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'All-American Girl': Is It Good or Bad Television? : A Positive Look at the Sitcom

Counterpunch

December 05, 1994|PHILIP W. CHUNG | Philip W. Chung is a writer who formerly worked on the staff of the Korea Times English Edition. He is the co-founder of Yolk magazine, a new publication devoted to Asian American entertainment and pop culture.

After only a handful of episodes of "All- American Girl," ABC's new sitcom about a Korean American family starring comedian Margaret Cho, some Asian Americans, particularly Korean Americans, had already started their assault against the show. From newspapers and talk shows to Koreatown cafes and the Asian American boards of computer on-line systems, the criticism was flying--the show's not that funny, the cast isn't Korean, the Korean culture is being misrepresented, etc. . . .

I can understand and share the concerns of my Korean American brethren since the predominant media image of Korean Americans has tended to be negative, usually of the foreign-liquor-store-owner-with-a-gun variety. But "All- American Girl" remains one of the few potential bright spots in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Yes, the show could be improved. Yes, I often cringe when I hear the actors attempt to speak Korean. Yes, some of the cultural references are confusing. But there's much about the show that is cause for joy.

The most incredible thing about the series is that it even exists. As anyone working in the television industry will tell you, it's nearly impossible to get a program on prime-time network television. The fact that a show revolving around an Asian American family is on the air is phenomenal.

Much of the continuing criticism surrounding the program seems to be coming from people who feel "All- American Girl" doesn't match their vision of what a Korean or Asian American show is. What we need to understand is that this is only one program and, therefore, cannot possibly be all things to all people.

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For example, on an English-language talk show on Korean radio station KBLA, listeners called in with their (mostly negative or less-than-supportive) opinions about the show. One point of contention was the accents used by the actors. Some listeners felt the use of accents was demeaning and stereotypical while others felt they were necessary to add a realistic element to the immigrant characters. This example illustrates that no matter how this Korean American family is portrayed, there are still going to be those who will be unhappy.

No show can single-handedly carry the burdens of an entire community. No one looks at the family on "The Brady Bunch" as a representation of all white families but, unfortunately, due to a lack of any real Asian American presence in the media, "All-American Girl" must become a symbol to a certain degree.

It's important to remember that "All- American Girl" is first and foremost a situation comedy, which means its main purpose is to entertain viewers and is limited in certain respects. Also, the show's emphasis might be on the more "universal" aspects of Korean American culture in order to attract a broader, non-Asian audience. Hopefully, as the series builds a strong following, it will feel freer to explore more fully the specific issues and concerns that confront Asians in America.

Many successful shows such as "Cheers" and "Star Trek" went through early growing pains. Knowing the caliber of the talent involved in "All American Girl," particularly with the wonderful Asian American cast members, I have no doubt that it can be a potentially groundbreaking series for television in general and Asian Americans in particular.

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The significance of this show cannot be understated. Depending on how successful this series is over the long run, it could open the doors for other shows with Asian American perspectives to hit the airwaves, each program adding to the complex and diverse tapestry of the Asian American experience.

Therefore, anyone concerned with the representation of Asian Americans in mainstream culture should be concerned with "All-American Girl." If something about the show strikes us as offensive or grossly inaccurate we should constructively let the producers know about our problems but our support for the show must be constant. Watch the show, encourage others to watch it, write letters letting the producers know what you do or don't like. "All-American Girl" can be a defining moment for Korean and Asian Americans. Let's work to ensure that it does become that.

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