Saturday, April 02, 2011

Public Enemy

Not to sound like my grandmother, but the world just isn’t safe anymore. Everywhere you turn is an opportunity for you to embarrass yourself before the whole world. And here’s why.

With everyone owning a phone these days, every single moment of the day is ripe material to be captured on shaky video or snapped in hi definition and faster than you can say ‘Pamela Lee Anderson’, you’re up on YouTube or being laughed at by complete strangers on Facebook.

And thanks to the ‘Share’ function on Facebook, I now know that if your favourite restaurant has run out of sharks fin, you shouldn’t ever throw a tantrum. Or wail in hysterical Cantonese if you’ve missed your flight. Or pick a fight with a foul mouthed Hokkien auntie on the bus. Or wear a hair-band decorated with acrylic peanut decorations. Or sleep on the train.

Do any of these things and you might as well call it a day and immigrate to an remote Alaskan island where they don’t have internet, because you will never live down the social embarrassment.

As Saffy once pointed out with penetrating insight, these days, you can’t fart without someone you know smelling it – a comment that led to Amanda and me avoiding her for days after.

What’s particularly astonishing is that despite all the well known dangers of being out and about in public and saying or doing something stupid, there are still people who willingly go out of their way to attract attention.
Like Alexandra Wallace.

So, here we have a nice, normal, fun-loving, blonde and attractive American girl. A third year political science student at UCLA. Who should have been spending her days and nights with her head kept low and studying hard. All her parents’ sacrifices and hard earned money spent sending her to one of America’s premier university were soon to pay off. Graduation was just around the corner.

And what does she do? She makes a video and then posts it up on YouTube. And what’s in the video, you ask? Basically, it’s a monologue complaining about the Asian students in her school.

She starts off by asking that what she’s about to say not be taken offensively, and then goes on to complain about the ‘hordes of Asian people’ that arrive at UCLA without any ‘American manners’. Specifically, her complaint is how their entire family will show up on campus on the weekend to do their laundry, buy groceries and cook their food for the week.

Her main complaint though is Asians who talk on their handphones in the library. “Oh! Ching chong ling long! Are you freaking kidding me? In the middle of finals?”

The rant lasts just under three minutes.

But here’s the thing. Alexandra Wallace’s video went viral. Even though she took it down almost immediately, it was too late. Spoofs mushroomed on YouTube – some were quite funny, but many were just as mean-spirited and ignorant as her original video. Maybe more. The abuse and death threats came thick and fast against her and her poor family who’d just been minding their own business the entire time while she’d been mouthing off at the camera. She had to move around campus with security guards and shortly after, she pulled out of the university.

The course of her entire life altered. Just because of three very ill-judged minutes.

“The poor thing,” Saffy said after she’d watched the YouTube clip. “I feel sorry for her. It was stupid of her to say such things, though!”

“Especially in public!” Amanda added.

“But people on their handphones can be so annoying though!” Saffy said, pursing her lips. You could tell she was mentally comparing Alexandra Wallace’s bosom with her own. And sure enough, she added, “I wonder where she got that tank top.”

As Amanda later pointed out, right there was a moment ripe for capturing on video and putting up on YouTube.

But Alexandra Wallace’s plight continues to obsess us – more for its tragic quality than anything else.

“How must her poor family feel?” Saffy wanted to know. “Can you imagine if she’d been Chinese? Oh my God, the drama!”

“My mother would probably threaten to commit suicide in public, or something stupid like that,” Amanda said, and added, “but not before killing me.”

“How would she do it?” Saffy asked.

“She’d probably jump off a bridge, dragging me with her.”

“I think mine would jump off a building,” Saffy mused.

“I’d be disinherited,” I said which, in the world according to my family, is almost the same thing as being killed.

Saffy says there wouldn’t be much interest for a YouTube clip showing me being disinherited.

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