Irony of the Black Sheep

Fresh Off the Boat is a new family TV show that just debuted this year. Although it has just started its first season on television, it has already generated a lot of buzz around it. There have been positive feedback and negative comments about the show; some who find it relatable and some who find it racist. The show itself may have garnered so much attention due to its focus on an Asian family, played by an all-Asian American cast. The show mainly focuses on a young Asian American boy named Eddie Huang and his family and chronicles their lives after their move to a small neighborhood in Orlando, Florida. The show mainly plays up the stereotype of the model minority of Asians, while placing Eddie into the role of the “black sheep” of the family. While his brothers Emery and Evan are the perfect straight-A, do all of their homework on time students, Eddie prefers to spend his time on other activities besides academics. Although he is seen as essentially the outsider in the family and represents a different view of Asians, Eddie actually allows for a more universal outlook of Asians in American culture. By manipulating his black sheep image, the character of Eddie Huang is able to allow for Asians to be seen as figures of infinity rather than totality.

Although Eddie is different from his perfect younger brothers, he shows another side of Asians to an American audience. He portrays a representation that people would usually not think of when they think of the term Asian or Asian American; he displays a side that is not perfect and not academically-oriented. In one episode, right as Jessica Huang was handing out the lunches to her boys, she says that “I want you all to be polite, respectful, and don’t make waves” in which Eddie responds with “why you only looking at me?” The emphasis on the difference between him and his brothers is apparent as his mother only expects him to be a trouble-maker while his brothers are seen in an almost angelic light.

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This is the appeal though as Eddie displaces the totality view of Asians as the nerdy and usually socially inferior sidekick. Instead, he introduces himself as not a model minority robot but as a human, as another young boy who loves hip hop and having fun rather than school and homework. In one clip that shows Eddie’s fantasy, he is listening to his favorite hip hop song and fantasizing about girls dancing around him. This view completely undermines the studious Asian and eunuch stereotype, in which Eddie displays neither social inferiority nor lack of appeal. His fantasy makes him seem like any boy, because the things that he dreams about are relatable for most males, whether they be Asian or not.

Eddie is what makes the show so relatable and what allows others to see it as not just another show for Asians or Asian Americans but as a show that is inclusive of other races as well. His character isn’t confined to a certain expectation or trying to fill a specific role in society. In this way, it allows for an infinite view of Asians as more than just their outer appearances, brains, and desires to excel in anything academic.

The irony in this is that the black sheep is usually seen as the outsider and as the one that causes others to be disconnected from it. Although Eddie’s role as the black sheep may generate a difference between him and his family, it ultimately creates a bridge on a more global scale between Asians/Asian Americans and other races and cultures. I believe that with a show like Fresh Off the Boat, it will allow for Asians to be seen in a new light and allow for others to view Asians on a wider perspective. It may introduce Asians as a group that transcends the color of their skin, their culture, and allows them to be seen not as foreign species but simply as just human beings.

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