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Is 'Fresh Off the Boat' guilty of 'othering' women and adoptees?

Fresh Off the Boat is culturally important, especially for the Asian American community. How often have Asian Americans seen a U.S.-produced network story about people who resemble us and share our experiences? Not for two decades. Not since Margaret Cho’s ill-fated All-American Girl, which abruptly ended in 1995. (As an interesting side note, Jeff Yang, whose son Hudon stars as Eddie Huang in FOB, had a hand in All-American Girl’s fall. Per the New York Times, Yang wrote the following about Cho’s sitcom: “The situation is humdrum—20-something slack-queen clashes symbols with her loving but hopelessly trad family. The writing is awful, larded with stereotypes and dusty gags from Full House‘s cutting-room floor.” Ouch.)

As significant as it is, FOB has a glaring problem. The show does quite a bit of “othering,” despite the fact that each episode revolves around a family’s ongoing efforts to navigate being marginalized. Case in point is episode three, “The Shunning.” In it, the character Honey, the Huang family’s neighbor, becomes the object of the prepubescent Eddie Huang’s sexual affections. There’s a fantasy dream scene set to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” where he envisions watering down a scantily clad Honey. She is also the target of Eddie’s unwanted sexual advances. Toward the end of the episode, Eddie attempts a “butt grab” in front of a bunch of neighborhood boys at a community event. The last time I checked, that’s sexual harassment.

The episode also includes a scene with Eddie’s brother Emery, who lounges in a kiddie pool with two young girls. They are treated as sexual objects, à la the women-in-bikinis trope we see so often.

Last week’s episode eight, “Phillip Goldstein,” partakes in some othering too—this time at the expense of a Chinese adoptee named Phillip Goldstein. Eddie is initially elated to see another Chinese kid in his school and is excited to show Phillip around. But Eddie quickly realizes he and Phillip have nothing in common. Eddie likes the Beastie Boys. Phillip likes musicals. Eddie likes Shaq. Phillip likes Tolstoy. Eddie likes bling. Phillip likes investments. The two don’t become the best friends the way everyone, including Jessica (who initially adores Phillip), expects and wants them to be. They, in fact, become enemies, and “hilarity” ensues between two young boys as they interact with each other in school, at the Goldsteins’ very Jewish home, and at a Les Misérables performance.

I am sure many found the episode to be funny, and parts of it certainly were. However, like “The Shunning,” it alienates a secondary character for laughs. Phillip, the adoptee, is painted as being “white.” Like the other (white) kids at the school, Phillip doesn’t like Chinese food. Rather, he prefers his kosher cuisine. Phillip is “nerdy.” What kids in traditional school settings are considered “cool” when they’re short and like Tolstoy, investments, Les Misérables, and playing the cello?

Phillip is “exceptional,” i.e., unlike other kids. Jessica, Eddie’s mom, gushes over his work ethic, Jewish family values, and musical talents. And at the end of the episode, after Phillip ditches Eddie at the Les Misérables performance and skips the Beastie Boys’ concert, Jessica states that Phillip isn’t “a good Chinese boy.” Phillip, thus, is portrayed as being disloyal. More than that, he is inauthentic, not like the authentic Eddie, the good Chinese boy. Or, as Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man said in an interview with Slate, Phillip is “a little asshole.”

The adoptee community, which I’m a part of, should be able to laugh at itself. Nevertheless, it’s questionable whether or not FOB‘s portrayal of Phillip Goldstein is laugh-worthy. Many adoptees have had to deal with the type of labeling faced by Phillip in FOB most of our lives. Adoptees of color often have had POC from their own communities tell them that they are are not “Asian enough,” “Black enough,” “Colombian enough,” etc., while simultaneously dealing with racial slurs. In other words, adoptees are frequently marginalized by the very individuals and communities with which they identify.

I’ve heard little from the Asian American community about FOB‘s “othering” problem. Many, it appears, are simply elated that a show like this one, which continues to receive good reviews and viewership, actually exists on network television. I’m excited too, and I’m sure FOB will be back for another season. That said, I think the onus is on Asian Americans to expect more from FOB, a show that hopes to redefine what it means to be Asian American. We should encourage it to become better and not fall into lazy tropes that “other” individuals within and outside of our own community—the same tropes that have been used against us for so long.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8/7C on ABC.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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