Digital Story Critique #14: The Hunt for General Tso

*I am currently working my way through my fourth semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver.  This is the fourteenth post within a series of critiques on digital stories that I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled Digital Storytelling.

This week’s critique is on a TEDTalk titled The Hunt for General Tso, given by Jennifer 8. Lee, who is quite possibly, one of the world’s most accomplished women (my mouth dropped open when I found her on LinkedIn).  Ms. Lee talks about her hunt for the origins of familiar Chinese-American dishes, exploring the hidden spots where these two cultures have combined to form a new cuisine.  She uses a mixture of visual content, humor, and wit to explain where certain Chinese-American dishes came from and how they are more popular than America’s biggest fast food chains.TED

I chose to critique this piece because it goes well with my focal theme for the semester (self reflection through food / food traditions) and it’s different from the websites and articles I’ve been reviewing.  Also, in the personal profile page on the TED website, Ms Lee wrote, “People don’t know I’m good at creating comedic short films and analyzing behaviors of straight men.”  With that sense of humor, I knew instantly I’d like to sit down and watch Ms. Lee talk about pretty much anything.  She also has a number as her middle initial.  I don’t know of many people who could pull that off.

Jennifer Lee

The TED website explains perfectly…
Why You Should Listen

To critique this piece, I used the following traits from Jason Ohler’s “Assessing digital stories, new media narrative“:  1.) research, 2.) sense of audience and 3.) media application.

  • Research – After digging a bit deeper into Ms. Lee’s work, I found that she actually wrote a book on the subject of her TEDTalk that was published shortly after this talk.  She obviously did more than enough research to not only present to the million plus viewers who have watched her talk, but to publish a successful book titled The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.  Her speech during her talk, as well as the visual content she presented on screen, reflect the mental, emotional, and physical work she put into her research.
  • Sense of audience – Ms. Lee clearly had a great sense of her audience as not only was her speech interesting and informative, but it was quite humorous and witty as well.  She kept her entire talk extremely entertaining and the audience obviously really enjoyed it.  Here are a few excerpt from the transcripts that elicited quite a few laughs:

    And the house that John Wilkes Booth planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is actually also now a Chinese restaurant called Wok ‘n Roll, on H Street in Washington. (Laughter)

    So, let me present the question to you: If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, you should ask yourself, how often do you eat apple pie, versus how often do you eat Chinese food. Right? (Laughter)

    For example, I took a whole bunch of fortune cookies back to China, gave them to Chinese to see how they would react. What is this? Should I try it? Try it! What is it called? Fortune cookie. There’s a piece of paper inside! (Laughter) What is this?You’ve won a prize! What is this? It’s a fortune! Tasty!

    I love this dish. The original name in my book was actually called The Long March of General Tso, and he has marched very far indeed, because he is sweet, he is fried, and he is chicken — all things that Americans love. (Laughter)

    So, these people are going around China asking for chop suey, which is sort of like a Japanese guy coming here and saying, I understand you have a very popular dish in your country called “leftovers,” and it is particularly — (Laughter) — right? And not only that: this dish is particularly popular after that holiday you call Thanksgiving. (Laughter)

  • Media application – I’ve never been a fan of single-media stories.  I don’t like reading articles without images that enhance the story being told, or watching someone speak when they’re just standing there talking, or watching pictures in a slideshow without accompanying speech or text.  I prefer to be engaged and repeatedly interacting with the story being told.  Ms. Lee did an excellent job with her accompanying presentation.  Her images enhanced every point she was making and several of them were quite humorous and drove home a few laughs.  He presentation also enforced her research.  It showed that she physically went out into the world and interviewed people, photographed several different locations, and immersed herself in the topic she presented on. The Hunt for General Tso
*All images from the TEDTalk (here).