"We are culturally destitute in America, and this is our ground zero."
January 14, 2015 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Eddie Huang on the making of a tv show about his memoir growing up Chinese in the US. (slVulture)

Eddie Huang is the owner of BaoHaus and the show--airing on ABC--is based on his book, Fresh Off the Boat.
posted by Kitteh (15 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I’d known Asian-Americans like Melvin my entire life.

Eh, fuck this guy. He's expecting everyone - just because they have the same "skin color" - to have the same point of view that he does.

Besides, as a writer once you sell the rights to your work to become a script, that's it. You don't own it anymore. Most tv shows and films don't allow the original writer on the set, for good reason.
posted by Nevin at 9:34 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I’d known Asian-Americans like Melvin my entire life.

Eh, fuck this guy. He's expecting everyone - just because they have the same "skin color" - to have the same point of view that he does.

In the remainder of that paragraph, Huang says:
Those Booker T. Washington–Professor X–Uncle Chans, willing to cast down their buckets, take off Cerebro, and forget that successful people of color are in many ways "chosen" and "allowed" to exist while the others get left behind. They spout off about the American Dream or Only in America as if they’re about to rob the next great fighter from Brownsville. I empathize with Melvin, but Uncle Chans are basically born-again-Christian felons who will praise anything as long as they don’t get sent back to Rikers. I’d rather be Tunechi, "Left Rikers in a Phantom, that’s my nigga."
He's railing against the very thing that you accuse him of -- Melvin is saying "This is success, take it," and Huang says that he has his own version of success.

Besides, as a writer once you sell the rights to your work to become a script, that's it. You don't own it anymore.

He's not just complaining out of the blue -- he was hired as a narrator after the pilot was shot.
posted by Etrigan at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


I need this man's book.

I mean, ok, yeah, I technically come from an immigrant family, but this is America, and we all do, don't we? But like, my Chinese great-grandmother visited this country for the first time at the age of 4 and I bet she ate macaroni and cheese too and I honestly never thought about it before now. Hell, her father attended Auburn, back when it was Alabama Polytechnic Institute, he lived in frikkin Alabama in 1914, and, you know, I don't really know what that was like and I want to.

I'm just impotently and probably incorrectly angry that my culture is this bland sameness now and we don't tell these stories. Why not? Did we really have to lose so much along the way?
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:06 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

It seems to me that if you expect me (and Eddie Huang) not to attempt to take down the Melvins of the world with extreme prejudice, YOU are the one who is guilty of expecting shared skin color to translate into harmony.

I'm not familiar with Huang or his memoir and I feel like I'm missing a lot of context here, but this is interesting:

I was the viewer, and I finally understood it. This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian America. The network won’t take that gamble right now. You can’t flash an ad during THE GAME with some chubby Chinese kid running across the screen talking shit about spaceships and Uncle Chans in 2014 because America has no reference. The only way they could even mention some of the stories in the book was by building a Trojan horse and feeding the pathogenic stereotypes that still define us to a lot of American cyclope. Randall was neutered, Constance was exoticized, and Young Eddie was urbanized so that the viewers got their mise-en-place.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I really want to read the book now. Still interested in the show too... It was funny watching a trailer for it with my white in-laws. They all seemed aghast at the humor but I was nodding along in recognition.
posted by kmz at 10:12 AM on January 14, 2015

I love Eddie Huang. He's a funny dude, and clearly wildly talented in so many different ways it makes my head spin. It's hard to imagine what the show will be like, and hard to imagine it will be very good. But because it's--even if only in some small sense--from the mind of Eddie Huang, it's equally hard to imagine that it won't be interesting.
posted by still bill at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2015

"America ain’t three fifths bad. #Compromise"

god damn winning.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Was entirely unaware of Eddie Huang and only started seeing signs for the show yesterday but that is a damn fine essay.
posted by PMdixon at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2015

It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Those three minutes are the holy trinity Melvin, Randall, Constance, Hudson, Forrest, Ian, and I sacrificed everything for. Our parents worked in restaurants, laundromats, and one-hour photo shops thinking it was impossible to have a voice in this country, so they never said a word. We are culturally destitute in America, and this is our ground zero. Network television never offered the epic tale highlighting Asian America’s coming of age; they offered to put orange chicken on TV for 22 minutes a week instead of Salisbury steak … and I’ll eat it; I’ll even thank them, because if you’re high enough, orange chicken ain’t so bad.

I'm really looking forward to Fresh Off the Boat. Like Eddie Huang says, those three minutes are everything. If I can get just three minutes of something genuine to the "fresh off the boat" immigrant experience on mainstream American TV, it'll be enough. I mean, it's not enough enough, but it's something, which is better than nothing. And it's a necessary stepping stone to something that actually will be enough.

I understand Huang's reservations and anger though. I tend to draw a line between in-group and out-group when it comes to this kind of thing, because there's a fairly big difference between the kind of humor and conversation I'm going to have with fellow immigrants, and the kind I'll have with your average Anglo white person, and it seems to me like a network show like Fresh Off the Boat is going to have to make a lot of compromises on that score. Is it going to be in-group humor, or out-group friendly humor? Can it still be authentic if it's out-group friendly? How thin is that line between laughing-with and laughing-at? How many "butt-hurt white people" is not so many that the show tanks but not so few that the show remains authentic?
posted by yasaman at 11:15 AM on January 14, 2015

The Vulture link isn't working for me.

Edit: NM, after several reloads it works.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2015

Once I saw the first trailer for the show, I immediately went out and bought the book. I was enthralled with the idea that I would be getting a great new take on the immigrant experience and also learn something about cuisine and culture.

Wow, that book sucked.

One pound of interesting in a 10-pound bag of horseshit. Cuisine and culture. Hah! Chapters and chapters of very American narcissism. I'm well stocked in that department.

I hope the show does a ton of cherry-picking ideas and crafting its own story.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really wanted to like this. When I read the "three-fifths bad" line, I giggled. When I read the mac and cheese bit, I remembered the first time I ate rice pudding. It came from the buffet of some hotel I stayed at with my programming team during college. I took a bite and announced, as if hoping somebody would contradict me, "I think somebody put cinnamon and sugar into the rice."

But I've tried to tell that story a few times, and now I only tell it to other Chinese people. I've largely given up on making my American friends see rice pudding as something foreign. I think they can, sometimes, with a bit of thought, understand that it would be foreign to me. I don't think I've ever succeeded in making them feel the surprise I felt.

So, no, it seems perfectly reasonable that this scene got pulled from the show. I have no idea how I would film it. Especially in a medium like film, where the audience gets to see the mac and cheese with their own eyes. In a novel, if he could interpose his own recollection between the audience and the scene, describe it in some way that doesn't make everyone think, "Oh, mac'n'cheese!" then maybe. But a television show? I don't know what he expected would happen.

I'm probably missing a lot of his intent. For one thing, he appears to have integrated a lot better than I, and most of his pop culture references go right over my head. Even after reading his Wikipedia article, I still have no idea what it means to get one's Kevin Arnold on.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:09 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Why do I feel like it's the year 2000 again; Napster and MP3's are prolific, and I'm reading Courtney Love's rant about the evils of the RIAA when they were becoming seemingly irrelevant?

Well, it's been 15 years since; the record store was merely replaced by iTunes (or lately, Spotify) and the record industry still around, its death not coming to pass as foretold. Hell, for a measly five grand, ARK Music factory will make you a pop-music star, if even only for a brief Friday before you go down in internet notoriety.

Advances in technology are forcing TV to finally catch on to this new fangled internet thing, with Netflix showing no signs of slowing down, and DISH making a surprise announcement last week at CES that they were going to offer ESPN and other premium channels for $20/month, over the web; no cable subscription needed.

Just a reminder, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is now 7 years old!

That "Hollywood" takes the title of your story, repackaging your title with a completely different story is old hat; thats been their M.O. for as long as they've been turning books into TV and movies. That this book's author was recently subjected to that experience when networks are becoming increasingly irrelevant takes me back to the setting of Courtney Love's rant. That this article's content is liable to generate press which will drive viewers to the show is just me being a cynic.

If Eddie Huang were really trying to "blast off", he'd note that Panda Express is as enticing to today's consumer as McDonald's - and they've noticed. McDonald's is out, sleek new McCafe's, with wifi, and flat screen TVs is in.

Who cares about butt-hurt white people? The internet's long-tail effect is real, and Eddie Huang should know, he's been in food-related shows for both MTV and Vice.com.

The article dwells a bit too long on just how much he hates Uncle Melvin's before unraveling it at the end where he writes that "orange chicken ain't so bad"; to me, an admission of his acceptance of the seemingly necessary Panda Expressification of his story.

On ABC, Black-ish has been showing since the end of September, The Goldbergs has been airing since 2013; Modern Family since 2009 - all three of those shows feature some deviation from the straight white middle America shoe salesman Al Bundy plot-line.

Maybe Panda Expressification wasn't needed, maybe he could have settled for PF Changs instead.

The Wonder Years was narrated with a voice over by the Kevin Arnold character which Huang was excited to ape.
posted by fragmede at 7:26 PM on January 14, 2015

fragmede, this is not your fault at all, but I have never been so aware of how incompetent I am in this culture than while reading your comment. Of all the proper nouns, I recognized only Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog and McDonald's. Oh, and I knew that MP3 was an audio format, but Google tells me you're probably referring to its role in a recent moral panic over music copyright. And I was born in the US and educated in its public schools. I don't even know what to say at this point.

And the terrible thing is, I'm pretty sure I would be equally baffled by the equivalent comment rewritten using references to mainland pop culture. If the tragedy of the first-generation is that they must live in a culture decidedly unlike their own, the tragedy of the second generation must be that we have no culture.

The NYTimes ran an article recently on intermarriage between Jews and Asians, and this part of it sticks in my mind:
Predictably, the Zuckerberg-Chan wedding did set off some Jewish hand-wringing about how the tribe had “lost” him. The research by Ms. Kim and Mr. Leavitt, though, showed that, if anything, it is Asian heritage that loses in such marriages. Jewish ethnic identity and Judaic religious practice characterized most of the 31 intermarried couples they studied in depth, even though only five Asian-American spouses converted. The Jewish attachment seemed to deepen for those couples who had children.

“If you want to instill Jewish identity, you have resources available that may not be equivalent on the Asian-American side,” Ms. Kim said. “You have synagogues, day schools, J.C.C.’s, a text you can go to. And for a number of Asian folks in the second generation — and I can relate to this — they don’t know how to instill ethnic identity because they aren’t confident in their own sense of it.”
posted by d. z. wang at 8:40 PM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I actually just read his book in the last couple days because I thought he had such a compelling perspective in this article.

The book was not my favorite ever but it had its moments. My husband is almost exactly Huang's age, and also the American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants, so it was a good read just for the occasional moment that felt ripped from my husband's childhood. Huang is definitely craaazy narcissistic but I guess you have to be to write a "memoir" at 32. Ultimately he's a self-promoter first and he knows how to play the media like a well-tuned violin. Good on him.

I wonder if they considered tapping Alan Yang to write. He's the only Chinese-American guy I can think of offhand who's done any high-profile work on network sitcoms.
posted by town of cats at 11:55 PM on January 16, 2015

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