The New Yorker: “Home Cooking- Funny families on ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and ‘Black-ish.’ ”

If “Fresh Off the Boat” emphasizes family warmth, it’s complicated by sharp details.

If “Fresh Off the Boat” emphasizes family warmth, it’s complicated by sharp details. (Illustration by David Saracino)

The New Yorker (by Emily Nussbaum): 

Like many pioneering TV series, ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” a sitcom about a Taiwanese-American family running a Western-themed chophouse in Orlando, Florida, débuted to impossibly high expectations, hand-wringing, and prickly waves of preëmptive backlash. In an unusual twist, this hazing came from the man whose life the show was based on.

In an essay in New York, Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef, Vice TV host, and author of the memoirFresh Off the Boat,” merrily trash-talked his own collaborators, including a Chinese-American producer, whom he called an “Uncle Chan,” and the showrunner, Nahnatchka Khan, an Iranian-American. “What did you buy my book for?” Huang yelled, frustrated that the show had bowdlerized his story, which included whippings by his father, an immigrant restaurant owner. “Just make A Chinks Life . . . With Free Wonton Soup or Soda.” Thousands of words in, Huang tossed out a few lines of praise, but the impression he left wasn’t great—if he saw his sitcom as a sellout, who were viewers to disagree?

At the heart of this rant was the question of what makes TV bold: Huang wanted something pungent, like an FX anti-hero dramedy, or like the nineties sitcom “Married with Children,” the type of show that would underline (and maybe glamorize) his violent youth, his charismatic dick of a dad, and the roots of Huang’s own flamboyant persona. That desire wasn’t sheerly egotistical: Huang was eager to push back at the cliché of Asian men as passive, genitally cheated nerds (“the eunuch who can count,” as he puts it in the book)—a Long Duk Dong stereotype still visible on shows like CBS’s “2 Broke Girls.” Huang wanted “Fresh Off the Boat” to “go hard,” like his nineties hip-hop heroes. In the process, he was claiming TV’s own bad-boy role, the provocateur who shoves authenticity down the throat of The Man. Think Roseanne; think Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle.

In reality, of course, the bad-boy provocateur very rarely gets final cut on a network family sitcom—it’s a genre more prone to compromise than a Senate bill. Even the edgiest shows have limits: Al Bundy never hit Peggy, after all. So it’s no surprise that, aesthetically, “Fresh Off the Boat” fits right into ABC’s sweet-tempered slate of comedies, which includes the subtly retrograde “Modern Family,” the wonderful “The Middle,” “The Goldbergs,” “Black-ish”—a smart new show that I’ll get to in a moment—and the unfortunately bland “Cristela.” Like all these shows, “Fresh Off the Boat” is brightly lit, with an A plot and a B plot. The jokes aren’t dirty and nobody gets his butt whipped. The parents—patriotic restaurant-manager dad, Louis (Randall Park), and proudly alienated mom, Jessica (the terrific Constance Wu)—love one another. There’s even a “Wonder Years”-esque voice-over, performed by Huang, and an ensemble of adorable children. It’s a comedy the whole family can watch together—which may be either an insult or a compliment, but is definitely a business plan.

Yet, even in its half-dozen early episodes, those burnt first pancakes of sitcoms, the show has a radical quality, simply because it arrives in a television landscape with few Asian characters, almost none of them protagonists. Khan, the showrunner (who wrote for Seth MacFarlane, and who produced the wicked ABC sitcom “Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23”), is her own sort of provocateur, an expert at slipping rude ideas into polite formats. She uses the Asian-American family to reset TV’s defaults. The characters aren’t the hero’s best friends; they’re not macho cartoons or eye candy, either, as on some cable dramas I could name. This can be an unpleasantly clinical way to talk: it places the critic in the camp of the bean counters, not the gonzo rapscallions. But simply watching people of color having a private conversation, one that’s not primarily about white people, is a huge deal. It changes who the joke is on. “Fresh Off the Boat” is part of a larger movement within television, on shows that include the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Fox’s “Empire”—a trend that’s most influential when it creates a hit, not a niche phenomenon.

Reading the book, then watching the show, you get why Huang was frustrated: without a cruel bully for a father, Eddie’s taste for hip-hop feels more superficial—in the book, it’s an abused kid’s catharsis and an identification with black history. But, if the show emphasizes family warmth, that theme is complicated by sharp sociological details: the only black kid in the school calls Eddie a “Chink” and smirks at his hip-hop T-shirt; Jessica grabs every free sample at the supermarket, then gives the employee a hilariously dismissive wave; Louis hires a white host to attract customers (“A nice happy white face, like Bill Pullman,” he explains firmly). There’s no violence, but there are specific immigrant perspectives, shown through multiple lenses.

In one of Khan’s most effective gambits, we see Eddie through his mother’s eyes as often as we see her through his. In the book, Jessica is a brazen, mysterious goad to her son; on the show, she’s a full character, Eddie’s equal in cultural alienation, even if her escape is Stephen King, not the Notorious B.I.G. In one of the most interesting early episodes, mother and son are both drawn to Honey, a trophy wife who lives next door. Eddie sees a hot MILF he can show off to the boys; Jessica sees a kindred spirit who will eat her “stinky tofu” and bond over “Dolores Claiborne”—then pulls away when she realizes that Honey is the town home-wrecker. The show hits every awkward angle of this triangle, including a surreal fantasy sequence in which Eddie, inspired by his hero Ol’ Dirty Bastard, sprays Capri Sun on gyrating video vixens. (His mom intrudes, complaining that he’s wasting juice, while his father offers the women free samples from the restaurant: “Come on, Fly Girls. Try a rib! Tell a friend.”)

In the final scene, at a block party, everyone’s loneliness collides, as Eddie gropes Honey, and Jessica sees her neighbor’s humiliation. Opening her heart to a fellow-outsider, Jessica seizes the karaoke mike to serenade Honey with an awkward, earnest rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” The sequence doesn’t “go hard”; it goes soft, quite deliberately. But somehow it still manages to find strangeness within its sentimentality. “Fresh Off the Boat” is unlikely to dismantle the master’s house. But it opens a door.

ABC’s other new family sitcom, “Black-ish,” created by Kenya Barris and Larry Wilmore (who left to do “The Nightly Show,” on Comedy Central), has had fifteen episodes, giving it more of a chance to grow than “Fresh Off the Boat”—and in that time the series has transformed from hokey formula into one of the goofiest, most reliably enjoyable comedies around. Early on, the show kept aggressively re-stating its thesis: Andre (Dre), a successful adman, is worried that his four kids aren’t black enough. Growing up rich in a white suburb, they don’t remember a time before Obama; Andre Junior is a nerd, not a thug. Andre’s biracial wife, Rainbow, an anesthesiologist, is less concerned about race. Each week, Dre tries to toughen the kids up, terrified that if they don’t get “blacker” he’ll have failed as a father.

The problem with the show, initially, was that Andre himself felt so off-putting—childlike and abrasive, a man-baby in the Homer Simpson mode—that it was hard to buy his marriage or his success, let alone his lessons. Rainbow, played by the fantastic Tracee Ellis Ross, was trapped in the gruesome role of wife-as-mommy, the sighing goody-goody. It’s hard to even remember that version, though, because, once “Black-ish” settled in, it began, like so many smart sitcoms, a quiet reinvention. Andre got more insightful; Rainbow became a glamorous dork with a temper and her own loose-limbed charisma; the kids clicked, too; and Andre’s workplace became a reliably hilarious setting for him to brainstorm about his troubles. It helped that he began to acknowledge his own outsized personality, too, rather than presenting it as interchangeable with authentic urban blackness. “I’m a lot,” Andre says, about his parenting. “If they can get past me, they can get past anything.”

A funny Valentine’s Day episode featured a date night that went downhill—a sitcom chestnut that paid off, miraculously, owing to sharp dialogue and the couple’s great chemistry. Andre and Rainbow sniped over his mispronouncing the word as “Valentimes.” They revisited a childbirth scenario so awkward that the doctor asked her, “You mean he’s actually part of your life? Because plenty of women successfully raise children alone.” They argued over whether or not Andre saw Gene Hackman at a roller rink. (“You think everyone is Gene Hackman!” Rainbow fumes.) In the best tradition of the mainstream sitcom, the show felt both new and familiar, giving the show’s marriage emotional roots.

As these relationships became more organic, “Black-ish” also got looser with its ethnic humor, with plots about Andre competing to be a black Santa Claus (he loses out to a Mexican woman) and microaggressions on a baseball field. When Rainbow notices a gray pubic hair, Andre tells her, “You look distinguished, going all Frederick Douglass down there.” When their daughter dates a French boy, a co-worker of Andre’s says, “I cheated on my husband with a French-Canadian. His Frenchness was so powerful that I forgot he was Canadian.” Andre’s mother tells Rainbow, “You are too hard on the kids. If I didn’t know you were mixed, I’d swear you were Chinese.”

In the show’s most outrageous episode, a ski trip becomes an outlandish parody of Martin Luther King Day. Rainbow throws sardonic air quotes onto “Doctor,” because King had no medical degree; Andre Junior admits that he’s never fully absorbed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, because “I always kind of zone out when people start to tell me about their dreams.” The jokes overlapped, turning flippant, wild, verging on misfire—an elbow in the ribs of boomer earnestness. In a safe sitcom structure, it was a different kind of risk: inside jokes in an outside voice.

Asian-American UC Berkeley law student moonlighting as porn star

 

CBS/Amped Asia: 

A UC Berkeley law student says he is passionate about representing his Asian roots in his career, but until he graduates that career is pornography.

Identified only by his stage name, Jeremy Long is living a double life of sorts as he puts himself through school working as a porn star to achieve his dreams of becoming a public defender. But Long is only in his second year of law school, and to support himself he has been working in the adult industry, a line of work in which he says Asians are underrepresented.

I’m very passionate about representing Asian males in media, and I think adult films is one of the most important areas for us to work on,” Long said.

Long says he has made 18 movies so far, and has fans all around the world.

As for Long’s family finding out about his current line of work, Long says he doesn’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

Luckily they’re outside any circles of exposure that would lead to that.”

Jeremy Long has always had an interest in the Asian American community and didn’t want to idly stay back and let Asian guys take a bad rep for having small penises. So when he was offered the opportunity to become a performer in the adult film industry he didn’t hesitate and decided to show once and for all that Asian men can be pornstars as well.

Jeremy shoots for AsianSchlong.com (NSFW), one of the first of its kind, offering rare, premium content featuring Asian males and non-Asian females. We were able to get an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with Mr. Jeremy Long, and we discussed increasing your penis size, having a lot of sex, and being an Asian guy in the porn industry.

What made you guys start shooting porn with Asian males?

Asian males are probably more underrepresented in straight porn than in any other industry in the country. And Japan has one of the largest porn industries in the world, so there are tons of Asian guys doing porn—just not over here, and not in a way that has any real visibility to the US/Western public.

I think there is something very profound in being part of a group (Asian American males) that is almost entirely absent from porn—especially when our women are very much active in the industry. For years “Asian American porn” has always meant Asian women with White (or other non-Asian) men. So what we’re doing is basically flipping the script on that and producing the exact opposite type of content. In many ways this genre, whatever you want to call it (some call it AMXF) is still in its early stages of formation. We hope that it will grow to become an established mainstream genre in porn.

Your stage name is Jeremy Long. How did you come up with that?

Well it’s pretty common in porn to parody a mainstream celebrity with a porn twist. I’m a huge Jeremy Lin fan, so at some point I came up with that. I was also considering Mike Chang, the guy from Six Pack Shortcuts because I watch his videos all the time. We’re actually going to do a parody shoot of one those workout videos where he brings a chick on his show. We’re going to do that soon as I can get into good enough shape, so I’m looking forward to that.

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But you look like you work out a lot and youre in pretty good shape now right?

Haha thanks, but I haven’t quite reached Mike Chang status yet though.

What do you think about the “small penis stereotype” Asian men have to face?

Haha, well I think there’s only one way to deal with that — women out there need to sleep with as many Asian men as possible and investigate for themselves.

What was the primary motivation for you to become a pornstar?

Lots of things in this industry operate very opportunistically. I just happened to know some people who knew some people which led to this. As far as my motivation though, I would say it really began in an Asian American studies class at UC Berkeley where we learned about the work of professor Darrell Hamamoto who had produced porn sort of as a research project. In those types of classes we would learn all kinds of theories about the emasculation of Asian males in the media and things like that. But this guy–instead of just writing some paper about it, he was actually doing something in the real world. As an academic, he had a lot to risk and lose, and I thought it was ballsy as hell, and I very much admired it and appreciated it as fellow Asian male. And when I was confronted with this opportunity, I just saw this as a chance to represent. And also, I mean I’ve always been a pretty ballsy guy myself and doing porn is definitely the ultimate YOLO.

I also can’t give enough thanks to my predecessors, the pioneers of Asian American porn: Keni Styles, Hung Lo, and Rick Lee. If it wasn’t for these guys there wouldn’t be a place for Asian American males in porn. They had to go into this with absolutely no precedent or security, which I have the benefit of now. It’s the greatest honor for me to even be considered an addition to that list.

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As an Asian guy, how have people in the porn industry treated you?

Well you might think that because we’re so underrepresented that the porn industry is racist and it would be difficult for an Asian guy, but I haven’t experienced anything even close to that. Everyone has been very enthusiastic about working with an Asian guy, and most people think as a genre there is incredible untapped market potential.

The industry is pretty insular, and the lack of Asian males reflects the general absence of us from those inner circles more than anything else. I think it’s also mainstream society imposing a stigma and a barrier between porn and the outside world, that makes it difficult to recruit Asian guys.

Do you take any supplements for your penis? Is your penis size a result of any artificial enhancements?

Haha, well I’ve never had any surgery or anything like that. I do take some natural supplements though, and for your male readers, I think I can give some advice based on what I’ve learned doing porn. I don’t know if it’s possible to actually increase the size of your penis, but I have learned ways to help you achieve your maximum potential, which we don’t normally reach when we’re having regular sex (or masturbating or whatever).

You know, not all erections are equal. You can just watch some of my videos to see that. Sometimes it’s looking kinda flimsy and other times it’s looking pretty banging. Some of that is just the angling and camera or whatever, but a lot of it is the difference between an erection at 70-80% vs something close to 100%. Just think back to the biggest, hardest boner you’ve ever popped—you don’t pop one of those everyday, but I do think there are ways to help you control that, and get there more often. After I started doing porn, especially in the beginning when I was still getting comfortable and under a lot of pressure (mainly self-imposed), I would explore ways to improve my on-screen performance. I’d say for most guys the difference between an average erection and reaching their full potential could be about a .5 inch to an inch, and some significant girth. So nothing extreme, but definitely worth the effort.

I’ve found that taking L-Arginine, Zinc, and Magnesium in standard doses on a regular basis helps. You also need to eliminate any vasoconstrictors like stimulants (cocaine, Adderall, preworkout supplements, etc.) before activity. You want wide blood vessels and strong, healthy blood flow. If you also take an ED drug like Viagra or Cialis coupled with using a penis pump which engorges your dick with blood—you’ll be rocking a schlong I’m sure you’ll be happy with.

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How much sex have you shot on camera so far?

I’ve done about 15 shoots so far and have a few more coming up this month. The craziest I’ve ever done was three in a row on a three-day weekend. That was nuts! (literally haha)

And over the years I’ve been developing a pretty large personal collection on my phone, and I’ll probably be continuing that long after I quit doing porn.

So youre an educated guy and now go to UC Berkeley School of Law?

Yep, I’m a double Bear. Went there for undergrad, went to grad school for a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge and now I’m back at Cal for law school.

Thats obviously a prodigious school. Do your classmates know about what you do and what do they think about it?

Well I’m a very open person so I’ve never made an attempt to hide it (which nowadays would be futile anyways given that so many people watch porn). But Boalt Hall (what UC Berkeley’s Law School is called) is a uniquely awesome place with amazing people. It’s what really sets us apart from other schools. All of my friends there have been extremely supportive. There is a large Asian student body, and a general culture of openness and progression, so most people at my school think what I’m doing is great.

 

Apple’s plan for greater emoji diversity backfires

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 2.26.38 PM

RocketNews 24:

With expressions ranging from happy to sad to ironic, emoticons serve as a kind of virtual extension of the self on online messaging platforms. As a result, many rejoiced when Apple decided to import Japan’s Emoji keyboard back in 2011, eliminating the need for app extensions. Yet something was still missing. “Where’s the diversity?”asked everyone from Tahj Mowry to Miley Cyrus, addressing the notable lack of non-white cartoon faces.

It looks like Apple has been listening closely to these concerns, with plans to implement a more racially and socially diverse set of emoji for iOS 8.3 later this year. Problem solved? Not quite. As Apple unveils its most recent developer betas, a furor has broken out in China regarding what some regard as a prejudiced depiction of Asians. While one can certainly make a case for this position, Apple claims the startlingly yellow emoji at the heart of the uproar doesn’t depict a normal human face at all.

The controversy began with the series of emoji shown above. At first glance, it seems Apple’s aim with these new emoji is to provide a greater range of skin tones, thereby promoting one aspect of diversity. This then leads to the inevitable question of whether the emoji are also intended as a visualization of race.

Many Chinese citizens seem to think the emoji do, in fact, depict a variety of races, rather than a mere progression of skin tones. Therefore, they argue, the yellow face furthest to the left cannot be construed as anything but Apple’s idea of an Asian face. At this point, the problem becomes obvious. Comments on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging platform, included the following:

“That emoji is seriously yellow. How does a person get to be that kind of color?”

“That can’t be an Asian person… I’ve never seen anyone so yellow in my life.”

“Has anyone ever actually seen someone who shade of yellow? I’d be worried they were ill.”

However, the ultra-yellow emoji might not be showing a natural skin color at all, Asian or otherwise.

As it happens, the developer of the emoji is not Apple itself, but rather Unicode Consortium, which aims to promote a greater range of skin tones in 2015. In a document on the subject, they write:

“Five symbol modifier characters that provide for a range of skin tones for human emoji are planned for Unicode Version 8.0 (scheduled for mid-2015). These characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognized standard for dermatology… The exact shades may vary between implementations.”

This is followed by a graphic showing the emoji modifiers.

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You can see how the sample colors on the left side align with those of five emoji in the upcoming release. So what about the bright yellow face? The reason it is absent from this chart is because the yellow tone is, as Ritchie noted, the default color. Gradations in skin tone are achieved by adding a color modifier to the default, as seen below:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.58.20 AM

In light of this information, Apple’s explanation suddenly becomes much more plausible. Even so, it might be too late to reverse the damage. Sales of last year’s iPhone were higher in China than they were in America, making the former a vital market for Apple–which must now surely be concerned about its image among Chinese consumers. Ultimately they will decide with their wallets whether or not to give Apple the benefit of the doubt.