English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Matthew Pleskow

The Power of Music in Relationships

Throughout Fresh Off the Boat, music serves as an important component in building relationships. The show tries to communicate that music preference plays a central role in friendship formation. One of Eddie’s primary distinctions is his interest in rap. Not only does it provide a conversation starter, but provides a sort of emotional connection through shared interests. Without actually saying anything, it demonstrates that the emotions strongly felt are shared between two individuals. This is extremely important in the context of building a relationship. Eddie utilizes music as a means to build friendships. One of the most significant occasions of this is in episode 11 of season 3, wherein Eddie struggles to connect with his cousin until they realize that they both share a passion for free styling. Not only does this provide a shared activity for them, but it also seems that Eddie has a newfound appreciation for him. After free styling, Eddie’s tone completely changes around him. This demonstrates the power that music has to be used to create a connection.

In episode 13 of season 2, Eddie makes a mix tape for a girl he likes. They initially started talking because of their shared taste in rap, so Eddie thought that creating a mix tape would help strengthen their relationship. Eddie fears talking to her on the phone, so he decides making a mix tape would, “do the talking for [him].” Eddie feels as if music can communicate his emotions. Music serves as insight into Eddie’s thoughts. It is a huge portion of his identity. In fact, in the episode, this girl becomes mad at him and she says, “Nothing you say is gonna…” and Eddie cuts her off with his mix tape. The music calms her down and she begins to understand him and eventually they make up.

Eddie making a mix tape

Overall, the show demonstrates how powerful music is as a means of connection. It easily communicates one’s emotions to another, regardless of any held beliefs.

How Cinematography in Fresh Off the Boat leads to an Upbeat Environment

The Cinematography in Fresh Off the Boat, similar to the rest of the sitcom genre, lends itself to a very upbeat and cheerful environment. The combination of bright, warm, colors and quick cuts creates a pleasant, lighthearted, atmosphere.

Color in cinematography serves as a valuable tool in portraying how the audience feels. Lighting and color are a huge aspect in the emotion of a scene, and through the use of bright colors, the show invites the audience to feel comforted and happy. For example, the Huang’s house is painted a bright yellow or white in most places and the blinds are always open. In Season 2 Episode 10, the Huangs celebrate Christmas, and to communicate this idea of warmth and family, there is not a single dark scene. The few scenes shot at night have bright lights illuminating it. This episode is especially bright in comparison to the rest of the season because it wants to communicate the happy feeling of family and togetherness .

Christmas at the Huangs

Cutting quickly between the actors talking also creates a faux excitement and energy that keeps the audience engaged. Whenever a character talks, the camera hard cuts to them with no transition. The camera keeps the characters face in full shot while they are talking, seemingly used to create a sort of intimacy between the audience and the characters. The show is also shot in single-camera, following the characters as they move around. This parallels the fast paced plot of the show, as the audience quickly follows each characters and their sub plots. Specifically in the episode about Christmas, the cuts are abundantly clear when the kids are arguing about presents to get their parents and the camera quickly shifts between each of the kids as they each but in to the conversation.

Eddie in close view

Overall, the cinematography in the show perfectly sets the scene for how the directors want the audience to feel through the use of bright colors and lighting and quick cuts.

Perfect Timing in Fresh Off the Boat’s Writing

In the conclusion of season 1, the Huang family struggle with their cultural heritage. They feel that they have become so assimilated into American culture that they have forgotten their roots. In the end, however, they realize that, in fact, they have not lost their heritage, but instead choose to put on an American persona when necessary. In this blog I will discuss the writing of this episode.

The episode, just like the rest of the show, was written by Nahnatchka Khan. She has written episodes for American Dad and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. Her parents immigrated to the US from Iran, so she can relate to the crisis that the Huang family face in the episode.

One of the most significant scenes in the episode is the revelation that Jessica has that the family is losing their culture. This scene occurs towards the beginning of the episode so as to clearly illustrate that this is the central topic. Jessica’s worry starts when their neighbor, Honey, tells her that “[the Huang family] are just like regular old Americans to [her].” During the scene, Jessica recounts all the American things they have started to do that completely contradict Chinese traditions. It seems as if one more contradiction keeps appearing. It starts with Louis allowing shoes to be worn in the house, then Evan comes in asking how to ask Grandma to speak English in Mandarin. As if on cue, Eddie walks in wearing a Rastafarian outfit for his world cultures project. Then, the scene culminates as Jessica realizes that she made mac and cheese for dinner. Obviously, Khan made each thing happen on perfect timing to add a comedic tone and dramatic effect. On top of the perfect timing of each element, the scene ends with a slow-mo huge crash as Jessica drops the pan of mac and cheese that fades out into silence. Khan does a great job in this scene of introducing the audience to how significant Jessica’s culture is to her by using such dramatic sound and perfectly timed dialogue.

The ending of the scene where Jessica drops the mac and cheese

In other parts of the episode the writing style is relatively similar to the rest of the season. There are a lot of events that happen quickly and right after each other with quick cuts between scenes with a small sound snippet used as a transition so as to keep the audience engaged and maintain an overall positive mood. This style is common among all shows in the sitcom genre and is comfortable and normal for an American audience. Khan decides to use this style because she strives to demonstrate the commonalities between an Asian-American family and a typical American family. Had she decided to choose a more unique and different style, it may counteract this goal.

Cultural Appropriation of the Chinese New Year in Fresh Off the Boat

The topic of culture is extremely prominent in Fresh Off the Boat. In all episodes, some commentary on the culture of Asian-Americans is present. In season 2 episode 11, culture is extensively discussed through the theme that cultural appreciation leads to meaningful relationships whereas cultural appropriation creates increased detachment among individuals and separation of cultures. In this episode, the Huang family unfortunately miss their flight to where the rest of their family will be celebrating the Chinese New Year, and struggle to find somewhere at home for them to authentically celebrate the New Year.

The show does a great job of normalizing the holiday for the family. Although it seems to appreciate the significance of the event, the show remains down the earth in the conveying of the holiday, so that it seems like any other holiday. Despite this normalcy, the Huang family finds it extremely difficult to find any celebration int he area. Eventually, they get in contact with the “Asian American Association of Orlando” and the association excitedly responds that they are having a huge party. Yet, once the Huangs arrive, they find no other Chinese people. They find themselves faced with an American inspired festival full of events such as “dropping the rat” (referring to the American tradition of dropping the ball) and a “dragon dance” (a guy in a dragon suit dancing with a group of cheerleaders).

The “Dragon Dance”

The Huangs arriving at the festival

The show is clearly commenting on how cultural appropriation leads to stressed relationships and discomfort between the two parties. Obviously, the Huangs are extremely offended with the so called Chinese New Year celebration they arrived at. In fact, when Louis (Eddie’s father) exclaims, “Happy New Year,” Eddie responds, “What’s so happy about it?”

Later in the episode, however, the workers at Louis’s restaurant host an authentic Chinese New Year festival. The Huangs arrive shocked, ecstatic to see a traditional Lion Dance. During the festivities, the workers and the family grow closer and become more understanding and empathetic of each other, all while having a great time. The workers had a plethora of questions to ask, and the Huangs responded delightedly –  well up until the questioning went on for hours and they went back to celebrating.

Overall, it is blatantly apparent that the producers of the show strive to show how cultural appreciation brings people together to form positive relationships. The episode does a great job of communicating the importance of the message, while at the same time making it seem natural. Of course, this episode naturally fits into the rest of the show wherein Eddie and the Huang family strive to fit in with Americans while remaining strong in their culture and beliefs.

Grandma Huang commenting on the meaning of the Americans’ tattoos

“The Talk” in Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat tackles sexual harassment and rape in episode 5 of season 1, albeit in a very surface level manner, so as to include comedy. The main focus of the episode is Eddie (the protagonist) trying to fit in with the other kids at middle school and, to do this, Eddie claims he has a dirty movie to coerce the kids to have a sleep over at his house. In fact, he has no idea what a dirty movie even is, and when the other kids come over to his house, Eddie shows a sexual harassment video that was meant to be shown at his dad’s workplace. The kids sat dumbfounded in front of the TV as they watched what they thought was a dirty movie. This video then spreads around the school, creating an epidemic of kids imitating the video, revealing that none of them know anything about what sex really is. For example, the boys would approach girls, and say something like, “If you select me as your boyfriend, I’ll select you for the promotion,” or “Hey girl, how bout we have one for the road?” Obviously, the kids had no idea what any of this meant.

This leads in all the parents giving “the talk” to their kids. Louis (Eddie’s dad) insisted on giving Eddie his version of the talk, which was very detailed to say the least. After he finished, he went out to talk to Jessica (Eddie’s mom), and she asked, “Did you tell him not to date rape?” When he responded no, she ran into Eddie’s room and assaulted him with a big stuffed animal screaming, “YOU LIKE THAT?!!”

Jessica assaulting Eddie with a stuffed animal

This scene is very comical, but it amazed me that a family show would discuss something like this. Generally, I would not expect a family sitcom to go into the topics of consent and rape. In most family sitcoms, it can be expected that “the talk” may happen, but they would rarely, if ever, even mention something like rape or consent. I feel as if introducing this into more shows, society – and the kids watching the show – would develop their ideas of sex to include consent, rather than what is normally shown on TV.

Of course, the show as a whole still over represents the male gender and includes many gender stereotypes. Particularly in this episode, Jessica, while giving a lecture on sexual harassment to a group of workers, ironically flirts with one of them, reinforcing the idea that women have an urge to be flirty. She also says that all women must cross their legs while sitting. Despite this, I still think that the show, and this episode in particular, is a step in the right direction for pop culture. Although Jessica’s talk wasn’t perfect, it is something that should be commonplace in all households.

Jessica wearing a no means no shirt

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