While the appearance of an Asian-American sitcom is both long awaited and anticipated, the title “Far East Orlando” sours the taste of success.
The ABC comedy was originally titled “Fresh Off the Boat,” after the bestselling memoir by Eddie Huang that detailed his upbringing as a first-generation American. The network, however, changed the title of the pilot to “Far East Orlando,” and while it doesn’t carry as many negative connotations as the original, it’s not much better.
Reclaiming a slur can be a difficult process, as seen with African-Americans and the n-word, or girls with the b-word, and opinions on the matter will always be divided. While I wholeheartedly agree in taking power away from the hands of the oppressor, the usage of such words may give off the idea that anyone may use them. While fresh off the boat isn’t as strong of a slur, the negative connotation makes it difficult to translate to the general public that it isn’t reinforcing the stereotype that you may think it is. The title “Fresh Off the Boat” implies that the show will contain stereotypical behavior of new immigrants, which may cause viewers to lose interest in the show before they can even give it a chance. That’s not to say that “Far East Orlando” doesn’t have its own problems. Australia and New Zealand are farther east than any of the Asian nations, yet ‘far east’ doesn’t apply to them, due to the fact that the roots of the phrase lay in the idea of a Eurocentric world, and the exoticism of ‘The Orient’ that is often objectified and fetishized.
Huang himself has spoken out on the name change, citing the fact that ‘far east’ is an archaic term dating back to the 12th century, and asking that the show title be changed back to “Fresh Off the Boat.” I too, would like the title to be changed, but instead to something else altogether. Even in more recent times, progressive shows such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or “Orange is the New Black” provide context for the show’s content, not a character’s sexual orientation or ethnicity. If the latter had followed ABC’s route, and named it something like “Lesbians in Jail” the show’s appeal might have been diminished to those who looked past the title and instead focused on the show itself.
If picked up, the comedy will be the second prime-time network show with an Asian-American cast. The first was in 1994 with Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl,” but due to low ratings it lasted only for one season. The fact that it has taken 20 years for another Asian-American sitcom to come into play is ridiculous, and can be attributed to the perpetual stereotypes that the general public is exposed to. When the media continually casts Asians as two-dimensional, stereotypical characters, then that is what audiences see and grow to expect. In turn, if TV executives see people responding to these characters and believe that that is what people want, then those are the roles that will be written. In short, it’s a catch-22, and with minorities at a disadvantage. However, if there is a positive response to “Far East Orlando,” then it is possible that producers will recognize that there is an audience who wishes to see minorities outside of stereotypes, and that in turn may help create more diverse representation. Although it’s no secret that the media has a history of stereotyping minorities, let’s hope that “Far East Orlando” is another step towards changing that.