In mid-June, around the 14th, a provocative status update surfaced on the personal Facebook profile of a popular Vietnamese user who goes by the name of Bà Tưng: “If this status gets 1,000 likes, I will upload a clip of me dancing “Gentleman” braless (Just saying. At best it’ll get a few hundred likes max.)”
The status earned more than 4,000 likes in a matter of hours.
As promised, the video went up on June 16 and immediately sent thousands of curious Facebookers into either shock or delight. There’s little chance of seeing kids imitating this dance as they excessively did with Psy’s Gangnam horse riding or the bizarre Harlem shake, however. The choreography was mostly absent, except for some lurid hip-gyrating and a playfully delivered rude finger gesture. As promised, as well, there was no bra to be seen. And that’s where the problem began.
Within days the dance clip received tens of thousands of approving votes. The count, as of this writing, is at 37,538 likes, 10,108 comments and 3,026 shares. Reposts of the video across online forums and channels, especially on Facebook and YouTube, have generated a torrent of additional responses. At a moment when Angelina Jolie is still making headlines in the West with her mastectomy, on this side of the world Bà Tưng is taking the Vietnamese cyber communities by storm by way of ample braless breasts and some very suggestive hip-swaying.
Bà Tưng (which translates as “Mrs. Loony”) is the pseudonym of Le Thi Huyen Anh, an interior design student, who, prior to the scandal, had a small role in a local TV drama series. She was relatively unknown before mid-June when her breasts ‘ranged free’ –- the phrase Vietnam’s netizenry seems to have coined for what they’ve seen (and seen, and seen, and seen, apparently) on national television.
This is, in no way, the first sex-related scandal that has swept the nation. Celebrity sex tapes, lecherous photos, and risqué gestures are rampant in Vietnam’s pop culture, just like any other. In 2007 a sex tape featuring teenaged TV star Hoang Thuy Linh exploded across the Internet and caused a unprecedented ruckus across the country. The BBC quoted local journalist Hung Nguyen’s as saying:
“This is the most scandalous and controversial thing that has ever happened in Vietnam’s virtual world. “
Following the scandal, in which Linh was revealed to have played no role other than that of a willing but unwitting sex partner to her actual boyfriend at the time, the young actress was forced to make a tearful and humilating public apology to her audience on national television.
Six years later, with Mrs. Loony deliberately and unashamedly flaunting her bosoms behind thin fabric, Vietnam and its cyber world have changed. A notable difference in Mrs. Loony’s case is that she is so direct about what she is doing, looking directly at the camera, flipping off her viewers while teasing them, and candidly confessing to scandal-mongering.
With the number of Internet users rising from 17.7 million in 2007 to 31.2 million in 2013, Mrs. Loony’s barely covered breasts have no doubt been seen and talked about more than those of Ms. Hoang Thuy Linh. From one end of the Vietnamese Internet to the other, Mrs. Loony has been one of the top topics of conversation for several weeks now. A large proportion of those commenters engaged in predictable name-calling game with words to the effect of “slut”, “whore”, “nutty twat”, et al. In the same humiliating theme, male commenters expressed the kind of observations and inquiries that would make a Mongol horde blush. Meanwhile, others remarked on the poster’s presumed intellectual capacity:
“Big boobs but grape-sized brain” (Nhat Truong Pham)
Or bring the parents in for a guilt trip:
“As if this bitch were an orphan, no one gave her an education. This way, her parents must smash their own skulls to death so they won’t face the shame to the society” (Yark.Kr).
Memes and parodies quickly erupted across the Internet:
Almost drowned in the midst of this massive diatribe are few arguments of defensive or neutral natures. A comment on afamily.vn by the user LeeJunHoo reads:
“Nobody force you to watch it. Why so resentful? It’s her right to dress the way she likes.”
On the tech geek site genk.vn user loving you observes:
“Showbiz is full of chicks who show tits and ass and make careers on one scandal after another, not only this one.”
Elsewhere, on the 1.2-milion-plus-membered forum webtretho, a member named veg argues:
“Her approach is rather shocking, but placed in the modern days’ context, everything is acceptable. People climb up the ladder in different ways. Someone said ‘beauty is also an asset’ and that’s completely spot-on.”
Hanoi’s well-known guitar teacher Viet Johan made a conclusive point (“This PR trick is the most effective on the planet”) in his parody video, which got nearly 90,000 views and more than 2,000 likes:
The most common view is that Mrs. Loony’s conduct is but a cheap trade of flesh for fame. Nevertheless, the numbers of visitors on her page and online mentions of her name keep rising. Although vehemently shaming the exhibitionist, the mass seemed unwilling to go as far as appeals such as that by Facebook user Vỉnh Trần:
“Let’s UNFOLLOW her to end her ‘hotness’. If you think this whore is an offense to Vietnamese women’s dignities, don’t comment, share, nor like anything that has to do with her.”
The call to action was met with silence.
In a status update on July 16, Mrs. Loony again poked the public by promising to put her bra back on if the status in question received fewer than 20,000 likes. The count as of today (July 21) is 31,570. It seems her bralessness will go on for a while.
When the sex tape of Linh and her boyfriend appeared on the Internet six years ago, the actress had to sobbingly beg for understanding on national TV channel. In 2010, CNN listed her case amongst Asia’s top 5 celebrity sex scandals. The leak, in which the actress, abruptly terminated the then-most-loved teenage show and put the actress out of show business for a while.
Six years later, the calculated act of flesh flashing has had quite the opposite effect on Mrs. Loony’s career. Yan TV, a prominent and hugely popular entertainment TV channel for Vietnamese youth, has conducted an interview and shooting with her. With “Bà Tưng” being the most searched name by Vietnamese Internet users in the entire first half of the year — leaps and bounds above searches for Vietnam’s top celebrities — the now-dubbed “Goddess Loony” is expected soon to sign what’s said to be a $5,000 contract to be an ambassador for an online game company. What’s more, instead of having to apologize for behavior that is not in keeping with the traditional Vietnamese image of the modest, demure daughter or wife, Mrs. Loony now has a Facebook Fanpage boasting 3,545 likes and an assertive slogan: “Dare to think. Dare to do. Dare to express yourself. That could only be Loony.”
Four weeks after the infamous dance video, Mrs. Loony is still making headlines in the cyber world. Her pseudonym has become a slang word for raunchy behavior from women. Nobody yet knows whether her signature braless dance is a flash in the pan or the inspired beginning to a more sustainable career push. If the latter turns out to be true, this may be the dawn of a Kim Kardashian era in Vietnam, now that Loony has brought publicity stunts to a new level: the so-called women’s self-righteous right to fame.
– Mai Huyen Chi