PAGE 18 • THE FIL-AM COURIER • MARCH 1-15, 2015
Look, I’m On TV:
by DANIEL B. EISEN, PhD
There’s a glitch in the Matrix or the American Broadcasting Company has taken an important step toward respecting diversity. While some individuals of Asian descent were able to see their experiences reflected on television 20 years ago, many younger individuals have never had that opportunity. Asian Americans have made numerous appearances on television, but often appear in roles that serve as racial tokens in a predominantly White media space. These roles often perpetuate stereotypes and provide little insight into the reality of being Asian or Asian American in the United States. Renowned cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall argued that these visual representations shape and maintain the social categories and hierarchies that we use to understand our world. Therefore, ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” is important in this media landscape because it questions these representations by providing a glimpse into Asian American lives paired
Representations of Diversity on Television with critical commentary about race in the United States. Like “All American Girl,” which featured Margaret Cho and aired 20 years ago, “Fresh Off the Boat” is an enjoyable sitcom that examines Asian American life. Focused on Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang) and his family, who move to a predominately White neighborhood in Orlando, the show avoids reducing the Asian American cast to simple caricatures. Instead the show highlights the complexity of being Asian American as: (a) Eddie’s identity is constructed through hip hop in opposition to both Asian and American culture, (b) Eddie’s grandmothers assert their identity through language, (c) Eddie’s father strives to achieve the American Dream, and (d) Eddie’s mother attempts to blend Asian culture with American ideals of upward social mobility. These various forms of identity construction and each characters’ unique position between the categories of “Asian” and “American”
showcases the complex nature of Asian identity formation and provides examinations of the tension that often arises between generations. “Fresh Off the Boat” also provides critical commentary on race relations in the United States. This is accomplished through well-crafted jokes about race relations, rather than drawing on racial and ethnic stereotypes for a quick laugh. For example Eddie’s mother meets her White neighbors, who are rollerskating down the street. After a few introductions she asks the group: “are you all sisters?” The joke, like many others in the show, is humorous because it directs micro aggressions experienced by Asian Americans towards White individuals, thus showcasing the absurdity of such assumptions and comments. In another scene, Eddie’s attempt to make friends at school is thwarted by his homemade lunch. The White students tell him his food smells weird, call the noodles worms, and tell
him to leave their table. Disparaged Eddie moves to a table with a Black student, who asks “Did the White people not welcome you with open arms?” While the truth revealed by this statement on race relations stings, the comedic delivery allows those who can relate, all too well, with the statement to ease the tension caused by reflection through laughter. U l t i m a t e l y, “ F r e s h Off the Boat” provides a humorous, yet critical, space to examine the Asian American experience in the United States.
In a media climate that often reduces marginalized individuals to simple caricatures, the show is a much-needed jolt to these inaccurate representations and allows individuals to f i n a l l y s e e t h e m s e l ve s reflected positively in mainstream media. Although the Filipino experience varies from the pan ethnic Asian American experience, tuning into ABC at 8:00PM on Tuesdays will provide individuals of Filipino descent the unique opportunity of seeing many aspects of their life represented on their television screens
Daniel Eisen grew up in Ewa Beach and graduated from Campbell High School before attending Pacific University, Oregon to earn his BA in Sociology. After living in Oregon for four years, he returned to Hawaii to earn his PhD in Sociology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his doctoral work examined young adults’ development of a Filipino ethnic identity in Hawaii. Daniel Eisen is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.
KAYAMANAN NG LAHI Making History at the Merrie Monarch Festival