UCLA student's 'Asians' rant ignites YouTube responses

Jimmy Wong's "Asians in the Library Song"
Jimmy Wong's "Asians in the Library Song"Today

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By Athima Chansanchai

Jimmy Wong, a lot of people ching chong you. 

(It means they love you.)

If you're not laughing, then you haven't seen Wong's YouTube video, "Asians in the Library Song," one of many video responses to UCLA student Alexandra Wallace's rant about Asians in the library talking on their cellphones, checking on their relatives after the "tsunami thing." While the original video has been taken down, copies are still climbing in page views, with one rising above 4.5 million — but skewing overwhelming on the "dislike" scale. Watch Wong's humorous take on the situation and hopefully, you'll be laughing with us:

When poli-sci student Wallace posted her video, she probably had no idea it would create its own tsunami of responses from Asians and Asian Americans across the country, as well as people of all ethnicities and races. They unleashed a torrent of video responses, some vlogs, some angry, some funny, some poignant and some showing musical brilliance (as in the case of Wong’s catchy song). 

Wallace, whose video went viral the first weekend after disaster crippled Japan, used up her three minutes of fame lambasting Asians whose families visited them to help cook and clean, while pointing out her own American manners and the indignation of being interrupted as she was about to have an "epiphany" during her finals cramming.

It didn't take long for responses to stream in, many of them labeling her as "the racist UCLA student." Twitter and Facebook lit up with many angry anti-Wallace messages — and to a lesser degree, disappointed — including some heavy discussion on group boards, such as the Asian American Journalists Association's MediaWatch. (Full disclosure: I'm national secretary of the organization.) But it was on YouTube, where the controversy began, that really took it to another level.

On Know Your Meme, this "Asians in the Library" page gives a timeline of the events, and includes several video responses, including the Wong song.

"Initially I was pretty outraged," said Wong, in an interview last night. "When I first saw it [Wallace's video], I kind of knew what was coming. I’ve dealt with this sort of stereotype before. She wasn’t going to hold back. At the same time I was extremely frustrated, anger bubbling up in me, I still saw the entire thing as humorous. It almost felt like an SNL skit. Andy Samberg in a blonde wig doing that same monologue would have hit perfectly."  

Wong, 23, is a classically trained musician and a Seattle native who moved to Los Angeles a year ago to pursue an acting career. He recently landed a part in a Paul Giamatti movie, "John Dies at the End" (currently filming), and has enough work to commit proceeds from all his songs on iTunes to Japan relief efforts. 

Since its debut on YouTube Tuesday — after an all-nighter session of writing, recording and editing — Wong's music video soared to almost 1 million views and this "very single" guy says he's already received 18 marriage proposals over Twitter. (We can't blame you, ladies.) 

Wong's older filmmaker brother, Freddie, is a big draw on YouTube with his action videos, such as "Future First Person Shooter," which has had nearly 13 million views. Jimmy Wong wants to create his own YouTube fanbase, and had a good start with his a capella version of the Super Mario Brothers theme song, which came out before the "Asians in the Library" video and gained a respectable number of views: almost 183,000.

Now, a recent report in the Sacramento Bee suggests that Wallace might either have done the rant intentionally to drum up YouTube interest or is trying to capitalize on its surge, trying to follow in the money-laden footprints of YouTube stars, such as Ryan Higa, who raised $600 for Japan with "Honk if you love Japan" signs.

"You can become famous on the Internet, and like reality stars, you have to stir up controversy. When you put something on the Internet, there's a good chance no one will ever see it. But there is always that chance it'll go viral and go to proportions completely unimaginable," Wong said. "She had no idea she was jumping into an ocean of sharks instead of a kiddie pool."

He's glad he took a step back before putting his response out there. He realized he wasn't as angry as he thought he was. He is, however, more angry about those who said the Japan disaster was "payback" for Pearl Harbor

"She wasn’t threatening to hurt anybody ... but she came off as extremely racist in voicing her opinion. She also bookended her entire rant with her American manners her mother taught her: I’m a really nice person, don’t take this offensively. But you’re doing exactly that. You’re going to be rude and offensive. I saw it in a much better light, this is hilarious. Something positive can be done about this. Maybe she misunderstands us, the way we might have misunderstood her."

The song came easily enough.

"Alexandra Wallace wrote the lyrics for me. She gave me all the material I needed," he said. He also drew inspiration from The Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine, whose character he channeled for parts of the song. (You'll know which parts, trust me.)

Because of his approach to a volatile situation, Wong has received a lot of kudos. He's also handling his burgeoning fame with maturity and modesty.

"It's very eye opening, in a good way. With the right message, people will jump on board. People react that way if it’s based on negativity, so if it has an altruistic feel, you're more likely to get people on board and make a difference," he said. "I’m really glad it came out the way it did. It’s not what people expected. So many came at it like, you are this terrible woman, with death threats, and that harkens back to boiling ourselves down to our animal instincts. Then, we’re no better than what Alexandra did."  

More YouTube stories:

Check out Technolog on Facebook, and on Twitter, follow Athima Chansanchai, who appreciates the discussions that have come out of this situation.