Hey, Bruce Lee
February 26, 2015 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I've only seen the pilot episode so far of FOB, but I agree with the sentiment that "the show was all over the place trying to please everyone, that too much was lost." I was disappointed. Maybe it gets better in later episodes, but there was so much focus on Asian-American experiences of "racism" (stereotypes, hard-to-pronounce names, "gross" school lunches, expectations of academic achievement) that while the portrayal was in some sense validating, it also ended up falling flat and feeling forced. Can't we have a TV show that simply portrays Asians without having it be about Asians being Asian?

Many of my friends told me that I absolutely had to watch Fresh Off the Boat-- the Asian-American community was abuzz -- and I think that is similarly reflected here: "[When] All-American Girl came out, starring my Korean sister-from-another-mister Margaret Cho, in 1994, I was so excited to see a Korean person on a major American television network that I didn’t care whether or not the show was actually good. To me, at the tender age of 19, I felt validated as a young Korean-American."

Thanks for posting.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:25 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been almost avoiding watching the show fearing disappointment, but also feel I really should give it a chance. A fellow Korean-American on FB said there are definitely moments she can happily relate to. I'm not sure how much I'll find in similar vein, since my family and I didn't have the usually-depicted Asian immigrant trajectory.

I've experienced very few racial slights in the 20+ years here in the US but had one odd one this week. Last month, Tom, a white guy I play pickup volleyball with, asked me, "Are you from China?" I told him no. This week he walked into the gym and said "Ni hao, shortfuse". I was confused enough to think I must have misheard him, but no. Still not sure if he's forgetful, idiotic, or just an asshole. (Other fellow players have reassured me it's the last.)
posted by shortfuse at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Never judge a show by it's pilot. They usually don't have the characters or story down right. It usually takes a handful of episodes for the actors and writers to find the right rhythm. Cheers, Community, etc. had fairly weak early episodes.

I can't speak to how true it is to the asian-american aspect of the show, but I enjoy it even thought it's a fairly standard formula sitcom. The parents are probably the best of the show, though the kids are a close second. Even though the "young kid tries working to buy expensive item" trope is well worm, seeing a young "Eddie" as the "fajita bandit" was pretty damn cute and funny at the same time.
posted by inthe80s at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2015

Constance Wu is a goddamn revelation on the show.

(The rest is a mixed bag. Sometimes Eddie just makes me cringe. And I wish there'd be more interactions with Walter.)
posted by kmz at 9:33 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Impressed with how she handled Bruce Leegate with the teacher. Where many would have been tempted to go full nuclear, call the press, demand resignations, etc., she was instead deft, compassionate and effective.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

So...everybody in her social circle, which presumably includes some number of her fellow parents of Noah's schoolfellows, will know who this teacher is, who has now been publicly accused of racist hostility to the children in her care. And this on the strength of a not-quite-three year old's off-the-cuff comment.

Oh, but she looked into the teacher's eyes and she just "knew" that she was guilty. She really ought to hire herself out to the courts; it would save everyone a lot of trouble.
posted by yoink at 9:37 AM on February 26, 2015

And this on the strength of a not-quite-three year old's off-the-cuff comment.

Let's not forget that unlike the rest of us, the not-quite-three-year-old in question was actually there.
posted by KathrynT at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

Let's not forget that unlike the rest of us, the not-quite-three-year-old in question was actually there.

Eye-witness accounts from adults have been demonstrated to be pretty much worthless. Healthy, intelligent and honest not-quite-three-year-olds will happily tell you about the spaceship that landed in the playground at recess and the mermaid they saw on the way home from school. There really is no way, at all, of knowing who called that kid "Bruce Lee"--publicly accusing an easily-identifiable adult on the basis of this 2-year-old's off-the-cuff comment is pretty dubious behavior.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2015

There really is no way, at all, of knowing who called that kid "Bruce Lee"--publicly accusing an easily-identifiable adult on the basis of this 2-year-old's off-the-cuff comment is pretty dubious behavior.

...except for the fact that the teacher changed her story several times on where Noah might have heard it from.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, it's not clear from this entry alone, but this story is taking place in (I believe) Belgium.
posted by brookedel at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2015

Arguing about whether the kid was making stuff up kinda misses the point doesn't it? The point I thought the piece was making about dealing with this was that she didn't angrily confront the teacher or openly accuse anyone but instead diplomatically asserted that such language was not acceptable and talked about it not happening again, and also provided the kid with tools and a script for what to do if it happened again. She allowed the teacher to save face but didn't back down from confronting problematic language.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

The point I thought the piece was making about dealing with this was that she didn't angrily confront the teacher or accusing anyone...

I think the point being made is that she did go farther. She published this in a public place.
posted by vacapinta at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

...except for the fact that the teacher changed her story several times on where Noah might have heard it from.

Um, perhaps that could be because the teacher doesn't know? I mean, how is guessing at where the kid might have heard it a suspicious thing?

The point I thought the piece was making about dealing with this was that she didn't angrily confront the teacher or openly accuse anyone

Yes, while she was patting herself on the back about that on her blog she might have taken a moment to consider what she was doing.
posted by yoink at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2015

I was also kind of underwhelmed by the Fresh off the Boat pilot (which I think has something to do with my aversion to lunchroom scenes in general--so overdone), but starting right at episode 2 it got a LOT better. Some favorite bits: Jessica's obsession with Stephen King movies, Success Perms, Eddie's grunge-loving cousin, the montage of Eddie's dad giving him "The Talk." Basically, after they establish in the pilot that this is an Asian Family, they give the characters their funny little quirks and let them be free to fall into stereotypes or not.

yoink, how do you think she should have handled the situation? Let's keep in mind here that the teacher is accused of calling a small Asian child "Bruce Lee." I'd be pissed if it were my kid and we would definitely be having a talk, but is this truly career-ruining stuff to the point that we must prove it in a court of law before writing about it on a blog?
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:42 AM on February 26, 2015

I've not seen FOB but I'll tell you the truth it's not this lone incident that broke the camel's back. For example, I've had teachers look confused when they did roll call in gym (I know) as my full name doesn't sound "chinese" enough then ignore me when I corrected her mistake. It's endless problem of people who continue to criticize everything I did because I look like a foreigner and therefore must be despite being ABC and lived here longer than 90% of the other students in HS.

Some days it's tiring and I just file it away when I have more patience to deal with it.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends growing up was Korean-American. The friendship began in Kindergarten and still remains to this day, and I still long for his mom's home cooked meals. One thing that has been burned into my mind as one of those examples of a small thing, a minor thing that obviously can be part of a mound of small things, happened during an all-star tournament in Little League. We had traveled to a neighboring county to play their all-star team and as they announced the team rosters over the PA system, they got to his last name and said, "Young." Except, his name was Yang. I know it irritated him and as a best friend, it definitely irritated me, and I can only imagine how many times he had to deal with small things like that.
posted by Atreides at 11:14 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

he’s fluent in both Dutch and English and picking up new Korean words every day

And he's not even 3? Jesus, that's a smart kid. My daughter is 2 years and 3 months and still working on simply putting sentences of more than 3 or 4 words together in one language. And she's ahead of most of her friends, at that.
posted by Hoopo at 11:26 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Constance Wu is a goddamn revelation on the show.

Constance Wu was one of the two main co-stars of a play I stage-managed in 2006, and she is now the fourth such case of "I worked with them before they got big and I can swear to the fact that they're awesome" I can lay claim to. (Although now that I've read some bios for this show, it sounds like when she did our show she was only SIXTEEN, which is blowing my mind.)

Back then her wit was kind of manifesting in a sort of rebellious streak - she is adorable in person, and we'd basically cast her as the ingenue, and she'd probably been playing such types for years and was getting sick of it, so she was cultivating a smart-ass streak. Another guy in the cast was better at Mandarin than she was, so every so often they'd hole up and she'd do some language practice with him (and that is not a euphemism - he really was teaching her). One day, she came in to rehearsal after having learned some absolutely FILTHY expressions and vocabulary, and sprung them on him during a free moment. We all chalked it up to yet another language lesson - they were maybe a bit more giggly than usual - but didn't think anything of it until suddenly the other guy gasped in English: "what the HELL did you just say about my penis???"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:36 AM on February 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

[yoink, cool it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:43 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a Vietnamese friend growing up that we called Charlie. We didn't do it because of racial prejudice or any lingering sentiments from the Vietnam war. We did it because he didn't like being called Chuck.
posted by ShakeyJake at 1:52 PM on February 26, 2015

We did it because he didn't like being called Chuck.

Well obviously if you have a say in the matter of whether kids call you Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee, you pick Bruce Lee.
posted by pwnguin at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2015

this story is taking place in (I believe) Belgium.

Watch your language.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just re-read the review I linked to - I remember Constance grumbling a bit at having been described as "pint-sized" back then.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:26 PM on February 26, 2015

Since then, Davy and I have shared this experience with several friends and family members. Most decent human beings were rightly outraged and supportive of our reaction and handling of the incident. Those less decent have made excuses as to why any white figure of authority would call a small child of Asian descent, Bruce Lee. Some people choose to ignore ignorance, which is a whole different kind of ignorance unto its own. Some choose to deny it, and excuse it, and even consider me “too sensitive.” Because I’m a minority? Because I’m Asian?

Holy shit this, so hard. There ought to be some variation of Godwin's for this. The longer I share with some locals here some form of casual xenophobia either I or one of my immigrant friends have experienced, the closer the chances that one of these locals will lecture me on how it wasn't really xenophobia approaches 1.

A mid-level actor literally tapes his eyes back to resemble an Asian person? Well hey, it's not like he woke up and set out to offend anyone - he just wanted to make people laugh. Stores are selling "Indian Lady" costumes for our version of Halloween? Sheesh, what's the big deal, Indians are from "the past" and besides it's not like anyone gets upset about Viking costumes. Your clients at work will ask you, 9 times out of 10, what country you're from before they even ask your goddamned name? So fucking what, they're curious, why are you looking for reasons to be offended?

These are all things locals have said to me. Like they take these Little Xenophobias utterly out of context, and shrug like, what's the big deal? Like we don't go through some kind of insult like this nearly every day, like we aren't constantly reminded we're not One Of Them. The concept of "death by a thousand cuts" is lost on them because they're not the ones getting cut like this. And I get so tired of being lectured about how to respond to xenophobia that I get pretty snappy when it happens, which invariably only confirms their pre-emptive belief that I am a thin-skinned Professional Minority looking for reasons to get angry.

Because yeah, shit, I sure love being pissed off and upset. Love it.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

Sitcoms, however, don't really work when they're "gritty" and "true-to-life",

ctrl f Roseanne
sad face

I have been recently working through the whole Roseanne series and at least once an episode I say out loud "how did this get made." It's loud, uncomfortable and visceral. Large swaths of the episodes are down right unpleasant with their almost unyielding clarity how broken the characters are and how hard they are trying to get better.

Maybe sitcoms don't normally work when they are gritty or whatever the hell it was that Roseanne was, but give me a show like Roseanne over anything current any day.


A coworker of mine was recently told to get back on the boat. She didn't even know what it meant, she had never heard the insult before. It seems a poor choice of title for a show and fits nicely into the "It's okay we're laughing with them not at them" flag that mean people like to hide behind.

I guess I can get why it's popular in Asian circles, it's about them, even if it's stereotypical, at least it's something. Hopefully it will spark more and better shows.
posted by M Edward at 4:06 PM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Of course I can't find the damn article now, but: It was originally supposed to be called Far East Orlando, and I believe it was Jeff Yang (Asian American journalist and dad of Hudson Yang who plays Eddie in the show) who made the very good point that while "Far East Orlando" still paints the family as outsiders, "Fresh Off the Boat" emphasizes that wherever they've come from, they're here now.

I don't think the show is stereotypical at all. Obviously there are some things about the Huangs that are common to lots of Asian families, but they're fleshed out enough that those things don't define them, which is when stereotypes become offensive.
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:28 PM on February 26, 2015

I know a Vietnamese fellow who was known as Jimmy from kindergarten through college until one day, he informed us that he would rather be called Khan. Why? Because that was his name. Wasn't Jimmy his name? Nope. Not at all. Then why was he going by Jimmy? Because his kindergarten teacher didn't like the name Khan (too hard to pronounce or some other transparent bullshit) and just declared that his name would be Jimmy. And, so his schoolmates and other teachers would refer to him as Jimmy, so it stuck. I occasionally almost slip and refer to him as Jimmy (a name he hates now) since that was how he was introduced to me as but I usually catch myself.
posted by mhum at 4:37 PM on February 26, 2015

I teach SAT prep and AP Lit in Seoul. It's common--but not universal--for students to use "English names," especially when their real names are hard for non-Koreans (esp. Anglophones) to pronounce (there are a few Korean vowels and diphthongs that aren't present in any English words). I've always allowed students to be addressed however they prefer, and I can pronounce Korean names without difficulty, but sometimes it gets out of hand.

For instance, I had a student a few years ago who began changing her English name with regularity. Like weekly. Then she announced she'd go by a different name every day of the week. I looked her in the eye and said "sorry, I'm not doing that. I'm going to call you [her real, Korean name] from here on out."

I also had a kid tell me that he wanted his English name to be "Sherlock Holmes." I nixed that one, too.

These were both high school juniors, by the way. Eleventh graders.

That said, anyone who forces a name on someone, especially if they do so by leaning on some kind of idiotic ethnic stereotype, is an ignoramus.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:36 PM on February 26, 2015

Oh, and I'm still in touch with the weekly name-changer. She finished her law degree at Oxford last year and is doing post-grad work at Cambridge.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:37 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

People on the internet keep raving about how moments of that show ring true. For example, apparently in episode two the mother eats an apple and this is the best thing ever.

Does anyone have a video of the apple scene? I'm really curious now why ten different people have written, blogged, or tweeted about how she eats an apple.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:49 PM on February 26, 2015

I do the name changing thing ! But only at restaurants where they insist on calling your name instead of a number. You know why? Because I hate it when people butcher my name!
posted by pravit at 8:51 PM on February 26, 2015

So my brother and I are Korean, and we have stereotypically Korean first names composed of two syllables. My name is M[something] J[something], and my brother's is J[something] W[something]. We absolutely hate having to give our names when picking up orders at, e.g., Starbucks. Spelling out the names isn't much better, either.

This one time, my brother ordered a coffee under "JW." Only two letters -- what could possibly go wrong? A few minutes later, the barista called out, "... Jew? I have a grande mocha for Jew?"

He got the strangest looks when he picked it up.
posted by tickingclock at 9:28 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also have a friend named Xing. When she has to spell her name out on the phone, she says, "Xing, like crossing." Apparently it works.
posted by tickingclock at 9:29 PM on February 26, 2015

On a somewhat lighter note:

My wife teaches elementary school in Manhattan's Chinatown. Naturally, the sweeping majority of her students are either Chinese immigrants or the children of Chinese immigrants. However, not all of them are, especially since many special needs children from around the city are sent to her school.

Her colleague taught 2nd grade. Somebody had brought up the topic of speaking languages other than English at home. Most of the class said that Chinese was spoken at home. One or two mentioned that some Spanish was spoken at home.

Unprompted, a non-Chinese student, with non-Chinese parents, mentioned that he also spoke Chinese. Her colleague was slightly surprised, but hey, it could happen. Why not? Lots of people speak lots of languages, he does go to school in Chinatown, who knows what the story is.

So, without judging or doubting him, she said, "oh, I didn't know you also spoke Chinese".

He nodded, and then, without joking, in all seriousness, he "proved" that he could speak Chinese by singing tunelessly the phrase "CHIIII-IIIII-IIII-NEEEEEEEESE".

That...is not how you speak Chinese.

With great effort, she was able to prevent herself from braying with laughter.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:06 AM on February 27, 2015

(Looking over my comment again, it is important for me to point out that this was not a cognitively disabled student. Just a 2nd grader being a 2nd grader.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:20 AM on February 27, 2015

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