English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: the talk

A Little Too Lighthearted

Episode five of Fresh Off the Boat is written by Sanjay Shah, who has written six other episodes of Fresh Off the Boat and five episodes of King of the Hill. Like all other episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, this episode features a voiceover, which is Eddie Huang’s thoughts as he remembers the events taking place. He clears up his thoughts at important times and gives some extra information we might not know as we progress through the show.

The writing of this episode is very similar in structure to that of the other episodes. A main story arc is introduced and concluded within the same episode, with smaller conflicts along the way. Also like the rest of the series, the humor in the episode is very persistent. I definitely enjoy this facet of the writing. It keeps me engaged and gives the show a very lighthearted and fun tone.

Sometimes the show’s focus on being comedic gets in the way, though, of which this episode is a very good example. The episode’s major conflict involves sexual harassment, and by extension sexuality. Louis is forced to give Eddie “the talk” after a sexual harassment video makes its way through Eddie’s school. This talk is shown in one scene in which Louis mentions that one of the reasons he came to America was so that Eddie could have a more liberal experience with sex than he could in Taiwan. But that’s about as far as it goes. Following that, the scene is composed of a bunch of jump cuts to other parts of Louis’s talk, all of which are comical in nature. Eddie’s voiceover in this scene expresses his gratitude that his father didn’t use the corny school-issued book to teach him about sex, which is something of a viewpoint that the writers may be expressing. However, I don’t think this can be read into very far, since the talk Louis gave was once again the punchline to a joke.

Louis gives Eddie “the talk”

This is a problem for me- the show brings up an important topic and begins to dive into it, but then cuts itself off and doesn’t really bring the discussion anywhere. It’s honestly confusing to watch, since I can’t tell what’s supposed to be a statement and what’s a joke. It leaves me unsatisfied- the show opens up a lot of very good opportunities for the writers to use their medium to convey a message about something important! But instead, they opt to keep the tone very lighthearted and cover things up with more jokes. This tendency is observable in other episodes, too. I understand the want to keep the tone of the show light and comical, but it still leaves things to be desired since the show by nature has a lot of important issues it can address.

“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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