By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
This month, we learn that Asians can do other things besides engineering and doctoring. Like, Asians can be underwear models and they can make stop-motion films and they can get really, really mad when their K-pop gets co-opted.
Eddie Huang is a restaurateur, television personality, writer, and is kinda known for his blunt, tell-it-like-it-is personality. His memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat,” was adapted into the popular TV show of the same name. (Huang famously trashed the show for essentially pulling punches and being too watered down.)
Now he can add professional underwear model to his list of achievements.
Huang teamed up with MeUndies for a panda-theme line, Pandamonium, and promoted it by taking off his clothes, reclining in sexy poses, and having his picture taken.
To GQ, he describes himself and the experience thusly: “I’m Asian, fat, and I’m short. These are like, the three cardinal sins of being an underwear model.”
Huang actually goes on to speak a lot about body image issues and self-acceptance in the interview, especially within the lenses of being Asian and being within cultures of hypermasculinity. Here’s something really amazing that he said: “A lot of times, as a man, you don’t feel empowered or enabled, or you’re not given the opportunity to speak about negative body image or how insecure you are about the way you look. We’re supposed to just be measured on our abilities and our work. This was a thing I really struggled with.”
American Girl dolls, still making me feel inadequate decades after youth’s first blush
In the 1990s of my youth, my [white] female classmates were always bringing in American Girl dolls for show-and-tell on Fridays. I never had an American Girl doll because I was like, languishing in the purgatory of lower middle class for the first five years of my life, and my super Vietnamese mom refused to even spend dollar bills on brand name school supplies — so forget American Girl dolls, man.
I guess this is really the story of one young girl’s early life of wanting.
This was how American Girl dolls and their association with whiteness became cemented together in my mind.
American Girl dolls were originally founded by a schoolteacher in 1986 and featured mail-order dolls that represented fictional historical characters.
For years, the line-up comprised a bunch of historical white girl dolls with white girl problems, like how to be a friggin’ American patriot and dump tea in a harbor and fight against the tyranny doled out by those tax-loving redcoats. And there was one Black girl doll, Addie, with her historical Black girl problems — like how to become literate when you are owned by a white man who doesn’t even see you as a human being.
In 1998, Mattel acquired the parent company of American Girl and shifted from historical dolls to contemporary ones, probably because Mattel figured out that kids hate history — or that it’s real tricky to portray history from the point of view of anyone not-white.
Fast-forward to last month, the American Girl line-up has expanded to include the first-ever ethnically Korean doll, Suzie “Z” Yang.
Z is an American from Seattle (holla). She’s armed with a bunch of cameras, a tripod, and a tinyass dog, and one of her favorite things to do is shoot her own stop-motion films.
At first, I was like, “Ha ha! Try hard much?”
And then I was like, “God, what an annoying millennial.”
And then I was like, “At least she speaks English fluently.”
And then I was like, “How come she wears glasses only sometimes? Are those reading glasses or are they fake hipster glasses?”
And then I looked down at my phone, which has like, three stop-motion videos currently stored on it. I looked down at my annoying tinyass dogs. I looked across the street through my fake hipster glasses, which impair my vision because they are not real glasses, and I sort of see that it’s storming on the other side of the street because Seattle weather has been nuts lately, am I right? And then I was like, “Oh my God.”
The best part of this realization is that Z is so much younger and more talented than I am. Her entire future is like, supernova bright. Unlike mine. She gets like, a million hits on her YouTube channel. Unlike me.
White American “K-pop” boyband dreams of making it in South Korea! Internet tries to quash dreams
I’m not super knowledgable about K-pop, but from what I understand, the training that is required to become a K-pop star is much like the training that Cold-War-era Russian kids underwent to become KGB agents. It is serious effin’ business, y’all.
So that’s why the internet was generally WTF that four mostly white guys from New York City are taking a comparatively lackadaisical approach to K-pop.
EXP Edition is a boy band that was actually conceived as a thesis project by Columbia grad student Bora Kim two years ago (it’s unclear whether Kim is still involved with the group). EXP Edition has one half-Japanese American member.
Otherwise it’s basically four mostly white American guys playing around with colored smoke bombs and having a pillow fight of sorts in a . . . subway tunnel?
While their recent single, “Feel Like This,” is sung in Korean, there is no insane choreography that is commonly associated with K-pop music videos. Lazy.
Oh, and other people are ticked because of cultural appropriation.
TV cancellations and renewals
In general, nothing devastatingly egregious happened in TV cancellations and renewals this month. The sword pretty much fell where I expected it to. Here’s a handy chart of Asian-y stuff that you can expect to see another season of, and stuff you have to say byez to:
Asian-y stuff renewed
“13 Reasons Why” — the internet keeps trying to convince me that Ross Butler (Singaporean, British-Dutch, Chinese-Malaysian) is gonna be a breakout heartthrob. Good job, Ross Butler’s PR person.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” — Ming-Na Wen! Ming-Na Wen! (And Hapa Chloe Bennet, but really Ming-Na Wen!).
“The Big Bang Theory” — a show so popular that it makes me not want to write about it. Co-starring Kunal Nayyar as Rajesh Koothrappali.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — the romantic-yet-slightly-dimwitted male lead is super good-looking person Vincent Rodriguez III, who is good at defying stereotypes. Rodriguez III also breakdances like an angel.
“Designated Survivor” — Maggie Q and Kal Penn are in this show, and they also inexplicably play characters with white-people names, Hannah Wells and Seth Wright, which has not been explained yet, but I fully expect an entire episode dedicated to this next season.
“Elementary” — co-starring gorgeous and ageless vampire-person Lucy Liu as Jane Watson, whose white-person last name was explained at one point.
“Fresh Off the Boat” — everybody who reads this column must know this show already. But it bears repeating: all-Asian main cast includes Hudson Yang, Randall Park, Constance Wu, Forrest Wheeler, Ian Chen, and Lucille Soong.
“The Good Place” — co-starring beautiful people Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto. I know they are known for other things, but I’m being superficial here.
“Hawaii Five-O” — CBS’s inexplicably Asian AF show, starring Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Masi Oka. Eighth season upcoming, which means Kim and Park (Oka has left the show) must be pulling in some serious cash money. Yay!
“The Mindy Project” — heading into its final season. I used to care about this show a lot, and now I have to force myself to care. Sigh. Starring and created by Mindy Kaling.
“New Girl” — coming back for a super short eight-episode final season. Co-starring Hannah Simone.
“Superstore” — funny comedy with a really diverse cast. The APIs are Nico Santos, Nichole Bloom, and Kaliko Kauahi.
Asian-y stuff cancelled
“2 Broke Girls” — Matthew Moy was part of the main cast. I totally abhorred this crappy show. Moy played an effeminate, perma-foreigner Asian stereotype and everyone making this show seemed to be okay with that BS. I’m glad this piece of garbage finally got cancelled.
“Dr. Ken” — starring and developed by actual medical doctor and super funny person Ken Jeong. This show’s all-Asian cast included Suzy Nakamura, Albert Tsai, and Krista Marie Yu. Everyone I talked to said they thought this show was bad when it first came on, but I really dug it because our moms deserve a PG, multi-camera sitcom with a laugh-track, too. I’m sad to see this one go, but I guess this frees up Ken Jeong to go do other hilarious stuff. For one, he just got cast in “Crazy Rich Asians,” with Constance Wu.
“Powerless” — you probably haven’t heard of this awkwardly dull DC Universe comedy (an oxymoron if there ever was one) because this year was its freshman season. No one watched it because it was not a very entertaining show. It did feature two Asian Hapas, Vanessa Hudgens and Danny Pudi.
Asian-y stuff that is on the bubble still!
“Quantico” — even if this one is eventually cancelled, I’m pretty sure “Quantico” lead, Priyanka Chopra, will be okay! She’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s foil in the new “Baywatch” movie, you know. (Johnson is half Samoan, which puts him firmly in the PI of API. He’s so Asian-adjacent! He’s so one of us! I feel like people always forget this about him! So I like to remind people! I love you, Dwayne!) [EDITED AFTER PUBLICATION: “Quantico” was renewed for a short third season!]
*I have to tell you that these lists are not comprehensive because I have not watched every single TV show out there. I did my best!
‘Master of None’ is back!
I don’t have much to say about Netflix series “Master of None,” which sprung from the creative minds of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang — just that its entire second season was released this month, and I binged it in a single day. It is so freaking good, there’s a lot of stuff to chew on in terms of ethnic and cultural identity, and the Ansari-Yang duo deserve all of the acclaim they’ve been getting for this series.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.