"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

02:52. That is all the time it takes for UCLA political science major Alexandra Wallace to alienate and offend, expose her own ignorance, and pretty much put an end to her prestigious UCLA education. Wallace accomplishes all of this in her video “Asians in the Library,” initially posted to YouTube on March 11, 2011. The video is commonly labeled a “racist rant” which suggests that she turned on her webcam and, in the heat of the moment, let the hate flow. However, there is clear evidence that someone took the time to edit the video and an article from The Sacramento Bee quotes her father as saying that she was planning to purchase a domain name to support the video’s distribution [1]. While this does not mean that the video isn’t technically a rant, it is important to recognize that this was not the rash outburst of a young woman with no sense of how the internet and publicity operate. Wallace did not assume she was safely anonymous among the noise of the Internet. Rather, if her father is to be believed, she sought publicity and intended to use the video to launch her career. In my opinion, the evidence of forethought and planning makes the video even more egregious.

What she clearly did not plan was the overwhelmingly negative response. Dreaming of a career as a video blogger, she expected neither death threats, nor the exposure of her personal information, nor to be ostracized on campus. Her official apology, printed in The Daily Bruin on March 14, indicates that if she could take the video back, she would. Questions of her sincerity aside, it is clear that the Internet remains unsatisfied. New video responses continue to appear on YouTube almost three weeks after her official apology.

As a researcher who is writing about viral structures, and an educator in a program in Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas, I have been watching the debacle with interest. The video provides a valuable opening to discuss ongoing issues of racism and the insufficiency of strategies of “color blindness” in U.S. culture. It is also a concrete lesson on the uncontrollable and long term consequences of our online actions.

But there is one more lesson to be gleaned from the video and the responses to it. What follows is in no way intended to condone Wallace’s ideas, nor her actions. I find her ignorant and offensive. However, I do feel compelled to focus the discussion here, if just for a very brief moment.

You see, Wallace didn’t just record a video that went viral. She recorded a video that went viral while wearing a low-cut top. Many of the responses have zeroed in on this aspect of her performance, attacking her on the basis of how she is dressed.

I am embarrassed to admit that even I made note of her wardrobe after seeing the video for the first time. I angrily remarked that her video was evidence that being accepted at UCLA is not a guarantor of intelligence and rashly concluded with what I felt was a witty one-liner: “And girl, buy a shirt for the love…” I share this with you, not just as an admission of my own culpability, but also as evidence that signifiers of sexuality, particularly female sexuality, make for a very easy target.

The majority of the video responses I have seen resort to this target [2].

The first response I recall seeing was posted by YouTube user, ColdBlueMedia. In this video, the speaker engages in an almost sentence-for-sentence parody focused on how distracting it is to encounter cleavage in the library.

A quick browse through the “suggestions” side bar indicates that this mode of response – an ad hominem attack based on a presumption of transgressive sexual activity – is disturbingly prevalent. ColdBlueMedia’s video, with its montage of “sexy librarian” images and its use of the word “boobs,” is one of the more explicit examples. Though other parodic responses may be less explicit, many of them contain references to Wallace’s sexuality. This mode is not limited to men – there are multiple videos made by women, including “Library” by Disgrasian contributor Diana who shares in the comments that she stuffed her bra for the recording of the video. The undercurrent of Wallace’s sexuality is even subtly refigured in the video “Asians In The Library PARODY of UCLA Girl Alexandra Wallace” by YouTube user LoganSexyBack in which he complains about the numbers of distractingly cute Asian girls accepted at UC Davis.

What are we to infer from this? Perhaps, as one of my students suggested, Wallace’s ideas are so ridiculous that they don’t warrant a direct response. Perhaps this facilitates the focus on her sexuality. My brilliant friend and fellow-academic, Dr. Caroline Hong, would likely point out that parody is a common mode of addressing racism in U.S. culture. So that makes me wonder, why not parody Wallace’s whiteness? Many of the speakers parody her “valley girl” speech patterns and mannerisms, but I wonder whether these are in fact parodying whiteness? My equally brilliant friend and colleague, Dr. Melissa Stevenson, suggested that the “valley girl” persona seems to be rather more gendered than raced. I suspect she is on to something but would perhaps also add class to that identity matrix – the “valley girl” may be more a parody of young middle class femininity than of whiteness. So what is really going on with these?

It isn’t that whiteness can’t be parodied. YouTube user DavidSoComedy produced “Vlog #4: Asians in the Library – UCLA Girl (Alexandra Wallace) going wild on Asians,” a comedic response that possibly invokes even more stereotypes than Wallace herself [3]. For a portion of the video, he performs a parody of awkward whiteness involving European settlers and small-pox infested blankets. However, as much as So addresses the absurdity of Wallace’s claims, even this video eventually retreats to an attack on her sexuality. At 03:52, So exclaims “you look like a slut!” and insinuates that performing fellatio is Wallace’s only talent.

Even my very favorite response, which takes a far less vitriolic approach, centers on Wallace as a potential sexual partner. YouTube user Jimmy‘s video, “Ching Chong! Asians in the Library Song (Response to UCLA’s Alexandra Wallace)” features a catchy pop song that attempts to woo Wallace even as it refers to her “pounds of makeup.” Jimmy’s lyrics poke fun at Wallace’s assertion that she experiences an epiphany each time she studies, crooning, “Wait, are you freaking kidding me? If you have an epiphany every single time you study, that means you’re probably doing something wrong.” Then he smiles flirtatiously and assures her,“but I like it when you’re wrong.”

The lyrics take the wrongness of Wallace’s racist ideas and questionable study habits and shift the discourse to her sexuality in suggesting she is pleasingly “wrong.” Much of the song’s lyrics rely on similar language structures of double entendre and innuendo typically employed in pornography. Though to be fair, as my brilliant friend and colleague Anne Cong-huyen [4] points out, “He is inviting her to engage with him (and he’s said in interviews since then that he would like it if Wallace reached out and contacted him). Much of the song acts as an invitation, and is like a love song to a flawed lover.” The playfulness of Jimmy’s song positions Wallace as redeemable, despite her problematic ideas and behavior. The humorous and humanizing tone make it one of the best responses, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it still engages Wallace on the basis of her sexuality.

It is difficult to imagine these three videos playing out in exactly this way had Wallace been a man. But her status as a blonde woman dressed in a revealing top becomes the subject of many of the rebuttals and focuses attention on assumptions about sexuality rather than the real issues at hand – her ignorant and racist remarks and lack of moral framework.

Perhaps most emblematic of the ease with which Wallace’s sexuality makes for an easy target is the video “RE: Asians in the Library (Alexandra Wallace)” by YouTube user Stefwithonef [5]. At almost seven minutes, this fairly sophisticated, if somewhat rambling, response invokes the historically problematic “yellow peril,” raises the question of whether Wallace should face legal repercussions, and incorporates many off-site comments and responses. But about half way through the video, at 03:49, we once again see that retreat to the ad hominem attack. Stefwithonef says that Wallace’s video is full of “quite frankly, a lot of dumb shit,” and continues “You don’t see me typecasting her as the stereotypical promiscuous American dumb blonde that got Daddy to pay for her breast implants.” Except you just did exactly that. It is that easy to slip into this mode of attack.

screenshot of a google search

Screenshot of Google search results purportedly showing Alexandra Wallace’s bikini photos

Wallace’s role as sexualized object takes an even stranger turn, when one considers that photos have surfaced that purport to be of her in a professional bikini photo shoot. In fact, a search of “Alexandra Wallace bikini UCLA” turns up over 80,000 hits on Google. Additionally, when one performs a Google search of “Alexandra Wallace,” one of the links in the “news” category includes an L.A. Weekly blog post titled “Alexandra Wallace Porn: Vivid Entertainment Casts UCLA Racist in…” The first line under the link reads “Who said Asians in the Library hottie Alexandra Wallace wouldn’t be able to land a job?” The link is no longer functional and one might infer that this is because Wallace has no such contract with Vivid. However, the fact that such speculation should even arise points to the foregrounding of her sexuality in this whole mess.

Google search screen shot

Screenshot of Google search results showing blog post about Wallace and Vivid Entertainment

On the The Daily Show, Jon Stewart and John Hodgeman address the “Asians in the Library” video and raise the question of whether Wallace’s life should be impacted by a video in which she perhaps did not understand the implications of her actions. I’m not so certain she is the “accidental racist” that John Hodgeman labels her; however, it is my sincere hope that Wallace has learned from this experience. It would be great if, like her parodic suitor Jimmy, she parlayed this debacle into an opportunity to do some social good.

I know I, for one, have learned from it.

The viral structure of “Asians in the Library” and the attendant video responses contains explicit lessons about racism and the consequences of online activity. Perhaps a bit more implicitly, the viral structure also serves as a reminder of ongoing problematic social attitudes toward women and sexuality. These are attitudes in which fairly benign signifiers lead to assumptions about transgressive female behavior. The videos signal that female sexuality is socially acceptable as a point of critique, made available for attack more explicitly and more easily than other real and valid shortcomings (even for well-meaning but angry feminist academics). And for that, Alexandra Wallace, I apologize. What I really meant to say when I blithely suggested that you purchase a new shirt is that your ignorant video is a terrible reminder of the ongoing insidious racism that often lurks just below the surface in contemporary culture.

Footnotes:

[1] This article was first shared with me by Caleigh Beauchamp, a graduate student in EMAC at the University of Texas, Dallas.

[2] This is overwhelmingly amplified in the comments on YouTube. However, I intend to only address video responses here since YouTube comments require very little barrier to participation and are widely acknowledged to be the cesspool of the Internet. One might argue that this is further evidence of deeply ingrained attitudes toward female sexuality. I do not dispute that. However, the planning, production, and uploading of video responses makes it unlikely that these were done in the heat of the moment and therefore cannot be written off as lashing out in anger.

[3] This video was brought to my attention by UTD EMAC undergrad Lan Nguyen.

[4] It’s true – I have many brilliant friends and colleagues with whom I am fortunate to have interesting discussions about these things. So thanks to Anne Cong-huyen for her insights and for first posting a link to this video. Which consequently means I should also thank her for getting the song stuck in my head. Jimmy Wong has made the song available on iTunes for $.99 with proceeds going to tsunami-relief in Japan.

[5] Thanks to UTD EMAC graduate student Mattie Tanner for first sharing this video in our class.

Further Resources:

Huffington Post coverage of the incident.

New York Times coverage of the video

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s video response to Wallace

NPR Interview with Jimmy Wong re: “Ching Chong! Asians in the Library Song”

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Comments on: "Hotties in the Library: YouTube’s Response to Alexandra Wallace’s Cleavage" (3)

  1. I like it! *said fast and loudly*

  2. […] I read Professor Kim Knight’s blog post and realized that my characterization and judgment of Ms. Wallace was highly sexist, and […]

  3. […] reactions to the Alexandra Wallace “Asians in the Library” video, which I blogged about here. Share this:PrintEmailTwitterFacebookRedditDiggStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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