Dismantling Stereotypes with Stereotypes, FOTB style

Fresh Off the Boat seems to be garnering a large, weekly viewership that many other Asian American sitcoms never experienced. Being the first all Asian American cast after All-American Girl, ABC’s FOTB seems to be breaking new boundaries, but in an unconventional manner. The model minority myth that is often associated with the Asian American community is seen to be debunked by the show, and is what contributes to its ability to capture the hearts of people past Asian American boundaries. The show’s appeal is due to the dismantling of certain model minority stereotypes while buttressing this dismantling with the comic strengthening of all other Asian American stereotypes. We see this model minority dismantling through the characters of Eddie and Louis, and the stereotype strengthening through the characters of Jessica, Emery, and Evan.

In the episode “Success Perm,” Jessica’s family comes into town for a brief visit. Louis and Jessica attempt to embellish their success to make it seem as if their move to Florida was a well-made economic decision. The episode is full of a tug-of-war between Jessica and her sister Connie as they attempt to win their mother’s approval, but also creates an over-the-top display of what many believe to be qualities all Asian Americans share: competitiveness and bargaining.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/749336 (Check this link if embedded video does not work).

Louis and Eddie’s characters act as the foils to Jessica, Emery, and Evan’s, as they demonstrate the reality of what many Asian Americans undergo. Louis is the owner of Cattleman’s Ranch, which is not doing very well. He is in an occupation that is not considered part of the model minority trifecta: doctor, lawyer, or engineer. However, the struggles that are seen with the restaurant are meant to enhance the idea that Asian Americans also endure struggles and are not all blessed with obstacle-free lives. It brings us back to the time when Asian immigrants occupied many of the seemingly “lower class” jobs pre-1965. Seeing an Asian American in a job not defined by the model minority starts to chip away at the stereotype.

Eddie’s character also acts as an attempt to dismantle the model minority stereotype. Eddie’s interests include hip hop and basketball, both of which help the audience identify his character. He presents very unconventional interests and proves in episode after episode that all Asian American children are not Emery and Evan; they are not geniuses at math or science, not all of them enjoy playing instruments, and many do not enjoy attending CLC. Eddie’s character acts as a black horse in a way, and as the central character of the show, he brings the audience with him through the life of someone that isn’t the epitome of the perceived Asian American. From his perspective, the audience is able to receive an unfiltered, unconventional Asian American viewpoint, which enables even greater disassembly of this model minority social construct.

Although the show contains blatant demonstrations of succumbing to the model minority stereotype, the comedic way in which many of these perceptions are displayed counteracts societal expectations. By use of exaggeration, most of the stereotypes seen on the show, like the example used before with the competitiveness and bargaining between Jessica and Connie, may be true in some households, but are presented in a light that makes them look absurd to the point where they are comical and entertaining. Considering that the show has been receiving a consistent audience weekly, it can be assumed that viewers understand this stereotype disassembly.

Using Jessica’s character to strengthen the bargaining stereotype through comedy enhances the idea of laughing at social constructs by blatantly exaggerating those social constructs. In addition, Connie and her husband personify the social expectations that seem to be put on Asian Americans as a result of the model minority. Louis and Jessica prepare themselves for Connie and her husband’s arrival, and portray themselves in a very different light. This “success perm” face of the Huangs’ demonstrates the viewpoint of what many Asian Americans feel they must present to society as a result of the pressures elicited by the model minority myth.

Louis and Eddie’s characters act as the foils to Jessica, Emery, and Evan’s, as they demonstrate the reality of what many Asian Americans undergo. Louis is the owner of Cattleman’s Ranch, which is not doing very well. He is in an occupation that is not considered part of the model minority trifecta: doctor, lawyer, or engineer. However, the struggles that are seen with the restaurant are meant to enhance the idea that Asian Americans also endure struggles and are not all blessed with obstacle-free lives. It brings us back to the time when Asian immigrants occupied many of the seemingly “lower class” jobs pre-1965. Seeing an Asian American in a job not defined by the model minority starts to chip away at the stereotype.

Cattleman's Ranch

Eddie’s character also acts as an attempt to dismantle the model minority stereotype. Eddie’s interests include hip hop and basketball, both of which help the audience identify his character. He presents very unconventional interests and proves in episode after episode that all Asian American children are not Emery and Evan; they are not geniuses at math or science, not all of them enjoy playing instruments, and many do not enjoy attending CLC. Eddie’s character acts as a black horse in a way, and as the central character of the show, he brings the audience with him through the life of someone that isn’t the epitome of the perceived Asian American. From his perspective, the audience is able to receive an unfiltered, unconventional Asian American viewpoint, which enables even greater dis-assembly of this model minority social construct.

Although the show contains blatant demonstrations of succumbing to the model minority stereotype, the comedic way in which many of these perceptions are displayed counteracts societal expectations. By use of exaggeration, most of the stereotypes seen on the show, like the example used before with the competitiveness and bargaining between Jessica and Connie, may be true in some households, but are presented in a light that makes them look absurd to the point where they are comical and entertaining. Considering that the show has been receiving a consistent audience weekly, it can be assumed that viewers understand this stereotype disassembly.

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