Asian Masculinity: Conflicts of Film and TV

Television is broadcast with one incentive at large: money. That being said, items of television can be used for challenging political visions that capture ideas circumventing an individual or community. The TV series Fresh off the Boat was produced by a fusion of money-scheming producers and Eddie Hong, the central character who intended the series to accurately represent his child hood. Yet, this show equally captures audience’s attention for being the first all Asian modern cast in a series and has extensive weight resting on its shoulders to be representative of an authentic break away from the expectations and ideals placed on the Asian community.

The portrayal of Asian masculinity on camera lies within the context to which media is being broadcasted. There are similar connotations of stereotype breaking between film and television in presenting the Asian-male to be a counterpart to the expectation of lack, unattractive or dorky, yet, the distinction between the two is clear by how these stereotypes are broken or adhered to. For film, the role of the characters is central; the film of over an hour length retains the same people in its story ark which requires an immediate development of said characters and a sustain on them for the plot to continue. In other words, their actions to break the stereotype have to be explicit for the viewer to regulate the character as they experience them in one sitting, in Better Luck Tomorrow, the ‘protagonists’, if they can be called that, from the get-go show an exploitation of the stereotype of being intelligent as Asian-teens, yet also diverge the stereotype of lack by diving into a world of drugs, violence and sex. The opening act ends with the reveal of a corpse signifying the twist in this film, yet on the other hand, a television series has no need to express immediate countering of these stereotypes straight away as the viewer is to return on a weekly basis, thus, characters can be selected each week to illustrate specific topics to utilise and reshape piece by piece on a weekly basis.

The episode in which Eddie is expected to be home-schooled displays a typical hegemonic view of Asian-youth and their predictably high intellect, yet he shows resentment for further education and eventually brings his mother to an understanding of it, which counters the expectations of Asian-American families, or more so, the assumption made by society of such family. A divergent twist in the narrative of allowing the boys to play outside with their father as a family unit in an activity of leisure signifies a visual transition to reduce this stereotype of the hardworking young and strict mother figure to develop a sense of ordinary as an American family. Thus, as ‘racial performance becomes the dominant narrative’ (Dave, 61) Eddie is shown to be a by-product of combining cultures that correlates notions opposing Asian stereotyping in society; what they see is an American boy embracing American culture as his own while rejecting the expected Asian tropes of his family.

Using Eddie as a child allows the series to explore the world of romance in context with masculinity without attracting issues of sexual deviance or violence, it brings an inert formula to one that completely contrasts Asian American masculinity in Better Luck Tomorrow which thrives off of these elements to reassert a domineering vision of Asian-male pride. With Eddie, he utilises the wise words of his elders i.e. his father, in order to reach out to the girl he desires. The child himself is presented to rewrite stereotypes of Asian-male children as he endorses popular rap artists of the 90s in American youth culture, at the same time as holding fast as a straight A student, something which is not widely referred to in the series but still remains fact. They present Eddie to be an example of overcoming stereotypes, in which his intellect is removed from the foreground to focus on the ways an individual irrespective to the expectations of his age can challenge societal concerns; he and his encounters are in some ways a microcosm of challenging boundaries established for all Asian-male expectations.  In contrast, the film utilises the intellect as its primary motive for lifting the characters onto a pedestal of power in which they can exert their masculinity through the direct opposite the series, violence, drugs and a demonstration of machismo in action.

fresh boat

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