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  • Audrey Cleo

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    Art of the present.

    A few of my M.A. colleagues in actual Santa Monica, not a green screen. Photo by Matias Jaskari.

    A few of my M.A. colleagues and me in actual Santa Monica, not a green screen. Photo by Matias Jaskari.

    Last week, I graduated from a master’s program that has, more or less, taken up the majority of my life over the past nine-and-a-half months or so. A lot can happen in nine months; a lot can not happen in nine months. It was the latter that motivated me to consider pursuing my Master of Arts degree in specialized journalism at the end of 2013, punctuating a year of career ups and downs for me. I have always been a student of sorts, which is probably why I have pursued a career in journalism and media in the first place; it’s a constant education. To pursue it more formally as an Annenberg fellow at USC would make it official.

    So, I accepted, as a matter of professional detouring and personal development and growth. I’ve learned that, in the right context, sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is say “Yes” even if you’re only, like, 60% there. Saying yes means opening yourself up to something, even if you’re not sure what that something is. For me, it has meant learning and accomplishing a few somethings: I shot, produced and edited three documentary shorts about some pretty fascinating people – this guy, this guy and this gal.

    I took my love of sports stories and (metaphorically) ran with it, completing a graduate thesis project about surfing in the Olympics. I wrote the first act of a screenplay. I wrote some other stuff. I took up a post as a teaching assistant my second semester, fulfilling a career-long dream of torturing working with undergraduates and even taught a two-hour class of my own accord, perhaps one of the most intimidating things I’ve done, well, ever; it was also one the most rewarding.

    I listened and learned, took lots of notes by hand, on Evernote and sometimes wrote them ON my hand. I detoured and broke down and cried and kept going. I met some of the most accomplished, intelligent, inquisitive and driven people I’ve ever met – and ever will meet – in my life. I spent most weekends locked in my home office, downing cans of Diet Coke in front of Adobe Premiere and not seeing daylight except for the Saturday morning dance class I made myself walk to and from. I stopped cooking and am just now doing my first load of laundry in a month. I need to surf. Badly.

    Perhaps most importantly, I learned the value of not holding back. If there is anything I hope that my colleagues in the program, all of them women (!), have taken away from our weird, wonderful journey together, it’s that our voices are too precious to not be shared. Too often, the politics of the working world prevent us from using them at full volume, preclude us from writing with candor and intimidate us from speaking our truth. But our voices matter in shaping the discourse of our world and sharing the stories that would, otherwise, fall to the wayside. Using them means not letting one narrative dominate over the countless others that count, too, and restoring the agency of those in the margins.

    Our speaker at graduation, Jorge Ramos, said something about journalism being the art of the present. Taking this professional detour and ticking off this checkbox on my personal bucket list has surely been an exercise in the art of staying present, of stepping outside of my comfort zone and just enjoying the ride.

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    [WATCH] Hanging out in the studio with Sean Garrett and Avery Wilson.

    I stopped by the recording studio with ‘The Voice” alum, Avery Wilson, and super producer, Sean Garrett (Beyonce, Britney Spears, Usher, Ciara) as they lay down tracks for Wilson’s debut album. I also get some realtalk from Sean about the impact of the web on music, and Avery gives Young Hollywood a little preview of his new single, “If I Have To.”

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    [WATCH] Interview with “NCIS: New Orleans” star Zoe McLellan.

    “NCIS: New Orleans” star Zoe McLellan stopped by the newly remodeled Young Hollywood studio to spread the NOLA love, talk cast chemistry and what’s in store for her character, Meredith Brody, with me. Some chicks you just vibe with from the get go; Zoe (rhymes with “Joe”) is one of them. “NCIS: NOLA” airs on CBS.

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    The Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, featured on the newest “Celebrity Damage Control”!

    If you missed the premiere on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, don’t fret (guitar pun totally intended… because Black Sabbath). Encores of “Celebrity Damage Control: Ozzy Osbourne” air on Reelz Channel as follows:

    Saturday, 4/25 @ 9:30 a.m. PDT/ 12:30 p.m. EDT

    Sunday, 4/26 @ 10:00 p.m. PDT / Monday, 4/27 @ 1:00 a.m. EDT

    It’s one of my favorite episodes of the season because a) I heart Ozzy Osbourne and b) Sharon ranks high up there as one of my favorite interviews ever.

    Catch the teaser below, featuring yours truly!

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    Encore of “Celebrity Damage Control: Arnold Schwarzenegger” airs this Saturday!

    Catch the encore of “Celebrity Damage Control: Arnold Schwarzenegger” this Saturday, 10:30 am PDT/1:30 pm EDT on Reelz Channel.

    Check out yours truly in the trailer below!

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    “Celebrity Damage Control: Arnold Schwarzenegger” airs this week on Reelz!

    Catch me weighing in on the governator’s ascent as an Austrian body-builder to the world’s most famous action star – and his descent after a personal scandal on “Celebrity Damage Control: Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Wednesday, March 11, 9 p.m. EST/ 6 p.m. PST.

    And in case you missed last week’s episodes, here’s the trailer I was featured in for “Celebrity Damage Control: Paris Hilton”!

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    Good or bad, “Fresh Off the Boat” is important


    When “Fresh Off the Boat” premieres tonight on ABC, it will be the first Asian-American family sitcom in 20 years. In 1994, “All-American Girl,” starring Margaret Cho, debuted on the same network and survived a singular season.  Since the show’s cancellation, Cho has been vocal about the network executives’ utter cluelessness and racial tone deafness over her show, from suggesting show names like “Dim Sum, Lose Some” and “Wok on the Wild Side” to passive-aggressive jabs about her appearance. Although, since they passed on the name already, “Dim Sum, Lose Some” might have to be the name of my future memoir; I never like to see a pun go to waste. Unless, of course, it’s terribly racist. I will have to think about this more. Moving on.

    I remember watching Cho’s show as a kid and while my parents found the comedy crass and silly, I saw a glimmer of hope. Yes, the characters were broad and stereotypical, but even though I’m not Korean-American, I thought to myself, “Finally, people who look like me in Hollywood who aren’t just Mr. Miyagi or that one Asian news anchor!” It was normalizing to see myself represented even if in a broad, continental sense.

    And while a lot can happen in 20 years, a lot can not happen. As recently as 2013, audiences were more likely to see an alien or creature of some other fantasy race than an Asian woman. So I think many of us Asian-American pop culture fans have adhered to a “take what we can get philosophy” for awhile now: the emasculated nerd, the I.T. guy, the kung fu master, the seductress who always always wears some version of a cheongsam and red lipstick. As an audience whose underrepresentation has, up until recently, squelched the nuances of our stories and experiences, we have had to take the broad strokes because they’re the only ones available. It’s a hunger reflex of sorts. We’ll take the junk food if it just means getting fed; we’ll take it because it’s there.

    “Fresh Off the Boat” is based on chef/TV host/ex-lawyer/author Eddie Huang’s autobiography of the same name, which, in part, chronicles his early life and his family’s move from Washington, D.C. to predominantly Caucasian Orlando, Florida in the 1990s. In a New York Magazine article that showcased the bombastic, hip-hop-laced swagger that has come to define his brand, Huang – whose parents emigrated from Taiwan –  criticized ABC’s reduction of his story into a “cornstarch sitcom.” After much back-and-forth between Huang and “F.O.B.’s” show runners, he finally comes around, reluctantly accepting of network mandates: “People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network’s approach to pacifying them is to say we’re all the same. Sell them pasteurized network television with East Asian faces until they wake up intolerant of their own lactose, and hit ’em with the soy. Baking soya, I got baking soya!”

    I get where Huang is coming from, but what he misses, in his initial censure at least, is that most network sitcoms are cornstarchy: basic, reductive and, oftentimes, bland. They go for the cheap, broad laughs, general enough to be appreciated by the widest swath of the viewing population and only specific enough to be inoffensive to that same swath. If one of the fundamentals of comedy is honesty, then a staff of writers and show runners who have first-hand experiences with being the products of immigrant communities are bound to spice up that starch; they add the much-needed flavor, whether it’s Persian or Taiwanese. Huang has clarified his comments since.

    And that flavor, ultimately, is distinctly American. See, what has been so lost in the purview of TV and film made in the good ol’ U-S-of-A is that – aside from Native Americans – all of our stories are immigrant stories. We all came from somewhere, our arrival times different but our destination the same. Those staggered timelines mean that the cultural norms of the “old world” are closer to some of us than they are to others. The immigrant stories, and those of the children who become the hyphenate Americans at the crevasse of old and new worlds, make up the patchwork of American-ness that distinguishes us from every other country in the world.

    Thus, “Fresh Off the Boat” is coming in, loaded with baggage, under a Tiger-Mom-during-SAT-season level of pressure to represent but not offend, to tell a specific story that’s general enough for everyone, to fill up a two-decades-long drought of normalizing an entire population. Its more recent controversy – over a tweet that depicted various immigrant stereotypes through cartoons in ethnic garb – has thrust the show further into the spotlight. But I’m excited that it’s made it this far and is already generating good buzz.

    Of course, the show could still fall flat on its face, descend into caricature, get all up in that cornstarch and roll around in it until there’s no trace of five spice left. But for now, I’ll take it because it’s there, because it’s about damn time.

    “Fresh Off the Boat’s” two-episode premiere airs tonight on ABC, 8:30 & 9:30 p.m.

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