Love Chinese – American Style

“Foreign Babes in China” uses the culture clash I mentioned last time as a source for a lot of drama and comedy. The theme song is a mash-up between hip-hop in English (with token references to the [Great] Wall and Tiananmen Square) and traditional Chinese pop. If the whole song was in English it could easily be the theme song to a sitcom here in the United States. The show also shares an emphasis on melodramatic romantic entanglements. “Robert’s totally in love,” DeWoskin’s character says at the very beginning of one episode, “He followed Louise all the way from America even though Louise doesn’t love him!” The rest of the conversation revolves around whether Robert’s rival, Tianling, has “the guts” to make a move while Robert’s around. This rival is a Chinese local, and his friend urges him to “Do it for China!” It’s a typical dramatic angle, but with a nationalistic twist.

This drama continues as Robert and Tianling have a private conversation. Robert chides Tianling for trying to learn English. He goes as far as accusing Tianling of only wooing Louise so he can get a green card. This may represent the darker associations the Chinese had for Americans. Robert is portrayed as fiercely nationalistic, seeking to maintain his privileges as an American against potential immigrants. This is not entirely unrealistic, if we’re to believe the vitriolic immigration debates we’re currently having. This tendency isn’t restricted to the Americans, however. Tianling’s father, of course, disapproves of Tianling’s plans to marry Louise. He sees his position in the family threatened by the marriage, asserting, “I’m still the boss!” and complaining about the new “rules” that Tianling is introducing to the house. There’s still room for comedy, though, as Tianling’s father receives a golden naked Roman statue from Louise’ parents, is flummoxed, and then tries to use his English, saying “I love you!” as gratitude.

It’s easy to see how Rachel DeWoskin’s character could prove so popular. Jesse is a principle player in getting Tianling and Louise together. DeWoskin puts a great deal of energy into describing a fight between Tianling and Robert. Compared to the main couple, Jesse’s relationship is very edgy. Their banter is great, and Tianming’s marriage is a source of a lot of drama. It’s a common instance of the B-couple being more interesting than the protagonists.

At times the limited budget shows, especially during the cuts (it’s probably why the fight between Robert and Tianling isn’t shown) but it’s easy to imagine a show like it succeeding here. The United States has a highly developed national identity, and a lot of drama can be taken from foreigners clashing with it. In fact, from “That 70’s Show” to “Aliens in America” (if you don’t remember “Aliens in America”, consider yourself lucky), sitcoms have gotten a lot of comedic mileage from wacky foreigners. China’s cultural climate, however, lent itself to a more serious and realistic approach to dealing with the theme. One character responds to complaints towards Tianling and Louise’s marriage, “China’s open. Everyone’s doing it.” It had a great deal of relevance to China at the time, with workers from the United States emigrating to China and starting local personal relationships (including DeWoskin herself), and the program attempted to portray these arising issues faithfully. The ratings indicate that it managed to strike viewers personally. Next time, I’ll look at Rachel DeWoskin’s more recent work and how she handles another kind of an outsider’s perspective.

— submitted by B. King

Friends of Blackstone Library presents author Rachel DeWoskin Wednesday, April 25, 2012 in “Big Girl Small – Writing in Triplet”, 6-7:00pm. Blackstone Library is located at 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. It is a branch of the Chicago Public Library. Seminary Co-op Bookstore will be selling books.

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