Eastern Promise, Eastern Promises: Dreams, Hope, & Glee‘s “Asian F”
(This post is about a recent episode of Glee, titled “Asian F.” You can watch it here: Asian F.)
MIKE CHANG, SR.: Deep in Hubei province this old woman knew the best school in the United States. That’s where my son belongs… My son got an A- on his chemistry test. An A- is an Asian F… An A- won’t do… It’s clear to me that either Michael is on drugs or that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. He needs to quite Glee club. Performing is a waste of his time…
MIKE CHANG, JR.: I’ll do better dad. I promise. Get me a chemistry tutor, I’ll pay for it myself. Just give me one more chance.
The unfinished story of Asian F
Through two simple, but by all accounts authentic, minutes of dialogue, Glee takes a stab at a story and life that is true for a good many Asian Americans. Glee of course isn’t a realistic (in the sense of serious) drama; while its characters are often dismissed as caricatures, they are caricatures of normal people in a normal world with normal problems. Mike Chang, Jr., the focus of “Asian F,” is no different. Many of the bloggers seem content to slap an obligatory label of “stereotype!” on the episode, calling it well-trodden material (which I find strange; if anything, there’s a dearth of mainstream portrayals of Asian America), ready to move on to critical and artistic thoughts elsewhere.
Perhaps these mostly-white writers are dismissive because the tropes seem derogatory while they instead affirm a progressive approach to diversity. Or perhaps we (Asian Americans) are ready to move on because the story is so familiar and familial to us. But while we’ve heard it, or deride it, or can catalog and inventory all the particular contours and permutations, it doesn’t mean it’s finished. The story of “Asian F” still lacks a proper ending, much less a happy one. Because you don’t have to be a performing artist to know the uncomfortable stalemate we still face when it comes to hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Even if we desire to reach some promised land of egalitarian diversity, it doesn’t deal with the places we’re coming from or going home to.
What’s more, I’m not sure we’ve dared to understand the story deeply enough, since dwelling on it is known to cause us strife. But we need to, because until we do, we will carry on ignorant, resigned, or unreconciled in ourselves. So I’m going to examine Glee’s “Asian F” and the bigger story that many Asian Americans are living. As I analyze the episode, let’s allow it to speak to us as a representation of the lives we live and take an honest look at what is really going on – not just on-screen but in ourselves.