Given the unprecedented success of the ABC sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, it's no surprise that the show has become a magnet for controversy.
The show, based off a memoir by Eddie Huang, revolves around a Taiwanese-American family and their struggles to assimilate to middle America.
The controversy that I'm talking about is the charge that Fresh Off the Boat is too "white-washed."
There have been numerous op-ed pieces about this. David Yi, writing for entertainment news website Refinery29, writes that "Fresh Off the Boat is completely white-washed and neutered. [...] American first, and Asian as an afterthought. It's not revolutionary to cast an Asian-American male lead if he's just there taking up space for the sake of diversity."
But you don't have to hear it from some blogger on the Internet, you can hear about it from the mouth of the creator himself. Eddie Huang, the author of the memoir that spawned the sitcom, has never been shy about his disdain for the show. In a brutally honest essay Huang wrote for New York Magazine, he writes of the painful process that went into creating the show,
I began to regret ever selling the book, because Fresh Off the Boat was a very specific narrative about SPECIFIC moments in my life, such as kneeling in a driveway holding buckets of rice overhead or seeing pink nipples for the first time. The network's approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo goo gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane. But who is that show written for?
Huang also went on a spectacular Twitter rant earlier this year regarding the extent of his hatred for the monster of a show he created. One of the revelations included that he doesn't even watch the show -- you know, the one that's supposedly about his life. Here's a choice Tweet:
I don't think it is helping us to perpetuate an artificial representation of Asian American lives and we should address it.
— RICH HOMIE HUANG (@MrEddieHuang) April 8, 2015
Before I get start addressing these charges, I gotta be honest with you guys: I have never watched Fresh Off the Boat. Not a single episode. Nor do I plan to any time soon. I didn't even watch the season 2 premiere. I mean, obviously it's good if the creator himself treats the thing like it's a worse mistake than me discovering blogging.
So now that we've got that out of the way!
The charges of white-washing on Fresh Off the Boat are ludicrous. I mean that straight-up. Reading Huang's words and various other op-eds about this, I really want to know if any of these people know what white-washing even is.
Let me tell you about this one time that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of white-washing.
I was flying on a plane to attend the Association for Asian-American Studies Conference in San Francisco, California last month (that's RIGHT, the big TRIPLE-A-S, BABY). I was invited personally because they heard about my awesome blogging skills, my reputation in the Boston AAPI community, and everything I'm doing for it (you're welcome, folks! You can thank me later).
Anyway, I'm flying on this plane to Cali, right, and I'm pretty nervous 'cause I've never flown on a plane before, and guess who comes down the aisle and sits right next to ME?
That's right! It's American Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani (who's also an Asian-American, by the way)! You know, the one who writes about books for The New York Times?
So, I'm kind of sort of having a mini-panic attack 'cause, like, my idol in the flesh comes casually sitting down next to me like it's no big deal or whatever.
I'm sitting next to her, giddy as a schoolgirl, thinking about whether or not I should make conversation with her or just awkwardly stare at her this entire flight. So I decide to make conversation with her.
"So, heh, you goin' to the AAAS conference too, Kakutani-san? I mean, of course you are, I'm sure they'd want to celebrate all your achievements and all the things you've done for us."
She looks at me. "Don't call me that. And no, I'm not. What's that?"
"O-oh, it's nothing..."
At this point, I feel like I want to open the emergency exit and jump off the plane, ending my miserable existence forever.
We sit for the rest of the flight in awkward silence, with me sweating bullets because I'm wondering if she's giving me some serious side eye and also because at this point in the flight there's some crazy turbulence going on.
I have this condition where if I get really nervous, I build up a lot of gas, and until I'm calmed down, there's no chance of it being alleviated.
So I nervously chance my beautiful neighbor once again. I ask, "Kakutani-san, I mean, Ms. Kakutani, do you think I could, uh, hold your hand? Just for the rest of the flight?"
She gets up in disgust to go to the bathroom, and I'm left stabbing my eyes out with a pen. Okay, that was stupid, I thought. For the rest of the flight, just play it cool, play it cool, Dan.
But when she got up, I noticed, out of the side of my eye who was sitting next to her: it was none other than Michio Kaku, the famous (and also Asian-American) futurist, theoretical physicist and popular scientist! I start hyperventilating.
He said to me, "Tough luck with Kakutani, kid. Don't worry about it, she does that to every guy who tries to woo her. She'll come around. I wouldn't even trip about it, dog."
"Oh my gosh! You're Michio Kaku," I exclaimed. "Famous futurist, theoretical physicist, and popular scientist! My father and I loved watching your show Cosmos when I was a kid!"
"I never worked on Cosmos," he replied. His eyes narrowed. "I think you have me confused with Carl Sagan." At this point, I attempt to will myself out of existence.
I get up, pace around the cabin, the turbulence and my gas gone at this point, and walk to the bathroom.
"I think it's occupied," someone says. "You won't believe who's in there! It's Michiko Kakutani! You know, from the Times?"
"Oh, who asked you, famous Asian-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma?"
So I'm standing there, waiting for a vacant bathroom, and I realize I hadn't eaten anything all day and I start dreaming about orange chicken, duh herro chu wanna woulda lika to eata duh orange chicken? Lika, like-a sumbod-ee eata that flied lice me so hungee me lova you long time! Ching chong chang Chinaman, fi-fie-fo-fum Fumanchu we no eata duh dogs but we make-a sushi tempura for you! We washa you crothes in raundro-mat fo' you too? Why you no eat? But gee yowzah gwine eat a little ob dis sheeit gib de acids in mah belly a process! straighten 'em all out, General Gao! hoawzat fo' white-washin'!?
Whoops! Looks like I hit the word limit. In sum: Watch Fresh Off the Boat, eff the haters, it's not white-washed, think for yourself, colleges are a scam. I'm sorry again Michiko, I'll always love you. If you're reading this, please give me another chance, I know we can make it work.
Fresh Off the Boat airs on Tuesday nights at 8:30 EST on ABC.