#BCM240 Research proposal; exploring how sitcom ‘Fresh off the boat’ portrays Asian culture as seen from both oriental and western perspective

Background

Over the course of last four years I had the pleasure of experiencing Hong Kong as a temporary student-resident and through my interaction with the city’s rich culture, vibrant people and their intriguing social norms, I developed a general interest in wanting to know how members of both oriental and western society could perceive a sitcom that is one of the first to portray an all-Asian family and whether this sitcom could act as a viable testing ground in my curious pursuit of  an answer to this question.

” Some critics could not get past the title, a term often used pejoratively about immigrants, while others think this adaptation of celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoir about his childhood – which follows his Taiwanese- immigrant family as they try to fit into a mostly white Florida suburb – simply reinforces certain stereotypes about Asians.” (De Souza, 2016).

Taking all this into account, I thought carefully of what media portrayal I could use for this purpose – seeing as in 2018 many new films, tv-shows, books, blogs, YouTube videos and even tweets can quickly stir up the pot that is social justice should they fail to pass its ‘filters’ and be quickly removed from circulating through the vast space of mass media.
It occurred to me that a fresh, and rather underrepresented American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat (first aired on ABC in 2015) may just offer the perfect example of a standard media portrayal of an Asian immigrant family trying their very best to successfully assimilate into American culture.

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Rather than focusing on stereotypes alone, this show explores  a wide array of obstacles any immigrant family went through at some point during their assimilation period. And rather than just showing a standard Hollywood ‘out of the mold’ combination of lead male Caucasian role with an Asian female companion, this sitcom takes things to another level by ensuring the main cast remains Asian, with the exception of Caucasian neighbors and other characters.

” The Huangs may be the only non-white family living in that Orlando, Florida, cul-de-sac, but the show is solely concerned with their perspective. Home truths are presented in an honest and frank way, from the moment that Eddie (Hudson Yang) makes an earnest plea to his mother about his school dinner (“I need white people lunch”) to when he finally introduces her to his white girlfriend Allison. ” (Lee, 2016).

Simple premise includes a Taiwanese family moving from Washington D.C’s Chinatown to Orlando (Florida) where family experiences cultural shock attempting to blend in with the local population while the children go through same trouble at school. All this is lined with east Asian way of life; as seen through the eyes of the show’s protagonist, Eddie Huang. My aim is to find out more about how both Asian and Western audiences perceive this sitcom and whether they think this show is a sufficient and accurate representation of immigrant Asian family’s behvaior within American culture.

Overall perspective of this show may make newer generations think that portrayal of ‘ethnic’ people is somehow in fashion, but this isn’t the first time TV production decided to offer the viewers into daily life and struggles of races other than Caucasian. The history of TV sitcoms witnesses some well-known productions that included portrayal of every day lives of middle-class African American families and there are quite a few to name; Family Matters, The Cosby Show, Everybody Hates Christ, Good Times and many others.


Methodology

I intend to pick a representative sample among my BCMS peer group who had first-hand experience growing up as a part of local Hong Kong culture, as well as my colleagues who had no first-hand experience growing up within Asian culture – ideally four individuals from each group will suffice for gathering applicable data that can be successfully analyzed and presented. While I am fully aware that primary data will be of greater importance because my research questions seeks to find out a two culture perspective, I will certainly use complementary secondary data to either support and/or explain my final results, seeing as I am using a combination of online and traditional ethnographic method.

I plan on devising a set of interview questions which my interviewees will answer anonymously after being shown a pilot episode of the sitcom. Some of the sample questions I may include (and possibly revise):

  • Does your opinion differ in terms of how Asian culture is both represented and accepted?
  • When you see an asian person behaving in a certain way, do you feel this resonates with asian-american culture rather than asian culture alone?
  • Do you hold the same views as the show’s protagonist?
  • Has your perspective on Asian culture been changed/influenced somehow by the media?
  • How much of what you know about Asian culture has been relatable to what you have seen in the pilot episode?

 

Being aware that this topic contains potentially sensitive subject involving stereotypes and racial profiling, I do not intend to film my interviewees or use any video format. Questions presented to interviewees will be used for no other than my own analysis and more efficient acquisition of results. I aim to turn results of my interview into a form of a podcast that will be later featured in my digital artifact. Interviewees will be interviewed in groups of four, with each individual answering a series of five questions.

FORREST WHEELER, HUDSON YANG, RANDALL PARK


Stakeholders

Interviewing two groups of four people will be the source of my primary data as well as my online reach-out which will help me gain insight into secondary data – but my goal extends further than that and in order to entice a discussion and possibly encourage people to look at this matter objectively and express their perspective honestly and without fear of  harsh moral judgement, I will start generating research-related tweets starting from week 11 until the research is completed.

Complete BCMS group is more than welcome to participate in this discussion as I am more than curious to hear their perspective on this matter as well, as well as the professors who have had a chance to live and work in Hong Kong, either as locals or foreigners.

Platform

As a former candidate of Associate of Arts in English for Professional Communication, I haven’t had extensive experience with video editing or creation of more visually stunning materials, therefore I will turn to my blog as a platform for my digital artifact. However, understanding how important the contents of this research will be, I intend to represent my findings fairly and objectively while at the same time delivering them in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
Considering that my ability to express myself through my writing greatly exceeds my video and design capabilities, I am convinced that communicating my findings through my blog will provide adequate corner for both findings and conclusion.

 


Ethical concerns

 

As I mentioned previously, this topic alone has been met with many questions and statements claiming it to be controversial and in many ways offensive, so my main concern is how this research may be perceived by the extended audience. Fresh off the Boat has been debated by the critics previously and should any of my readers take offense because of either research question, findings or conclusion, I would obviously want to objectively reflect and make sure I go over my research once again.

” While much of the recent debate around Asian representation in Hollywood has centered on whitewashing – when white actors are cast to tell Asian stories – working actors said a lack of opportunity was only one part of the problem. Asian American actors said they rarely, if ever, got auditions for leading roles, and when they did get parts, they were frequently secondary to the plot or portrayed offensive tropes. ” (Levin, 2017).

Remaining objective, while also truthful and respectful is imperative for my research to yield a relevant result. I am however, more than happy to explore this topic and also extremely grateful to both my classmates and colleagues who agreed to spare some of their valuable time and participate in the interview and discussion.

 

 

 

 

References:

1. De Souza, A. (2016). Fresh Off The Boat: Beyond racial stereotypes. The Straits Times. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/beyond-racial-stereotypes

2. Lee, C. (2016). Fresh Off The Boat shows Hollywood there’s life beyond yellowface. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/oct/11/fresh-off-the-boat-asian-american-stereotypes

3. Levin, S. (2017). ‘We’re the geeks, the prostitutes’: Asian American actors on Hollywood’s barriers. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/11/asian-american-actors-whitewashing-hollywood

 

 

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