Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hung on Top

Last night in its third season, Top Chef named Hung (don't know last name--they usually only refer to one another by their first names) the winner of the cooking reality tv show. Hung is a Vietnamese immigrant--his story came out in the penultimate show, when he finally got personal and discussed his motivations for being in the show--as a tribute to his parents: his father escaped from Viet Nam in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, came to the U.S., and eventually brought the rest of the family over, while his mother is credited for teaching Hung how to cook, infusing him with the skills and passion for a life of the kitchen.

Although one would guess that I would be rooting for Hung, I actually was turned off by his personality during the show--he was highly competitive, independent minded, confident to the point of being cocky and arrogant, disdainful of his competitors, often scoffing at how easy a challenge was, and admitted that his strategy was to look out for himself only--that in a regular kitchen he was a team player but that during Top Chef he was in it to win and wasn't interested in helping other contestants.

Yet I wonder how much of my own distaste for him was based on the internalized stereotypes I've imbibed about the way Asian Americans should behave: deferential, communally oriented, humble, self-effacing, and quiet. Hung is none of these things, and I am glad that he IS so confident and sure of himself, as well as being skilled. Although, interestingly enough, one stereotype that was perpetuated on the show was that Hung had technical mastery but no soul or heart (a charge often leveled against Asian and Asian American artists/musicians). I think Hung does have heart and soul and I'm glad that he, along with Yul Kwon, are changing the face of media television, even if briefly, to demonstrate that Asian American men can be strong and confident winners.

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