“Don’t Freaking Act Here! This is Reality!”: Reality Web Series Ultra Rich Asian Girls as Digital Autoethnography
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Kevin Li’s reality YouTube series Ultra Rich Asian Girls, featuring a cast of extraordinarily wealthy young Chinese Canadian women in Vancouver, British Columbia, has garnered controversy from its inception in 2014. The four young women featured in the first season of the show – Chelsea, Florence, Joy, and Coco – offer a tantalizing glimpse into the daily lives of the second generation of Canada’s Chinese model minority: one that has reaped the rewards from their parents’ efforts in Asia’s economic boom and earned criticism for its conspicuous consumption during a period of fear of potential backlash against Canadian multiculturalism. Although Ultra Rich Asian Girls falls outside the conceived scope of racialized or immigrant life-writing, this article argues that it still functions as a form of autoethnography, albeit within a new digital realm. Through its utilization of techniques and tropes from reality television, the series reveals the audience’s own voyeurism as consumers of an exoticized raced and gendered subject. Far from being a simple form of satire and objectification, Ultra Rich Asian Girls is also an example of subjectivity and agency, as the cast members work to create avatars of themselves to both each other and the viewers. However, as the series progresses, incongruities and discrepancies in a number of the women’s carefully tailored self-representations come to light: Florence’s family’s wealth is investigated for potential links to criminal activity, while Coco is accused of being a fraud by her fellow cast members. With these controversies, therefore, Ultra Rich Asian Girls serves as an example of the tensions between truth and fiction prevalent in today’s discussions about digital and television media. Thus, by understanding the series as a form of autoethnography, this article will also question assumptions of authenticity and veracity within the genre of life writing.