The Power of Parody and Counter-Speech: Student Reaction to Alexandra Wallace's Rant Video
March 16, 2011
In the wake of the controversy surrounding the "Asians in the Library" video posted recently by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, students and others have begun posting parodies—and they've quickly become hugely popular. Indeed, Wallace's video rant, which contains entirely protected speech, has unleashed a torrent of creativity aimed at debunking stereotypes of Asians, rebutting Wallace, and mocking her views.
Here's a good example: a catchy mock-love song to Wallace with lyrics like "ching chong, it means I love you." Despite being posted just yesterday, it's already been viewed more than 160,000 times:
Another video response uses hyperbole to skewer Wallace's imitation of Asian languages and her understanding of "Oriental manners":
Not all of the video responses that are circulating YouTube are as genial. Some include much stronger condemnation of Wallace—e.g., "Don't be mad because nobody loves you, bitch," as the video blogger below states. His response highlights stereotypes of both Asians and white people, arguing that Wallace's ancestors (his generic understanding of "white people") gave smallpox to Native Americans:
Of course, if judged by the standards that UCLA is using to "investigate" whether Wallace's video constitutes discriminatory harassment, many of these videos, which critique Wallace's appearance and make generalizations based on race, should fall prey to the same type of unwise investigation.
Although it expressed views that many find racist and offensive, Wallace's video has not simply relegated those offended by it to the status of victims, devoid of the ability to respond for themselves and in need of official censorship to protect them. To the contrary, Wallace's rant has been widely answered with speech—both humorous and angry—from those who disagree with her, and has continued conversations about race and stereotypes. The mass of counter-speech has even produced charity efforts on behalf of those affected by the natural disaster in Japan—for example, proceeds from sales of this t-shirt mocking Wallace's impersonation of Asian languages will go to the Red Cross.
We are glad that these students are exercising their First Amendment rights and are not resorting, like some others, to calls for punishment, censorship, or even unprotected death threats. In fact, some videos—like the last one discussed above—explicitly implore those offended not to harm Wallace. On college campuses and YouTube, then, the marketplace of ideas remains strong—powered by intelligence, offense, and even outrage.