That Time I Went Viral with a Video of My Immigrant Parents
“A Cast of Kings,” an unofficial podcast I co-host about HBO’s House of the Dragon, was recently featured in an article in The New York Times. Being mentioned on the website was delightful but the article actually appeared in the print version of the newspaper as well.
During a recent visit from my parents, I decided to tell them about this notable event. I gave them a copy of the newspaper and filmed their reaction. I figured it probably be interesting no matter what happened. Their response was characteristic of how they handled this type of news for most of my existence: Muted.
I suspected the video might serve as a Rorschach test for people’s own thoughts on parental pride. So on October 19th, 2022, I posted the reaction video across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter:
As of this writing the video has received over 800K views across all platforms. But what fascinated me the most was the variety of reactions. I’d largely categorize them as follows (with actual sample comments):
People who were picking up what I was putting down
I’m also a child of immigrant parents. I feel this in my soul. This is too good.
By far the most responses were from other folks who recognized the flavor of reaction that they saw in the video. Many immigrant parents don’t have the same metrics of success that parents in the US generally have, and they certainly don’t express love and affirmation in the same way. People recognized this and felt seen.
People reminding me of the fundamental truth that my parents still love me
Haha my parents are Vietnamese. I know this feeling very well. They are proud of you David! I could tell in the “mmhmms"
A slight variation of #1 above, there were people who not only recognized the reaction, but wanted to remind me that this didn’t mean my parents didn’t love me or weren’t proud of me. Overall, I’m aligned with this reading.
People congratulating me personally
Dave I absolutely love you. Hugs from completely destroyed Fort Myers FL - more than happy to be your Florida momma
It was lovely to have friends and colleagues I know reach out with words of affirmation. But there were a bunch of complete strangers who felt I was so bereft of proper parental love that they commented to personally congratulate me. This was…kinda sweet actually? At first I thought it was kind of bizarre that strangers were congratulating me on an accomplishment they probably didn’t even understand (in that they don’t know my podcasts or anything) but the more I thought about it, the more I was moved by it. People just wanted to reach out and correct something they thought was a wrong by putting more kindness into the world. You love to see it.
People straight up writing fan fiction
Meanwhile, your mom will wait until you leave, cut out that article, put it in her purse, and show it off to anyone who will look. As long as you’re not there.
I got a lot of comments that wildly speculated about what my parents were actually doing in the clip, and/or what they did after the clip was over. They told all their friends! They saved the newspaper clipping and mom put it in her purse and took it out of her purse to look at it and admire it on a regular basis! They framed the newspaper and gave it a place of great honor in the house! They were secretly extremely proud of me and trying very hard to hide it in the reaction video!
I can assure that none of these things actually happened. I speak from a place of authority, as someone who has known my parents for many decades. What is interesting to me is that people felt the need to concoct fictions in order to fit this video into their understanding of the world. It was almost like the video broke people’s brains. They simply couldn’t understand how a parent could not be proud of a child who’d achieved something of this magnitude (as modest as it is) and had to create a story to reconcile the video with their vision of the world.
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If I had a takeaway from everything, it’s this: People should try to keep an open mind for how other cultures (and other parents) relate to their children. On the one hand, it’s important to remember that love can be shown in many different forms and it may not come with praise, smiles, hugs, and expressions of pride that we may be familiar with American culture. On the other, sometimes a kid may just want his parents to recognize his accomplishments in a way that makes sense. It’s okay to feel that and to share that too.
Side note: I’m not recommending you try to make your parents go viral but if you do, I’ll just say that I am so glad I included some caveats at the beginning of my video about how I actually felt about my parents (i.e. warmly). I anticipated the wide range of reactions the video might get and if I hadn’t, I really think the comments would’ve gone to a darker place and ultimately that’s not the type of energy I wanted to put into the world.
Stuff I’ve made
On The Filmcast, we covered Park Chan-Wook’s Decision To Leave, a sumptuous Neo-noir that makes for compelling viewing.
Later today, my recap of Andor episode 9 with Patrick H. Willems will drop over on the Decoding TV podcast. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it!
Also on Decoding TV: In case you missed it, I’m recapping The White Lotus season 2 with Roxana Hadadi from Vulture. Listen to the podcast or watch us break down the first episode below.
"...create a story to reconcile the video with their vision of the world."
I find this happens a lot online, I notice it especially on reddit. People like to fill in the blanks no matter what the video or picture depicts. I even hear it in the daily morning show I listen to on the radio - the hosts will read a story about someone and make up some continuing story based on their own assumptions.
I think it's an incredible confirmation that we as people continue to feel the need to relate to each other with stories, in any medium.
Love it :)