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Fresh off the Boat and Race

It’s right there in the title! “Fresh off the Boat,” or “FOB” for short, is an adjective used to describe people. Generally, it means the person being described is a new immigrant from Asia whose English is poor and is very traditional, in that their native culture is ingrained in everything they do, such as primarily speak their native language, primarily eat their native foods, and dress in their native culture’s style. Basically, it means they don’t incorporate any sort of American culture into their lives.

The title aside, the show tackles the idea of race in just about each of its episodes, as race is the main core of the show. Primarily, Asian Americans in America.

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First, a little background

The show revolves around the Huang family as they move from DC to Orlando in the pursuit of the American dream. It is actually an adaption of author Eddie Huang’s autobiography ‘Fresh off the Boat: A Memoir.’ In the show, Eddie is the main character and we follow him on his journey/life with his two brothers, parents, and grandma to see how being Asian affects his life in America.

Also, semi important to note, in the show, the only character that doesn’t speak English and is/acts very traditional is the grandmother. Before Orlando, the family lived in Chinatown in DC. The kids are all Americanized, the father is Americanized and is focused on the American dream, the mom wanted to be more traditional but realized after making mac ‘n cheese one time that she was more Americanized than she thought. Essentially, the majority of the main cast aren’t considered “fobs,” so the title is misleading.

Incorporation of race

One of the most important messages in the show took place in season 1, where the show acknowledged the differences in culture between Americans and Asians. During lunch at school, Eddie opens up his packed lunch and it is revealed that he brought stinky tofu. As soon as he opens the container, the other kids become distraught, as the stinky tofu has a bad odor. They made fun of Eddie, saying he was eating “weird Asian food,” which Eddie did not like at all. He was ashamed of being Asian because it was different and “weird” to the kids he was trying to impress. But by the end of the episode, after a talk with his mom, he learned that it doesn’t matter what the other kids think about his food, because he loved his food. Basically, the message was to stay true to yourself and your culture because that is what defines you.

The show also tackles the idea of the working woman, primarily the working Asian woman. Aside from being a full time mom to three kids, Jessica (the mom) is also a fully licensed realtor. Before she started selling houses, she was a stay at home mom. After realizing that the restaurant the father owned wasn’t making enough money to support the family, she took action and job searched. Eventually she found the realtor job, and after realizing she loved flipping houses, she quickly rose to the top and became one of the top realtors in her district. Her dedication to her family and work shows that her, an Asian woman, is a strong worker and is devoted to her family.

This idea that Asian women are hard workers is based on the comparison between Jessica and her neighbors. The neighbors are all traditional white-American families. The father works all day and the mother is a stay at home mom. The wives like to meet up and rollerblade/walk around the neighborhood together, as they have nothing else to do during the day. The white women in the show are never portrayed in a serious working manner, which can lead the audience to question the work ethic and dedication of white women compared to Jessica, an Asian women.

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Why does the show need to incorporate race?

Three main reasons:

1. It tackles real world problems

Along with the cultural differences in food, season 1 also discussed derogatory sayings, such as the C word, or “chink.” The word is used to describe Chinese people in a vulgar manner, and in the show, Eddie’s friends in school called him one, leading to him attacking the student that did. Eddie gets sent to the principle’s office and surprisingly, the principle did not understand Eddie’s frustration. The area the school is in is predominately white, so the principle was not used to derogatory sayings. However, after a discussion between Eddie’s parents and the principle, the lesson learned is that it does not matter who you are or where you are. There are words you do not/should not use, especially if they target one specific kind of people.

2. It promotes multiculturalism

The show does not favor American or Asian culture. It shows how they are similar, and also different, rather than arguing which one is better. The importance of each culture is promoted by family values/dedication in American culture, and work ethic/devotion in Asian culture (these are not the only things that define each culture, just using them as examples). The show shows how the two can go hand in hand and maintain a happy and strong family.

3. It informs the audience

The show airs on ABC network, which is considered a family network, in that the shows they air are intended for families to watch together. This means that this show is watched by millions of people, and the show has to take advantage of their audience. By incorporating Asian themes and culture, the massive audience is being exposed to a style of life that they potentially may not have seen before. Even though the show is satirical, the point of it is to inform Americans that these people (Asians) are here and this is what they are like. That is why it is important to incorporate race, and also to explain that even though there are cultural differences, everyone can get along fine. If they show that on TV to millions of people, hopefully those millions of people can follow suit.

 

Final Paper Brainstorm

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For my final paper, I have chosen the television show Fresh off the Boat on ABC. The show revolves around the main character, Eddie Huang, and his family, a semi-traditional Chinese/Taiwanese family, as they move from DC to Orlando, Florida, in pursuit of the American Dream. It is currently on its third season and has not yet been determined for a fourth season.

Why this show?

The ABC network has a very culturally diverse set of shows. Along with Fresh off the Boat, they have Blackish, which is an African American-centered show. They also have a show called Quantico, which is a typical FBI/CIA/national security show. The only difference is that the main character is Priyanka Chopra, a famous Indian actress. What’s unique about this example is that when you think of a national defense show, you would assume that the main cast is all white, however they are tackling this norm with Priyanka.

The reason I chose Fresh off the Boat over Blackish or Quantico is that it is relatable to me. I am American born Chinese, just like Eddie Huang, the main character. The show jokes about/tackles issues that I have experienced myself, such as racial slurs, “strange” foods, and other cultural norms.

Possible theories

  • Cultural Studies
  • Intersectionality
  • Signification
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Internalized Oppression
  • Hegemony
  • Media Literacy

Method

  • Textual analysis

Ideas to talk about

I think one of the most important parts about the show, and with Blackish, is that they satirical. They use humor to talk about serious topics, like race. This supports the claim that humor is the only way to talk about race seriously from the movie Reel Bad Arabs. The topic of race is stigmatized, as it has been an issue for a long time; people don’t want to hear about it anymore.

I think it is also interesting to discuss the authenticity of the show, what cultural norms are a problem, and what aren’t/exaggerated. When the show first premiered in 2015, I actually had a few friends from different schools who were a part of some sort of Asian Student Union at their respective schools. Those groups actually had events to watch the show together and discuss the authenticity of the show and what it means to Asian Americans in society today.

Not Your Average Medical Show

Scrubs

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Scrubs is a television show that first aired in 2001.  It went on for nine seasons and ended in May of 2010.

The show was loosely based around real life Dr. Johnathan Doris and his experience as a medical resident at Brown Medical School. Hence the main character being named Dr. John Dorian (JD).

How is this different than any other medical show?

Scrubs is a sitcom, whereas other shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House are dramas.

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In shows like Grey’s and House, there is a crisis every single day. In Grey’s, there have been plane crashes, car crashes, bombs, and even bridge collapses. In House, they brought back smallpox, introduced aliens (hallucinations due to a brain tumor), and have loads of patients with diseases that only one doctor can diagnose.

In Scrubs, the events that happen take place during the ordinary days at a hospital, between the crises, where doctors treat regular cases like cancer and genetic diseases.

Medical shows as a brand

The drama shows brand the medical profession as thrilling, dramatic, and full of new experiences. This idea of the medical profession is not very realistic, as thrilling, dramatic, new experiences don’t happen every day the way the shows depict them.

Branding the role of the intern in a hospital is even more askew. In Grey’s Anatomy, the main characters start off as interns, just like in Scrubs, however from day one, they are doing new and exciting procedures and learning all sorts of crazy medical things. This contradicts the idea of interns in Scrubs where the interns take classes, treat patients with simple symptoms, and are basically the attending physician’s lackeys.

Essentially, the drama shows give off the wrong impression of medical shows, and especially the interns.

What makes Scrubs so great?

Authenticity.

Authenticity is/are the culture space(s) where people find self identity, creativity, politics, and religion/spirituality. Scrubs does an amazing job depicting all four of these.

Self Identity

In this show, JD is extremely caring and constantly puts the interest of others before his own. At the end of the day, the important things to him are his friends, and as long as he has those, he is happy.

JD’s view on life helped me realize what is important to me, as the character is one that I look up to. Thinking about why I idolize JD showed me that I also put others before myself and care more about relationships than tangible, material objects.

Creativity

Just because the show doesn’t have crazy diseases or huge accidents leavings dozens injured doesn’t mean the show is boring. Even though the show mainly focuses on common illnesses, the show finds fun ways to go about them.

For example, in season 6 episode 4, one patient’s heart stops and is coding. The solution, a box of kittens!

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I think it’s a safe assumption that no other medical show has done this before.

Politics

While the show is a sitcom, it tackles real world issues.

In this instance, season 6 episode 7, they tackle the idea of war and whether it is beneficial or not. Throughout this episode, the cast breaks into two teams, one for and one against war, but by the end, everyone is united into one team, which is the main theme of the episode: unity. Everyone completely forgets about the idea of war and focuses on working together.

Religion/Spirituality

The two main nurses, Carla and Laverne are very religiously motivated in the show.  Even though they work in the hospital and deal with death every day, their faith stays strong.

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Their idea of faith is in direct contrast with the main attending physician’s, Perry Cox. Cox is very anti-faith and god because he has been working in the hospital for so long and has seen so much death.

However, in season 5 episode 5, Cox’s views on faith are challenged when his son is getting baptized, and also a patient becomes better after a night of prayer. In the end, the show goes back to one its main points: unity. Cox stops trying to explain the diagnoses and just lets whatever happen happen. He then goes on to let his son get baptized to better his relationship with his extremely religious sister who was the one that insisted on the baptism.

So What? Why does this matter?

As I said earlier, the dramatic medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House show a new crises happening every other day. These shows brand the medical profession as thrilling because of these crazy cases. However, that is not all there is to the medical profession.

Scrubs shows that the regular every day life in a hospital can be just as fun and thrilling as those days with major crises. Additionally, it was labeled as the most accurate depiction of the medical profession on TV by Joanna Weiss in her Slate article where she interviewed multiple doctors on their view on medical profession in TV.

Scrubs shows us that you don’t need something crazy and thrilling to keep the audience alive. It is the most realistic in regards to not only regular day to day cases, but also the medical profession as well. In Grey’s, interns are doing procedures and working on cases that in Scrubs, only attending physicians would be working on. So the idea of an intern and the difficulty of their work is very different between the shows.

 

 

Can Asian Americans be super?

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A brief history on comic book movies

In the last decade, the film industry has been riddled with new comic book movies; and with good reason. In 2008, Marvel Studios established an entire cinematic universe via the release of Iron Man.

Throughout the next three years, they released The Incredible HulkIron Man 2Thor, and Captain America. While all of these films were standalone, they were all connected via the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. All five of these movies were already big hits by themselves, as nobody had ever seen live action adaptions of these heroes. Then, the next year, Marvel Studios did what no one else had done before.

In 2012, Marvel Studios released the movie The Avengers. This film took in almost all of the main characters from the five standalone movies and put them together as a team to fight an alien invasion. This banding of heroes and movies had never been done before and was extremely popular with movie watchers.

From there, every Marvel Studios film, TV show, and Netflix series since then have all been connected, in one universe. Events that happen in one movie or show have an effect on another movie or show. The popularity of connecting the big and small screen led other studios to follow suit.

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Marvel’s rival company DC Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros Entertainment, rebooted their Superman and Batman characters to establish their own connected cinematic universe. Additionally, they created three TV shows, Arrow, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow, which all share their own connected TV universe. Though the DC movies and TV shows are in their own respective universes and have their own stories, DC has teased that both the cinematic and TV universe are connected through the idea of a multiverse; one massive universe with an infinite amount of realities inside of it. This theory leads fan such as myself to watch all the films and TV shows in hopes that eventually, they might all wind up together in one massive action packed film or show series.

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So.. Now what?

Now that we know about Marvel and DC and their respective films/shows, we can talk about them! More specifically, the characters. Even more specifically, the diversity among the characters.

Each of the films and shows stated earlier are American made, so it is of no surprise to see that a majority of the main cast are American/white. Nevertheless, both studios do a fairly good job in diversifying the cast.

I emphasize “fairly good” because both studios definitely could do better. They do a wonderful job incorporating African Americans into their films and shows, as each film/show has at least one African American as a main character. However they fail to incorporate many Asian/Asian Americans into their pieces.

There have been Asians.. Haven’t there?

Indeed, there have been Asians portrayed in the films/shows, however rarely have they been main characters.

In the Marvel cinematic universe, there have actually been so few that it is actually pretty easy to list them off. This following list is comprised of all the main/supporting Asian characters in the last decade’s worth of Marvel Studios films. It has taken nine years to have four Asian/Asian American supporting characters.

  • Thor (2011) – Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, one of the Warriors Three (partner)
  • Captain America (2011) – Kenneth Choi as Jim Morita, a Japanese war hero
  • Thor 2 (2013) – Tadanobu Asano reprises supporting role
  • Avengers Age of Ultron (2015) – Claudia Kim as Dr. Cho, a doctor/scientist
  • Doctor Strange (2016) – Benedict Wong as Wong, a sorcerer/partner

DCTV has done a better of a job incorporating Asians into their pieces, so their list is a little longer.

Arrow

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Flash

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The DCTV universe has been around since 2012, so in a span of four and a half years, they have almost doubled the amount of Asian/Asian American characters that Marvel has.

Asian/Asian American portrayals in comic book films/shows

In films in general, it is understandable that not everybody can get a proper background the way the main character does. Because of this, in Marvel films, the Asian characters portrayed are seen as simple characters. They help the main characters when in need but the audience does not really care for them outside of them helping for a minute.

In TV shows, there is more time to give characters a proper background and story. This way, they can be integrated into the plot, making them more complex characters. They each have their own stories and feelings so audience members can grow to like them and care for them, rather than not care about them because they only see them for a minute.

One major pattern in the way Asians are portrayed

In both comic book film and TV, Asians/Asian Americans are only used when they are needed. As in when something revolving around Asian culture is used, so they bring in Asians.

  • In Avengers Age of Ultron, the only reason Dr. Cho is in the movie is because they go to South Korea.
  • In Doctor Strange, Wong is only introduced because Dr Strange is traveling throughout Asia.
  • In Arrow, the large Asian cast is only used when the plot revolves around being in Asia

From this, we are able to see that Asians/Asian Americans are not represented in the everyday life of the superheroes; only being used when relevant.

What does this mean?

As described in the beginning, comic book movies are huge today. Unless you live in a cave, you have most likely heard of Marvel or DC in some sense.

Because of how big the two studios are, they they have a real impact on society. Superhero’s are often viewed as idols for children; kids look up to them. The problem with this is that in comic books, the main characters are generally White or Black. Asian’s are never seen as the main hero. This gives off the impression that Asian’s cannot be the main hero in real life, which in turn makes it impossible for people to look up to Asian’s in the real world.

There isn’t a stigma around Asian people, but it has become normalized that Asian’s are just the background people and are not as important as the rest. If the next generations grew up with these ideas, then that can be very damaging for the Asian community in the future.

The solution

No one is really to blame for the lack of Asian’s in comic book movies. These movies are based off their comic book story lines that were created decades ago, before the mass immigrating from Asian countries to the US. Even in their respective comic book stories, there are not many Asians. But that is not the case in newer comics.

Today, new editions of comic books are becoming extremely diverse, including all kinds of races: Iron Man is an African American Woman, Thor is a girl, etc. Once entertainment studios use up all of their stories from old comics, they will use stories from the new era of comics, and with it, more diverse characters.

There is no way to throw in Asians/Asian Americans in these movies today, as it would ruin the continuity of the characters. If studios turned Iron Man or Superman Asian, their loyal fans would get upset. So the best thing to do to get more Asians in these comic book films is to wait.