FOB from Chinatown, D.C.
The term means “Fresh Off the Boat” — something used to describe immigrants who haven’t quite adjusted or assimilated to mainstream American culture. Or maybe they don’t care to. Surprisingly enough, the slang “FOB” often denotes a degrading way of stereotyping a class of people. ABC and Eddie Huang, the show’s creator, borrowed this term as the title of their show about a Chinese family that moves from Chinatown in D.C. to Orlando. Adapted from the memoirs of hip-hop loving Eddie, a renowned chef and restaurant owner, about his childhood, it has become more of a television show to humorize the honest tales and experiences of immigrant families. Of course — there are entertaining aspects of a family that is so seemingly “fish out of water,” but only to a certain extent as we find the mom telling her children that Santa is Chinese or her son cannot date anyone that’s not Chinese.
To be short, “Fresh Off the Boat” is a show made for white families about an Asian-American kid that loves black culture but has super Asian parents. Everything is condensed so that it’s understood by its pre-dominantly white viewers, and that shortened language becomes the stereotype that straddles the fine line between over-simplication and racism. What the show does is confirm nearly all the racial stereotypes that people may think about Asians, including that Asians are smart and super good at math, all Asian moms are “tiger moms,” Asians can only date Asians…so on and so forth. If this is hard to believe, I will tell you that none of the stereotypes listed above are true for me.
The story of ones cultural nourishment of moving to a new place and discovering his cultural identity is reduced to entertainment — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as long as it holds some truth. “Fresh Off the Boat”…not so much. I’m not saying that I have the authority to validate the truth and integrity of someone else’s story — I don’t. But I’m not saying it, Eddie Huang is. In a tell-all piece in Vulture, he quotes something his Asian-American executive producer said to him.
“’This is a HISTORIC network-television show inspired by your life, and it’s going to get Americans excited about us. It’s never going to be the book; it’s never going to be Baohaus*. It’s Panda Express, and you know what? Orange chicken gets America really excited about Chinese people in airports.’”
*Baohaus is Eddie’s critically-acclaimed restaurant. It offers a fusion of Taiwanese and Western cuisine. It also probably serves as a paletteable metaphor for Eddie’s upbringing.
Like mentioned in my previous blog, “Fresh Off the Boat” does some great things for racial diversity on-screen. Whether it’s a step forward in the right direction, or just not really a step at all is hard to determine — especially in a climate where the media is so deprived of racial representation entirely. However, its lack of quality in representation is a problem that needs to be addressed.
What is interesting to note is Eddie Huang’s reaction to the show that “Fresh Off the Boat” came to be. Though he was immersed in the show’s development stages as the writer of the memoir and inspiration for this loosely adapted show, he later disowned it as his creation. He claimed it as a far departure from the truth, a completely different story with the fingerprints of white culture and studio notes written all over it. It didn’t fulfill his original intention to show that people have different perspectives growing up in America. What the show became was a realization to him that the concept of an Asian-American boy raised in an Asian family listening to Gravediggaz in America is too progressive for network television. The mumbo-jumbo of cultures and the intersectionality of ethnicity to create an unique cultural identity is reduced to the colloquial stereotyping that somehow ends up defining an entire ethnic group of people. This is no excuse for our complacency with network television and its facade of progress masked behind the casting of people of color. It’s 2016…
“It’s time to embrace difference and speak about it with singularity, idiosyncracy, and infinite density.” — Eddie Huang