English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: ABC

The Boat Stops Here – Handling Racism in “Fresh off the Boat”

“Fresh off the Boat” is one of the only running shows on TV to feature an Asian family as its lead cast of characters. However, the plights of the children shown (first generation immigrants) are not entirely unique to those of Asian descent. I quickly realized how many plot points were shared between episodes of “Fresh off the Boat” and “One Day at a Time,” a show about the life of a working-class Cuban family. There were two storylines that I particularly noticed: when Eddie and Alex both wanted to buy new shoes for school but were denied the chance by their mother, and more importantly when both Eddie and Alex beat up kids who called them racial slurs. The fact that two shows decided to address this problem shows that it is a serious issue that needs addressing, especially at a time where hate crimes are on the rise. So for my free entry blog, I wanted to take a look at how “Fresh off the Boat” handles the issue of responding to racism addresses.

In the aforementioned episode (in fact, the very first episode of the show), Eddie punches a classmate who called him a slur. To Eddie’s surprise, we see his family defend him against his punishment from the school. In contrast, Alex is chastised by his mother for fighting his classmate, emphasizing the idea of “by fighting back, they win.” So, which show was right? Defend yourself, or come back with words? Unfortunately, this debate isn’t entirely wrapped up in “Fresh off the Boat.” Writers generally stayed away from the addressing of direct racism in future episodes, except for some minor cases where characters would assume something about the Huangs based on stereotypes.

Eddie’s parents defending him against his principle.

However, another commonality between these two episodes was a direct response to the overall racism: both kids wanted to suppress their culture as a result. Alex wanted his family to stop singing their support for him in Spanish; Eddie wanted to only eat American food at lunch. Luckily, both episodes end on triumphant notes, with both characters choosing not to hide their roots, but to embrace them. This is important: the shows do not force the viewer to hear that you should respond to racism with love. However, they make two important points on handling racism: first, the self-suppression of culture is never an appropriate response to racist comments. Second, it is always important to stand up against the racist (even though throwing punches is not necessarily the best means of doing so). I found this very first episode of Fresh off the Boat to be very moving, which is why I decided to return to it for my last blog entry. The shows both tackle racism in different ways, but they do have one thing in common: they show that no matter what, racism cannot be allowed to win.

Not Just a Housewife – Fresh off the Boat

Even though “Fresh off the Boat” is written about Eddie Huang’s life, I believe that his mother is actually the main character. Most of the show’s plots are centered around some conflict related to her, or about some fear of her. So for this gender analysis blog, let’s take a look at the real main character of “Fresh off the Boat” – Jessica Huang.

There isn’t too much of a gender spread on “Fresh off the Boat” – a majority of the main characters are male, except for Jessica and Louis’s mother, Grandma Huang. Jessica is a house-wife turned real estate agent, but don’t let that fool you. She is far from a typical TV housewife – she is the matriarch of the Huang family. The entire family (except for Grandma Huang) lives in fear of her, closely following the boundaries and rules that she has set. Jessica is also a very powerful and capable character, frequently shown as naturally good at many skills and a hard negotiator. In spite of her toughness, the show also demonstrates that she is capable of putting her tough love aside to show warmth to her family. Her decisions and actions are the primary fuel for the show’s plots. So “Fresh off the Boat” did a great job in representing Jessica as a powerful female, but what about everyone else?

In terms of gender, there is little active representation beyond Jessica. The show only portrays males and females, and outside of Jessica, a majority of females depicted are the rather ditsy women that share the neighborhood. However, “Fresh off the Boat” shines in terms of merging race and gender. It’s the first ABC show to depict an Asian family as its lead, and while it is a Western stereotype that Asian women are quiet and submissive, Fresh off the Boat went out of its way to ensure that it would not contribute to this image in any form. Its lead female is respected by everyone, both in and out of her family, and the only person she somewhat fears is her mother-in-law. Thus, even though “Fresh off the Boat doesn’t extend its arms into many other representational axes, it did a fantastic job in what it did choose to represent. It broke stereotypes and created one of the most iconic families to currently exist on ABC, and showed that being a housewife is anything but a sign of weakness or incapability.

It was very early in the show, but this scene is a perfect demonstration of how Jessica gets stuff done.

Nothing to See Here – Cinematography in Fresh off the Boat

After watching many episodes of “Fresh off the Boat,” it’s still hard to decide if there any elements of its cinematography that distinguish it from its counterparts. For the most part, the show follows similar shoot patterns as other ABC comedy shows (except for “Modern Family,” which mostly uses shaky shots to simulate a reality show). Conversations are shot with quick cuts between the talking characters, and with most of the show being conversations, we rarely see any continuous shots. For a show that is so unique, it’s a shame that its editing is essentially a carbon copy of its channel-mates.

The use of color, however, is a bit more interesting. Most of the show is filmed in well-diffused daylight. The walls are always a pastel color, and this combination of color and light create a constant “warm” feel to the scenes. This mundane warmth could be representative of their new, cookie-cutter life in the American suburbs. It could also represent their new comfortable lifestyle thanks to the restaurant’s success. Another interesting color scheme difference in the show is not quite related to cinematography but is still interesting enough to be noted: clothing. Throughout the show, the white women in the neighborhood are always shown wearing brightly colored clothing with very unique patterns, a trademark of the early 1990s. In contrast, we see that Jessica almost always wears plain, light-colored clothes. This is likely a note of the cultural difference between the two parties; a direct symbol of the Huang family’s conservative values. It also shows that in spite of how well the Huangs have immersed themselves in their surroundings, they still remain different and not entirely a part of the community yet. This is especially apparent in S2E2 (my current episode), during which the neighborhood women (Honey included) make several more appearances alongside the Huangs than a typical episode.

Note how Jessica stands out from her neighbors. A clear example of color scheme differences used in the show.

I am far from a cinematography expert, so it’s safe to say that I am missing something, but as far I can see, “Fresh off the Boat” does not attempt to be unique in terms of cinematography. I believe the show-makers are aware that a majority of their audiences take cinematography for granted (myself included), so they focus more on the uniqueness of the plot. While it’s a little disappointing that the show does not innovate in this aspect, it doesn’t take away from it as a whole. “Fresh off the Boat” makes it place with unique writing and casting, not with camerawork.

What is the proportion of women to men employed for the recording and production of 5 long time running shows on ABC?

How did we arrive to the research question?

When we started trying to figure out what should our research question be, we were very confused because there were a thousand different factors we could research about, however, once we completed our annotated bibliography, we analyzed the data and conclusions of several peer reviewed articles, and realized that there is not only a large pay gap between male and female workers in the television broadcasting industry, but there is also a large employment gap between men and women. Due to the difficulty in finding accurate statistics of employees of an entire broadcasting channel, such as ABC, we will be sampling from the 5 longest running and currently airing television shows across their many season spans. To do this we will study the credits for episodes randomly selected from each season and determine the ratio of male to female workers in the industry.


Why does the research question matter? 

With the rise in television shows with more representation all around and more public demand for representation, it is become important for broadcasting services to reflect such demand. Through our research question, we can see how ABC has or has not responded to such demands or pressures in their longest currently shows. We can analyze this by taking into account the ratio of women to men employed for several jobs such as main writers and actors in Grey’s Anatomy, General Hospital, Modern Family, Agents of Shields, and The Goldbergs. This information would definitely matter as it would allow us to see if whether the increased demand for representation diversity has actually changed the gender employment in the inside of ABC’s shows or not, and what could we do with the data we collect.

ABC’s diversity of shows

Fresh off the Boat – Authenticity at its Finest

The first five episodes of “Fresh off the Boat” exude a charm that (in my opinion) can be sourced from the writing. Simply put, I found that the appeal of “Fresh off the Boat” lies in the uniqueness and authenticity of its writing. The story is unique because it defies the expectations set by the title. The family’s struggle isn’t with moving to America from Taiwan; it’s with moving to Orlando, Florida from their previous residence in Chinatown, Washington DC, where they are no longer surrounded by their cultural bubble.

How did the writers come up with such an authentic story? “Fresh off the Boat” is based on the autobiography of the same name by guess who: the current writer and producer of the show, Eddie Huang. Huang is the primary writer for the first season, which centers mostly on his own struggles with fitting in with the white kids at his school. The show also has the secondary plot of his father’s struggle with running his restaurant, “Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse,” a real restaurant. The episodes are narrated by the real Huang, who starts off each episode with the premise of the plots and concludes with the lessons each character learned. “Fresh off the Boat” likely pulled this format from “The Goldbergs (2013)” another ABC comedy show based on the childhood of the producer/writer. Having the real protagonist narrate the show is a critical aspect because it contributes to this authenticity. These are the things experienced by Eddie, told by Eddie himself.

The real Eddie Huang

Because the show is only twenty-two minutes long, the writers cleverly use plot devices to save time and propel the plot. There isn’t much silence – moments where a character isn’t speaking are filled with the narrator explaining something. Backstories are often delivered via flashbacks from Chinatown, the Huangs’ old hometown. These devices not only create a rich story that provides insight into the characters’ thoughts but are also time efficient to provide as much important info needed as possible.

Perhaps the most authentic element of “Fresh off the Boat” are the plights of Eddie. The show focuses on challenges that are specific but relatable to most Asians (at least to me). Whether it was Eddie wanting Lunchables so he could fit in with the other kids, or his mom making him study, I saw myself in Eddie, despite not looking like him or having the same character traits. I understood what he felt, which is something I haven’t gotten from any other TV show. “Fresh off the Boat’s” writing is fantastic because (as of now), it sparingly uses creative license and focuses on the real stories that young Eddie faced. As a result, it has a unique story and clever humor that largely steers away from solely using cheap Asian stereotypes for laughs. Using his life story, Eddie Huang has written a charming tale that comments on the struggles of fitting in in America.

Eddie explaining why he needs Lunchables (S1E1)

The Bold Type: A Much-Needed Update to TV’s Outlook on Intimacy

Truthfully, The Bold Type is exactly what its title pokes at… B-O-L-D. Throughout the show, characters’ comments and voiced opinions are not necessarily what you would expect to hear while casually watching Hulu. Today we take a look at the show’s second episode; one that, to be frank, is chock-full of insight and social awareness.

Going into “O Hell No”, the viewer can automatically catch the episode’s subject before it even begins. Look out preconceived notions about women and intimacy, you’re in for a rude awakening.

The episode takes a general focus on the struggles of Jane, one of the show’s three main female leads. She has recently been promoted as a writer for Scarlet, a magazine whose nature can be inferred from its name. Jane has been assigned to write a sex column; however, she is not experienced with the subject matter and feels discomfort with the editor’s choice of topic.¹ This sets the basis of the show’s argument for social awareness of women’s sexual and emotional wellbeing. Several instances in the plot push the show’s message: everything and nothing should be accepted when it comes to conversations about intimacy.

As the storyline progresses, Jane receives some minor backlash from her friends and colleagues as she asks for advice on how to personalize her article when she is in actuality not connected to it at all. She even ventures out to see a sex therapist, and she attempts to become comfortable with the idea of intimate experiences. Eventually, she decides that the pressure of whatever “idea” that women should experience during their youth is too much to handle. She hesitantly writes her article — under anonymity, mind you — and she is visibly ashamed to have not been able to relate to the topic of the article.

Later, after some dramatic background music and heavy contemplation on Jane’s part, she confidently adds her name to the article before turning it in to her editor. This moment, arguably the most important five seconds of the entire episode, is a slap in the face to sexualized stereotypes in society. Jane is no longer ashamed to admit that she hasn’t had certain experiences, and in fact, she admits it to the magazine’s millions of readers. Bold move, yes? (I couldn’t help it.)

Image result for jane the bold type gif

Jane from ‘The Bold Type’

This instance more or less establishes the backbone of The Bold Type. Small actions like putting one’s name on an article that deals with a lack of sexual experience form the argument of the show in general. The audience is taught that awareness and acceptance of all people are absolutely crucial. Through empowering its female characters, it demonstrates the acceptance of life’s circumstances, twists, and turns. Life is life is life is life. Why try to hide or be ashamed of one’s truth? The show’s push towards awareness for women’s health is most definitely a conversation starter on- and off-screen.²

Someone try ‘n stop it from changing viewers’ mentalities for the better. Good luck if you do.



Works Cited

¹Framke, Caroline. “The Bold Type, A Smart New Show About the Makings of a Women’s Magazine, Is a Total Delight.” Vox, 16 July 2017, https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/7/16/15973678/the-bold-type-freeform-review. Accessed 9 September 2018.

 ²Kaplan, Ilana. “How The Bold Type Is Changing the Conversation Around Sex and Sexuality on TV.” The Hollywood Reporter, 24 July 2018, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/how-bold-type-is-changing-conversation-around-sex-sexuality-tv-1129016. Accessed 9 September 2018.

The Story of Arvin in Less than 500 Words

Hi everyone! My name is Arvin Poddar, and I’m a business major (I may switch to CS because of my development background) set to hopefully graduate in 2022. English 1102 is my first English course here at Tech. The last English classes I took were AP Lit and AP Lang, both of which were very similar in the sense that they centered entirely on the analysis of writing selected by the teacher. The reason I’m excited about this course is that unlike the aforementioned ones from high school, we will be focused on a whole new mode of communication, and I get to choose the content I want to analyze.

One thing I distinctly remember having a hard time with in English courses (and I still feel this applies now) is class discussions of the material. For one, I prefer listening to the discussion more than participating in it, which I’ll definitely have to fix. I also feel that the few points I contribute to discussions are not always as insightful as those of my peers. Oral communication in general is not exactly my strong suit, but given that this class will involve lots of discussions, I am looking forward to improving myself. Hopefully, as the class progresses, my ability to analyze will improve so that I can contribute more valuable points. I’ll also have to get used to Twitter, which I’ve never used before. I’m not a frequent social media user (other than Instagram, where I post about twice a year), so tweeting regularly may be a challenge. Other than this, I love to communicate in the other modes, especially through visual mediums (graphics, presentations, art).

However, one thing that won’t be an issue for me in this class is the theme of television: I love TV shows. The first TV show I ever watched start to finish was Breaking Bad, and since then, I’ve finished many more (including Silicon Valley, Scream Queens, Game of Thrones, Narcos, Big Little Lies, Westworld, Modern Family, Black Mirror). For this class, I have chosen to watch “Fresh off the Boat,” a comedy about a young boy’s struggles with the cultural differences between his American peers and his Asian immigrant parents. I chose this show because it felt very relatable. Both of my parents are immigrants from India, and they will likely share a lot of the traditional values that the protagonist’s Chinese parents have. I have been through the challenges of balancing the culture of my family with that of my surroundings. Thus, the show may not be an exact representation of myself, but it is close enough that I will be able to provide personal insight into the plight of the main character.

Me when I came to Georgia Tech (GIF from Fresh off the Boat)

I’m looking forward to watching my show and getting to talk to all of you about what you’re watching!

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