This week deals with Asian Americans and their visibility on television. One thing I wanted to reel back in on was the concept of male masculinities and their representations in media. I know we have harped on this a lot, but it’s something worth mentioning, especially when the emergence of a “men’s rights” movement comes up as relevant (bleck!). When discussing representations before, we were focused on gendered ideals of Asian characters both contemporary and vintage. In these movies and articles we found that because of issues like the model minority, and race clashing tensions in the 50s, 60s, and later on there has been a weird legacy of Asian American males having to prove their masculinity. So, unlike the term hyper-masculinity that insinuates an influx in hormones, Asian American males are overpowering in their displays of masculinity.
Within Fresh Off the Boat I believe that there are some moments that both display the crisis of Asian American masculinity and also its decline (Episodes 2 and 10). However, one thing to note is that this show, as closely as it wants to relate the the book it is based off of the same title, is slowly turning from what was intended to a profits monopolized show (click me!).
In Episode 2, entitled “Home Sweet Home-School”, Louis Huang is itching to get rid of his wife, Jessica, from pestering patrons at their restaurant. One of the encounters Jessica had with a fellow employee Mitch, portrayed him eating a crouton where she was able to hear the crunch from across the room. Later when Jessica is out of the restaurant Louis encounters Mitch eating a crouton where Mitch becomes worried because he just got caught. Louis explains that when he’s at the restaurant he wants Mitch to, “feel like [he] is being hugged by a matronly woman with chubby arms” to which Mitch replies, “that’s how I want to feel”. This simple sentence invokes that image of a larger woman with larger than life breasts embracing men who just need that womanly touch. Though somewhat generic, and maybe cheesy, this five second scene encapsulates both male and Asian American male insecurities in needing to portray their masculinity to one another. Coupled with this scene is an awkward hug where Mitch hugs just a bit too long and Louis begins to feel uncomfortable both trying to get Mitch off him and maintain a straight identity. Directly after, Mitch says, “that was fun, we should do that all the time” to which Louis replies a simple but dismissive “no”.
Mitch, a white male is able to maintain his sense of masculinity though engaging in a non-traditional masculine act and remain unphased by it, whereas Louis, for some reason, is in mini crisis-mode to make sure people view him as a straight male and not feminine. When discussing this concept before we found it in early 2000s indie films, however the same concepts are found in mainstream media and persist to modernity. However, if you keep watching the season we reach a rich point in where the characters are turned around on their previous established personalities. In episode 10 of the season entitled “Blind Spot” Jessica and Louis’s friend from college, Oscar, visits. Before the entrance of Oscar we have a rich dialogue between Louis and Jessica including banter on how Jessica and Oscar use to date and how much Louis actually loves Oscar. Nancy, an employee of the restaurant and Honey, a friend of Jessica both tell Jessica how lucky she is to have a husband that is not jealous of that stuff. Then feeling neglectful Jessica ensues to make Louis the jealous type for attention. However, once Oscar enters we can see exactly why Louis was not and will not be jealous.
Oscar Chow is gay and unlike both of their characters Jessica doesn’t get it or know all about it and Louis is completely okay with it. Louis even points out to Jessica that she has a “blind spot” when it comes gay people. The show then cuts to scenes where a gay male couple is kissing and she thinks they are considerate brothers, another where a group of ‘leather bears’ singing show tunes walk by her where she is scared thinking they are a gang, and lastly not understanding the plot to Philadelphia and the AIDS epidemic. Yet at the same time Louis equates, “a dancer, auditioning for Aladdin, on ice… that dude, gay!”. It’s a weird dichotomy of maintaining masculinity, yet being accepting of femininity that isn’t within one’s self. The rest of the episode goes on back and forth between typical and somewhat overplayed stories of the gay man pining over the straight man and the woman pining over the gay man.
Within the realms of Asian American masculinity we have come far enough that gay Asian males can be portrayed however feminine they need to be, yet are made sure to make at least one opposing Asian male seem more masculine and “straighter”. The lines we understand about masculinity are still there, yet they are beginning to reconfigure and blur. In my own opinion, because of hundreds of years of societal conditioning between genders, there will always be that line, but it will be pressed and moved with every gaysian and macho character we try to play opposite each other.