The “Spelling Bee My Baby” episode of American Dad opens with a Japanese mom beating her children for not playing their instruments intensely enough to make her “feel” the music. She went on to explain that they wouldn’t be eligible for the Ivy Leagues if they didn’t master music, academics, and every other extra-curricular activity known to man.
The jokes continued as we entered the Smith home, where Francine berated Steve for failing at everything, making it impossible to attend a decent college in the future. “You are good at nothing,” she said, “but there’s still minority quotas. Your name is Totunka. Now, I’m gonna jump online and find a book on dealing blackjack.” The show poked fun at Native American casino culture while highlighting a wide misconception about racial quotas and college admissions. But the fun didn’t stop there. Later, Toshi’s Mom broke into the Smith’s home dressed as a ninja in order to rescue her daughter from Francine in time to compete in the spelling bee. After arriving late to the competition, where her daughter and Steve competed for the national title, she challenged Francine to a brawl that turned for the worst when she discovered that Francine was Chinese, thus able to walk on walls and creatively dodge long swords. As the battle began, Toshi’s Mom bragged, “There’s no way you can beat me; I’m Asian. This is my culture…Wait. You’re Chinese?”
The hilarious dialogue remained fresh throughout the episode, but eventually got to the heart of the matter. In an endearing exchange between Steve and Akiko, Steve refused to win the spelling bee so that Akiko’s mom wouldn’t punish her for losing. Akiko responded by deliberately misspelling words, proving that her love for Steve was stronger than that of her overbearing mother’s approval.
More serious weight is often placed on jokes that poke fun of disadvantaged minority groups, but when the over-achieving Asian joke gets cracked, it’s typically funny and accepted. Why? Since so many people place such high value on success, academic and otherwise, it’s hard to label the desire to do well as “bad.” Viewers have become so accustomed to seeing the extremely smart and talented Asian archetype that they fail to realize all Asians aren’t exceptionally bright. To people living outside of this expectation, it may seem silly when people get offended over A+ jokes. Many others, however, have seen this notion destroy lives and spirits.
Francine’s character arc demonstrated the level of craziness that all determined parents are capable of. When she locked Akiko in her basement in order to keep her from beating Steve in the spelling bee, she defied the notion that Asian parents are the only ones who go above and beyond reason to ensure their children’s success. American Dad is doing great work to entertain and educate the masses, one extreme storyline at a time.