresh Off the Boat” will mimic the standard formula for a white sitcom family despite appearing to present Asian perspectives. While the inclusion of Asian-Americans in the sitcom community is admirable, the program fails to represent any tangible shift in dominant mindsets.

— CASSIA POLLOCK Associate Opinion Editor


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