Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Charlotte Harris

What Fresh Off the Boat Teaches Us

As I’ve independently watched and analyzed Fresh Off the Boat, I have learned a lot from this show.  No matter how lighthearted the jokes may be, the show still offers a glimpse into the struggles of a child of foreign-born parents as he grows up feeling out of place.  So, for this last post, I’ll be looking at what makes this show successful according to some of its top names.

To begin, it’s worth mentioning that Fresh Off the Boat is loosely based on the childhood of the REAL-LIFE Eddie Huang.  Yep, that’s right.  He’s real, and he’s a TV chef!  Cool, huh?  As the show was first being developed, his input was taken into very close consideration because, after all, the show is all about him.

One main reason that allowed Fresh Off the Boat to give a different kind of insight into the lives of immigrants is summarized by Nahnatchka Khan, the showrunner.

“It’s told from the inside out, meaning the Huangs are always the ones who are telling the story, not the ones being looked at in a fish bowl and pointed at,” she says.  This element stands out in several aspects of the show.  The family is never portrayed in a way in which they look foolish.  Sure, there are some humorous moments in which the cultural differences come to light (see Jessica and the country club, S1E7), but these are always laid-back, and as confirmed by Khan, this type of joke was intentional.

Another main reason that Fresh Off the Boat has been successful and widely praised is its lack of stereotyping.  Yes, Jessica did homeschool her kids with her own version of “Chinese Learning Center,” but this was not presented in a demeaning way.  Rather, Eddie presented this whole ordeal (in his eyes) as something Chinese parents do.  It was neither harmful nor degrading; in fact, it was presented as beneficial to kids’ roundedness.  Constance Wu, who played Jessica, speaks to this aspect in an interview.  She says, “Stereotypes are only dangerous when they are used as the butt of the joke, and our writers have taken great care to never write a single joke that is based upon a stereotype.”  As a Taiwanese American and a lead actress in the show, her praise of this writing technique speaks volumes.

In a world in which many are quick to judge and stereotype others simply based on appearance, Fresh Off the Boat’s depth in legitimizing Chinese-American culture is extremely refreshing.  Here’s hoping this is a trend that sticks.

 

Sources: http://time.com/3696111/fresh-off-the-boat-constance-wu/

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/nov/18/how-fresh-off-the-boat-reshaped-sitcom-convention

Jessica said what we were all thinking when we showed up at Tech. Happy almost-end-of-the-semester, everyone!

Shooting Fresh Off the Boat

Good evening, friends!  Let’s return to one of my favorite American families and their latest adventures.  Well, latest is a relative term, considering that Fresh Off the Boat is currently airing its fifth season, and I’m still watching and reviewing the first season… but that’s beside the point!  Their adventures are new to me, and for this assignment, that’s all that matters.

Angles, color, length of shots, and scene/plot complexity are all elements of a TV show that make it both watchable and unique.  Fast-paced shows (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives comes to mind) incorporate bright colors and quick shots.  The Good Place uses lighter colors to represent a serenity of sorts.  Fresh Off the Boat combines multiple color schemes to convey a complex theme.  Lighter, pastel colors are often present when the whole Huang family is together, and these convey a peaceful tone.  When the entire family is in the same place (especially in their own home), the “better when we’re together” feeling is almost tangible.

In many of Eddie’s adventures in which he hangs out with his school friends or pursues yet another girl way out of his age league (sorry buddy, somebody had to say it), the color scheme is generally vibrant.  Not only is this bright palette attractive to viewers, but it is also indicative of pleasant, happy times for Eddie.

Typically, each episode is Huang-family-centered.  The main plot concerns most, if not all, family members.  Additionally, Louis always has some trouble with entrepreneurship, and Eddie has a problem with a friend (or a love interest).  So, each scene usually lasts for a few minutes, and the scenes that affect the entire family usually last a bit longer than those that only feature one or two.  Again, this detail points to the huge emphasis Fresh Off the Boat places on close family relationships.

As I have noticed throughout this entire first season of Fresh Off the Boat, the show really does feature close family bonds.  If all roads lead to theme, then cinematography is a highway in this sense.

Nice, pastel-dressed, happy family

It’s a Male, Male World

Jessica Huang is NOT taking anyone’s garbage today

Although ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat extensively explores racial relations through the eyes of a young Chinese boy growing up in America, its gender diversity is limited.  Perhaps this is because the show is primarily centered around Eddie Huang’s life.  He is close to his father, he has two brothers, and his best friends are boys.  So far, the only times we really see women as major characters in this show are Eddie’s mother, his grandmother, and his MUCH older “love interests” (with whom he has no chance… sorry, Eddie).

There is no doubt that Fresh Off the Boat most prominently features men.  This does not seem to be an anti-women stance; the show is based on Eddie Huang’s childhood, and I think he realistically spent more time with other boys.  At school, Eddie primarily hangs out with other boys.  At home, he sees and spends time with his younger brothers.  When he talks to someone about any struggles or hardships, it is typically his father.

Despite males being far more represented than females, Fresh Off the Boat still features plenty of women.  Perhaps the strongest female characters in the show are Jessica (Eddie’s mother) and Grandma Jenny (Eddie’s grandmother, who lives with the Huangs).  Jessica is afraid of no man, and she certainly isn’t afraid to insert her opinion over her husband’s.  Eddie thinks of his mother as the epitome of a Chinese-American woman: she is bold in the family’s entrepreneurial business, she considers herself equal to her husband, and she considers her children’s education of the utmost importance (to the point that she supplements their schooling with home classes).  Although at first, Jessica struggles to assimilate with the other women in the neighborhood, she realizes her family means more to her than her social life, and that others’ opinions are not as important as they seem.

Overall, Fresh Off the Boat is not an exceptionally diverse show in terms of gender, but what it lacks in that area, it makes up for in terms of racial and cultural diversity.  It provides thought-provoking insight into the life of a young child of immigrants, and it is absolutely a show worth watching (even if almost everyone IS a man).

Representation of Women in Saturday Night Live

Early in our research stage, our group decided to explore the representation of women in comedy.  Specifically, we were interested in NBC’s Saturday Night Live, as it has been continuously airing for decades, and thus, allows us to compare and contrast the ways women were portrayed in the mid-1970s and how they are depicted now.  Initially, all our research was about Saturday Night Live, but we quickly realized that there simply were not enough peer-reviewed articles about that one show!  After expanding our search to late-night comedy, we read several pieces regarding the male dominance of late-night comedy shows in general.  With this in mind, we brought those ideas back to SNL.  Instead of exploring simply numbers of women on the show, we honed our focus on more specific aspects of female representation on Saturday Night Live.  We will distinctly direct our research toward women of minority races and female characters with different sexualities.  On a broader note, we will look for the way women are presented in the first season and identify any change in those patterns in the most recent season.

Our specific research question is listed below:

How have women, especially those of minority races and different sexualities, been represented on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and how have these roles changed as the show’s seasons have progressed?  Has the correlating portrayal of women noticeably changed over the duration of the show’s airing?

Since Saturday Night Live is currently airing its forty-fourth season, and most seasons are comprised of over twenty hour-long episodes, it would be impossible for five people to watch and analyze every episode.  For that reason, we will concentrate on the inaugural season and the most recent complete season of the show. Not only does this allow us to go into depth on a smaller amount of episodes, but it also gives us the chance to see stark differences in the ways women are represented on the show forty years ago versus now.  The content of our research is important because society has changed drastically in the past forty years, and comedy is an excellent reflection of society. Thus, evaluating the evolution of characterizing women on Saturday Night Live will paint a broader picture of the changing ways women are treated in society.  

To answer our research question, we will approach each episode in Seasons One and Forty-Three with a series of specific questions regarding the orientation of jokes on the show when they involve women, how cross-dressing is used in the show (whether for comedic effect or as an acknowledgment of lifestyle choices),  ways in which politics are presented regarding women, and critical reception of the show by female analysts. We will also delve into the representation of non-heterosexual characters on the show, and the corresponding change in society’s view of the LGBTQ community in the 1970s and in the 2010s. Additionally, we will explore quantitative data concerning the number of women credited in each episode, and we will further break those numbers down into guest hosts, main cast members, crew members, etc.  Once we have compiled substantial data from both seasons, we will compare the two seasons and explore the changes that occurred over forty years of Saturday Night Live.

Fresh Off the…Caddyshack?

Entitled “Showdown at the Golden Saddle,” the seventh episode of season one finds the Huang family pretty well settled into life in Orlando.  Keith Heisler wrote this episode and several other episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, as well as numerous episodes of American Dad! and Guys with Kids.  In addition to writing for these shows, Heisler has also produced multiple episodes for each show.  (see: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1510546/)

“Showdown at the Golden Saddle” is written very similarly to most episodes of Season One: Jessica and Louis argue/make up/bond, Eddie desperately tries to get a pretty girl to notice him, and Emery and Evan are perfect angels.

Since I knew I would be focusing on the show’s writing as I watched this episode, I paid extra close attention to dialogue, music, and references made by characters.  As with all other episodes, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” is narrated by the real-life Eddie Huang, so it’s as if grown-up Eddie is reminiscing on his childhood.  This perspective shows viewers that our narrator knows exactly how everything will turn out because he lived it.

Intercharacter dialogue doesn’t make up all the noise in the show—we hear lots of exclamations and comments that characters make to only themselves.  However, we don’t get much silence in Fresh Off the Boat.  While there are frequent periods in which nobody speaks, these gaps are typically filled by rap songs, R&B songs, or background chatter.  This constant noise creates a stimulating, fast-paced effect, and I believe this intentionally symbolizes the tone of Eddie Huang’s childhood.

Generally, Fresh Off the Boat characters drop plenty of pop culture references: Eddie’s friends talk about the latest coveted video game, Jessica is obsessed with Stephen King movies, and of course, Eddie frequently shares his latest obsession in the rap music world.  However, in this episode, I found my favorite reference ever: Caddyshack.  When Jessica learned that Louis’s success at Cattleman’s Ranch landed the two of them a spot at a party at the local country club, she expects the place to run exactly as Bushwood Country Club did.  Even though she embarrasses Louis when she quotes the movie at the dinner (“Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”), her enthusiasm over visiting a completely new environment is palpable.  I think the show was intentionally written that way, too.  Jessica’s only expectations for a country club came from a highly stereotyped sports comedy, so naturally, her assumptions greatly differed from reality.  When the characters get most of their expectations from movies and TV, their reactions when they actually experience these things is humorous.

Overall, Fresh Off the Boat is written lightheartedly, but below the comedic surface, it depicts childhood the way Eddie Huang remembers it.  Every kid struggles to fit in at some point, but as the child of immigrants, that difficulty is magnified.  With both comedy and not-quite-but-almost-documentary, Fresh Off the Boat’s writers certainly have a full plate, but so far, they’re excelling.

The sole reason Jessica enjoyed Caddyshack, amiright

CITATIONS: Women and Late Night Comedy

Wild, N. M. (2015). Dumb vs. fake: Representations of Bush and Palin on Saturday night live and their effects on the journalistic public sphere. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(3), 494. Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1704390801?accountid=11107

 

This article discusses the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Tina Fey portrayed Sarah Palin shortly after John McCain announced Palin would be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.  Dannagal Young, the author of this article, argues that this portrayal was influential (to some degree) in shaping Americans’ opinions of Palin.  Even though people did not solely base their ideas of Palin on how Fey presented her, they began to associate the two (who, in reality, were stark opposites politically) as one and the same.  While Young does not believe Saturday Night Live is responsible for the outcome of the 2008 election, he does believe that media is in many ways responsible for shaping people’s opinions.  This article is worth reading because its terminology is largely unbiased, and it draws a thought-provoking connection between people’s sources of entertainment and their actions, no matter how subtle this connection may seem.  For our project, it is valuable because it examines the way a popular late-night comedy show handled an election in which a female ran for president and vice president on opposing parties (a first in many fronts), and it also analyzes the public’s general reaction to this event as it was portrayed on SNL.

 

 

Miller, M. K., Peake, J. S., & Boulton, B. A. (2010). Testing the Saturday Night Live Hypothesis: Fairness and Bias in Newspaper Coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Politics & Gender, 6(2), 169-198. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1743923X10000036

 

In this article, the authors examine the way Hillary Clinton was treated by the general media during the 2008 presidential campaign.  It explores the value of the questions Clinton was asked (which, she believed, tended to be either geared toward her comfort, or, if worth any political value, were more difficult questions than those asked of her opponent, Barack Obama).  In general, it measures the differences between the media’s attitudes toward her versus their attitudes toward Obama, and it argues that Clinton was, in fact, treated with great discrimination simply because of her sex.  While this particular article only vaguely references Saturday Night Live or any type of genre within our group’s realm of focus, its exploration into the media’s treatment of women in general is worth reading.  It cites sources and charts concerning the context in which women are discussed, and according to this data, women under the public spotlight are known more for their family life than their personal views.  The hard data within this article proves concrete evidence that women are treated unfairly by the media under certain circumstances.

 

Santa Ana, Otto. (2009). Did you call in Mexican? The Racial Politics of Jay Leno Immigrant Jokes. Language in Society, 38(1), 23-45. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0047404508090027

 

Although this article explicitly discusses neither women nor Saturday Night Live, it does examine the treatment of minorities on late night comedy shows to a great extent.  In the midst of demonstrations and rallies supporting immigrant naturalization to America in 2006, Jay Leno used immigrants as the butt of a series of jokes on The Tonight Show.  The author of this article, Santa Ana, argues the idea that society is divided when it comes to perspectives on late-night comedy.  Some believe that nothing is off limits because no matter what the joke is about, somebody will be made fun of, but others demand that comedians should use basic judgement when making jokes, and if it demeans a person or group, then the joke should go untold.  In fact, when an off-color joke is told by a person as well-known and revered as Leno, the audience is more likely to let it slide and not even recognize that certain groups find it offensive.  I think this article is worth reading because it presents another side to the “it’s just a joke” argument.  It’s an important thing for everyone to keep in mind, even if it doesn’t really do a lot for our research purposes.

 

Summergrad, S. (2016). Can we talk?: A discussion of gender politics in the late-night comedy career of Joan Rivers (Order No. 10130835). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text. (1801956682). Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1801956682?accountid=11107

 

Here, Joan Rivers’ career as a comedian is explored in great detail.  Summergrad, the author, argues that Joan Rivers tends to be remembered by her plastic-surgeries-gone-wrong and her roles as a red-carpet host, but she is not known as much for being a comedian, whether as a guest host or the host of her own show.  This article examines writings which argue that men are generally funnier than women, women’s humor is domestic in type, and women’s humor is simply “noise.”  It presents the argument that these beliefs stem from the generations-old idea that women belong in the home, and overcoming this idea will take time.  However, the author writes, women do indeed have a role in comedy, and Joan Rivers is a prime example of this.  This particular article is worth reading because it examines the rise of women’s role in comedy beginning in the Lucille Ball era and spanning that time to the present day.  For our project, it provides insight into the public’s view of women in comedy, and delves into that idea being seen as a stigma.

 

Kolbert, E. (1993, Aug 22). Television: Why late-night TV is a man’s world. New York Times Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/429199461?accountid=11107

 

Published in the early 1990s (on my mother’s thirty-third birthday, ironically), this article examines the idea that late-night television is primarily hosted, viewed, and appreciated by men.  It argues that this pattern is not necessarily “anti-women,” it just happened to work this way.  Men showed greater interest in this field more than women did, and as a result, more men were hired to work as writers, producers, etc. for late night comedy.  The author argues that most humor in late-night comedy shows are self-defense driven, and he believes that this is a realm of humor used primarily by men, and was “learned in school by little boys trying to get by” (Kolbert).  Because this article supports a view point that is a little more pro-men and anti-equal rights than most others I’ve found so far, I think it is definitely worth reading and using.  It’s always beneficial to at least see the other side of an argument, and I believe this article presents a relatively civil version of that.

 

Mannis, Samantha. “Late-Night Comedy Evolves with New Generation of Viewers.”University Wire, Apr 28, 2014. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1519246639?accountid=11107

 

This article examines the shift of late-night comedy as its viewership majority gradually changes from baby boomers to millennials.  Written during Jimmy Fallon’s early days as host of The Tonight Show, Mannis argues that bringing in a new host symbolizes a new era of late-night comedy, and this era will be more familiar and relatable to the current generation.  Although shows such as Saturday Night Live provide classic entertainment with older sketches that have been replayed again and again, that show is also finding a new voice as hosting in late-night comedy appears to be changing across the board.  According to this author, younger people will find late night comedy shows to be more and more relatable to them instead of something they think their parents might find funny.  This article is absolutely worth reading because it explores the changing ages and demographics of people who watch late night comedy shows, and points to the correlation that must exist between these shows and their audiences.  If people don’t find the shows funny and relatable, what makes them worth watching?

Family is Everything

Well, I’m six episodes into Fresh Off the Boat, and so far it’s SO GOOD!  I realize that’s probably about as subjective as I can get, but I am thoroughly enjoying seeing the world through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy facing a lot of challenges in a new, unfamiliar environment.  I also find the focus on the family element to be extremely refreshing.  While many modern dramas highlight family conflict (kids disrespecting their parents, parents tearing each other down, grandparents being portrayed as old-fashioned and therefore irrelevant), Fresh Off the Boat depicts the Huang family as people who love each other and genuinely want the best for one another.  That’s not to say that they don’t ever argue, or they live without EVER making each other’s lives miserable every now and then.  They’re not perfect, despite what Jessica desperately wants her sister to believe (“Success Perm”).  But at the end of the day, they’re all on the same team, which leads me into the first theme I’ve noticed in this show: Family is everything.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  What about the guy who grew up in an abusive home and hasn’t spoken to his parents in decades?  Or the little girl with an alcoholic father?  Is family everything to those people?  And no, that’s not what I mean.  As we’ve talked about in class, shows like Murphy Brown and Jane the Virgin present the idea that family isn’t necessarily two parents and two children in a suburban house with a white picket fence.  Sometimes, family isn’t even who DNA says family is.  Family is all about love, kindness, patience, and support.  In some cases, family may be all that you have.  In a setting where an immigrant family moves to a new city, everything that was once familiar to them has changed.  Everything, that is, except for family.  I think Fresh Off the Boat argues that if you have your family around you (no matter what form that “family” may take), everything else will fall into place.

I see this theme clearly displayed in the episode “Home Sweet Home-School,” in which Jessica begins supplementing her sons’ education with some extra assignments at home.  Eddie is upset because this new homeschool program means he can’t spend his afternoons playing basketball with his neighbor friend, and even Louis thinks Jessica has taken it a little too far.  The episode ends with Jessica lightening up and Louis playing basketball with all three of his sons, and even though Eddie’s friend later joins them, Eddie realizes he’s happy with just his family.  His whole world has changed, but his family has his back, no matter how crazy they drive him.  The show uses this episode to prove that family love manifests itself in different ways, even if it’s as overbearing as Chinese Learning Center at home.  No matter how much his life changes, Eddie always has his family.

C’mon, admit it…deep down, y’all love each other.

On a Personal Note…

All GT freshmen at this point. Especially me.

Greetings!  My name is Charlotte Harris.  I grew up in Fayetteville, Georgia: a quiet little town nestled thirty miles south of Atlanta.  I hope to graduate with a business administration degree in May of 2022, although this is Georgia Tech, and both majors and graduation dates are quite subject to change!

Like most American eighteen-year-olds, I began learning about reading, writing, and grammar before I even started kindergarten, and ever since, that has comprised the bulk of my English education.  All of my language arts classes over the last thirteen years focused heavily on writing, and as a result, I subconsciously associate writing with English class.  I grew accustomed to the AP style of writing while in high school, and in my junior year, I was the best argumentative writer in the state of Georgia.  Of course, that’s only according to the judges at the GISA Class AAA state literary meet… but that’s beside the point.  After twelve years of writing, that was the experience that finally made me comfortable with putting words on paper.  That being said, writing is the element of a typical English class which comes most naturally to me.  And, since I believe writing is the best way to learn how to compose one’s thoughts and learn how to effectively convey them, speaking is the next easiest.  I will be the first to admit, however, that anything requiring creativity challenges me.  Although I am a visual learner, I am not visionary by any means.  So, this semester, I truly hope to improve my skills when it comes to creative presentation.

To be completely honest, “Television and Feminism” is a class theme that scares me a little bit.  I would not consider myself a feminist, and I don’t watch a lot of TV.  On the rare occasion that I do binge TV, I am typically bored out of my mind, procrastinating a major assignment, or racing a coworker to see who can finish a series faster.  That’s it!  I’m not opposed to TV by any means; I simply don’t have as much spare time as I would like, and when I do have it, I would rather spend it asleep or with my family than in front of a screen.  So, I am excited to broaden my horizons a bit in this class!

I have chosen Fresh Off the Boat as my show to independently watch and review in this class.  To me, it seems to be a completely different pace than any show I’ve watched before, and I’m excited about this new theme.  The show is about immigrants and their lives as Americans, and I can’t wait to delve into that this week.  So with that, here goes a new style of English class, differences and challenges and all. But honestly, if I get to watch TV, how could I possibly complain at all?

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