The Comfort Women of the Digital Industries: Asian Women in David Fincher's "The Social Network"
by Lisa Nakamura — University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
January 17, 2011 – 00:00
David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010) tells a story of the birth of the social media industry, exposing the labor behind the culture of digital participation. Fittingly, it is a narrative that is obsessed with identity, particularly class identity but equally racial and ethnic identity. The Social Network is also full of Asian women, a fact that has been noted by Roger Ebert, one of the few film critics who can be counted on to see people of color in popular cinema, both in their presence and their absence. In his Chicago Sun-Times review Ebert notes how puzzling it is that the film depicts Asian women so promiscuously in both sense of the word—Christy and Alice, played by Brenda Song and Malese Jow, are depicted as sexually aggressive, approaching Mark and Eduardo during a lecture, asking them out for a drink, and eventually performing fellatio on Mark and Eduardo in adjoining stalls in a Cambridge pub bathroom—yet fails to give viewers a fuller picture of why they are so present yet so absent in this story of digital hypercapitalism. Ebert writes "A subtext the movie never comments on is the omnipresence of attractive Asian women. Most of them are smart Harvard undergrads, two of them (allied with Sean) are Victoria’s Secret models, one (Christy, played by Brenda Song) is Eduardo’s girlfriend." The film depicts Asian women as idle hands in the digital industry, valued and included only for their sexual labor as hypersexualized, exotic sirens. Alice and Christy are present at a key scene during which Zuckerberg assigns positions within Facebook’s corporate hierarchy, but their offer to work at the fledgling company is rejected. This depiction of Asian women as sexual partners to the new captains of digital industries conceals their key roles within these industries as non-sexual workers. Asian women workers in China and Southeast Asia assembled the hardware that hosts our Facebook pages and the laptop computer that Zuckerberg used to produce Facebook’s code. Depicting Asian women’s labor as sexual rather than technical obscures rather than exposes the workers of color who "make" social media.