The cake pops are a metaphor, but the outcome of online virality and that level of exposure is very real, and very difficult. So we talk about what happened, why it happened, and why it’s so goddam threatening for marginalized women with platforms and opinions to be funny while criticizing the behavior of entitled people.
TW/CW: harassment, like holy whoa. We’re talking throughout the episode about online harassment of a woman of color, and there are some shitty examples at different times in our conversation, so heads up.
Some people suck. You, however, are fabulous.
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
We also mentioned:
- The original HuffPo article on Alisha’s cake pop tweet
- Alisha’s essay about the experience of having gone viral with said tweet: “My Dating Tweet Went Viral. Then Everything Changed When The Angry Men Showed Up.”
- BuzzFeed’s coverage of the cake pop tweet
- United Shades of America
- Coverage of the Yuba City episode of United Shades of America
- Depending on your locality, you may be able to view a clip from the Yuba City episode on CNN’s website here.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Thank you for inviting me to keep you company. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and this is episode number 402 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. My guest today is Alisha Rai. On Valentine’s Day, which seems like ninety-five years ago, she wrote a tweet about cake pops. Maybe you saw it. It went viral. So we’re going to talk about virality, because in some tasty, delicious irony, her new book is out this week, and guess what it’s called. It’s called Girl Gone Viral. Oh, irony, you are so delicious.
Now, I do want to warn you, we are talking about online harassment. And we talk about all the terrible types of harassment that women and women of color are subjected to, and it comes up intermittently through the episode, so I wanted to give you a heads-up about that. Some people suck.
You, however, are fabulous, and I am so glad you’re here.
And speaking of fabulous, I have some compliments to lead off this episode, which makes me so happy!
To Akila R.: When the Wi-Fi around the world is made free and accessible for everyone, all of the networks will be named after you, because you are awesome at connecting people and making them happy!
To Jennifer M.: You make people feel relaxed. Like, you are the human personification of the scent of fresh laundry and cookies just out of the oven.
And to Erin D.: Poems and sonnets and some totally gnarly viral lip sync videos are being concocted right now, all in tribute to your smile and generosity.
If you would like a compliment of your very own or you’d like to support this here podcast, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Pledges start at one dollar a month. Every pledge is deeply appreciated and keeps us going, so thank you to our Patreon community for being truly excellent, and thank you for having a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Ritual, a daily multivitamin for women that has been obsessively researched. It is vegan friendly, sugar-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, and allergen-free. All of the sources for the nine nutrients inside are provided for you to read about and research on your own. Ritual is designed to be an easy way to build a daily – wait for it – ritual. It is a subscription box of vitamins that will arrive on your doorstep, and your next bottle arrives just as you finish the last one. It is only one dollar per day to have your daily multivitamin delivered and build a ritual of health. Ritual is offering you ten percent off your first three months. Fill in the gaps with Essential for Women by visiting ritual.com/Sarah – that’s S-A-R-A-H – to start your ritual today. That’s ten percent off your first three months at ritual.com/Sarah.
This episode is also brought to you by BetterHelp. That’s Better H-E-L-P. If there is something interfering with your happiness or preventing you from achieving your goals, BetterHelp is professional counseling done securely online, available worldwide. BetterHelp will assess your needs and match you with a licensed professional therapist, and you can start communicating in twenty-four hours. You can log into your account any time, send a message to your counselor, and you’ll get timely, thoughtful responses, plus you can schedule weekly video or phone sessions. BetterHelp is committed to facilitating great therapeutic matches, so they make it easy and free to change counselors if needed. You can visit their website at betterhelp.com/reviews to see what users say about them, and I’ve seen some folks on social media sharing their positive experiences too. For more information, visit betterhelp.com/TRASHYBOOKS – that’s better H-E-L-P dot com slash TRASHYBOOKS – and join over eight hundred thousand people taking charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional. As a special offer for Smart Podcast, Trashy Books listeners, you can get ten percent off your first month at betterhelp – H-E-L-P – dot com slash TRASHYBOOKS.
As always, we talk about a lot of different things, and we have a lot of links in this episode, including some articles that Alisha wrote for HuffPost about going viral for tweeting about cake pops. The cake pops are, of course, a metaphor and a reality. It’s really a wild story. But I will have links to all of the things that she mentions, as well as the books we talk about, in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
And if you would like to get in touch with me, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at [email protected]. I love hearing from you, and I love receiving your terrible jokes. And of course I will end this episode with a truly awful, listener-submitted – thank you! – terrible joke.
But now, let’s do this podcast about going viral with the author of Girl Gone Viral, Alisha Rai.
Alisha Rai: I’m Alisha Rai. I’m an attorney and an author, and my new book is called Girl Gone Viral. It’s about a girl who goes viral. And yeah, my, it’s the second book in my Modern Love series.
Sarah: You went on a date, and there were cake pops, and then shit got crazy.
Alisha: Yes. I mean, let me just say, I’m very aware that this book title is very on-the-nose for, like, maybe a couple of reasons right now?
Sarah: Have you thought about playing the lottery?
Alisha: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t – I, I think I should, you know? Like, my mom always says, like, if your palms are itchy you should, it means you’re going to get money, and so I’ve been itchy for like two weeks, and I reali- – like, part of it maybe is allergy hives, but maybe, maybe I’m onto something here.
Sarah: Right? You could be a, a really, really, really powerful psychic.
Alisha: Apparently. Well, not as powerful, you know, as, as one of my friends, but we’ll get to that. Yeah, so I was, you know, I was on a date, like, the day before Valentine’s Day, going, first date, met on an app, I knew nothing about him. You know, like, it was just, you know, I knew he was attractive and he could type in complete sentences, and that’s like top forty percent – [laughs] – of, like, dating app people, so I was like, yeah, this is fine; we’ll go on a date. And we went out, and you know, it wasn’t, it wasn’t the best date. It wasn’t, like, the worst date I’ve ever had, but it was, like, there were things that I was just like, okay, this isn’t going to work for me. And you know when you’re kind of like irritated or, you know, something’s not going quite right, so you, you focus on, like, the most trivial thing? Like, the most trivial –
Sarah: Well, I mean, it’s annoying to waste your time –
Sarah: – and it’s sort of like, all right, I’ve got to see this date through, and –
Sarah: – if you’re meeting for coffee it’s, it’s like an hour, right? But still, it’s an hour you’re not going to get back.
Alisha: Yeah, and I’m also like, I’m very bad at leaving situations? Like, I’m just not good at –
Alisha: I’m, I, like, how many times I’ve done an awkward like, oh, uh, early morning! [Laughs] I never have early mornings; I make my own hours! But, but still, I’m just, like, very bad at it, so you know, but it, it was one of those things where you just sort of focus on something that seems insignificant, but also, like, sort of encompasses, like, everything about this, you know, like, date or personality or person? And for me it was, it was the cake pops.
Sarah: He got two cake pops and ate them both in front of you.
Alisha: Yes! [Laughs]
Sarah: Like, that guy’s a dick! Like, no question that guy’s a dick.
Alisha: (FLAG _____ 7:48) little hearts on them! They were little Valentine’s cake pops! [Laughs] And I –
Sarah: That guy’s a dick.
Alisha: You know, I, I didn’t really, like, we weren’t vibing at all, but, like, he went and, you know, he got the cake pops, and he came back, and honestly, my first reaction was just like, oh, maybe I misjudged him! Like, this is, like, sweet and romantic! [Laughs] And he ate them both in front of me.
Alisha: Very sad. [Laughs]
Sarah: But! Tells you a lot about this person. It’s like being rude to the waitstaff: okay, I know everything I need to know about you. That, that someone would do that and think it’s okay?
Alisha: Yeah, I think so. And you know what, funny enough, one of my – I didn’t meet this guy on Bumble, but one of my Bumble opening lines is, how do you feel about sharing your french fries? And I think it’s just so illuminating – [laughs] – like, the responses I get for it? ‘Cause some people are like, yeah, sure, whatever, I don’t care. And then some people are like, no. [Laughs] And it’s like, that’s –
Sarah: It’s actually a really good question to determine someone’s –
Alisha: It is! Yeah!
Sarah: – comfort with different things. Yeah, I think that’s a perfectly –
Alisha: I think so.
Sarah: – adequate question.
Sarah: So you tweeted this, and – girl, you went viral.
Alisha: Oh, yeah. I was the girl gone viral. [Laughs] Yes!
Sarah: Did you think it would be as big as it got?
Sarah: So I remember seeing it, and I remember seeing, like, whoa, four thousand retweets. That’s a lot!
Alisha: Sarah, this is, like, a tweet about cake pops. [Laughs] Like, it really was just like, you know, so – and let me, I’ll walk you through sort of like the background on what happened. So the next day I was texting with my best friend, and, you know, we, we deconstruct my dates, ‘cause she’s, you know, sort of happily coupled off, and this is her entertainment for – [laughs] – everything. And so, you know, I was telling her about the guy, and she kind of did like the, okay, well, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and, like, may- – ‘cause, you know, we always give men the benefit of the doubt – and, and then I said, oh, you know what? Like, as an afterthought. It was like, he got two cake pops, and he ate them both, and her immediate response was, what?!
Sarah: [Laughs] She’s right!
Alisha: She sent me, like, horrified.gif, you know?
Sarah: She’s right.
Alisha: That is, like, that was, like, the, the deal-breaker for her, and so I laughed, and she goes, that’s a viral tweet. Tweet it. [Laughs] And I was like –
Sarah: Oh no.
Alisha: – yeah!
Sarah: Oh no! Okay, sure!
Alisha: She’s a psychic! And so I was like, oh, ha-ha, yeah, you know what? People will laugh today, and so I tweeted it, and I honestly expected, like, a hundred people to, like, laugh along with me, and then we’d all move on with our lives. And this was like a really – I mean, this was kind of like slow-moving viral? Like, sometimes viral goes like, oh, in like the first hour or something, but this took like a few days to really pick up speed. And, you know, it was just – and then like a couple weeks for it to die down, so no, I didn’t expect any of that.
Sarah: Yeah. And it kept – one of the, one of the things I remember is seeing it on Twitter and thinking, oh, that’s funny, and then I saw it elsewhere.
Sarah: And then I saw it, like, it was screencapped on Instagram, and then I saw it screencapped somewhere else, and I was like, oh! We’ve – [deep breath] – we have gone beyond the boundaries of Twitter. And it’s almost like there are concentric circles of exposure for virality, depending on where you start. So you start on Twitter, and then it’s screencapped on some of these meme collectors like –
Sarah: – Kale Salad or whoever the fuck –
Sarah: – and then they screencap your shit and put it on their accounts on Instagram, and then it goes to Facebook, and then it goes elsewhere, and you went far beyond the reaches of the universe.
Alisha: Oh, for sure. Yeah.
Sarah: Like, what was, what was first?
Alisha: Okay, so here’s sort of the timeline – [laughs] – so I tweeted it, like, on Friday, on Valentine’s Day, and then Saturday/Sunday, I think it, it happened exactly like you said. Like, you know, and it, it happened – like, I’ve gone viral on the internet before, so, you know –
Sarah: Well, you’re, you’re pithy, and you’re funny, and –
Alisha: Oh, thank you!
Sarah: Yeah! So there you go!
Alisha: But, like, you know, it usually, like, ends at, okay, it’s a meme on BuzzFeed, or, like, BuzzFeed’s, you know, scraping it for content, and, like, it’s on those pages, and my twenty-year-old siblings are like, wow, you’re on BuzzFeed! And somehow that’s more impressive than me, you know, having published books or anything like that, being on BuzzFeed as a meme. But then, so, like, that weekend, but then on Monday morning I got this email from Huffington Post, and it was like, hey, you know, we’re doing a story on this, I’ve been watching it all weekend, and we’d really love a comment from you, and then –
Alisha: – questions. And so I really, like, I sat there for like an hour, and it was like, we want to get this story up immediately. Please, like, respond ASAP, and I was like, wait, what? [Laughs] Like, why does Huffington Post want to do an article on – this is so weird! And so I responded, and I just said, you know, like, thank you so much. I have no comment regarding my tweet about cake pops, ‘cause I –
Sarah: I’m sorry; I have no comment on cake pops at this time.
Alisha: Yeah! And, and so, ‘cause I thought –
Sarah: I will not be taking any questions about pastry.
Alisha: – it’ll end soon, and then over the course of the day, like, more and more came in, like Daily Mail –
Alisha: – NBC, CBS, Fox, and they all asked the same thing, and so to all of them I responded with the same letter, like, I have no comment regarding my tweet about cake pops, because I thought –
Sarah: Why did you have no comment?
Alisha: So I, the thing is, I thought it was, like, a self-contained tweet! Like, I didn’t think there was anything more –
Sarah: I said everything I had to say about cake pops here! I’m good.
Alisha: to say, and also, because I thought it was so ludicrous that, like –
Alisha: – people are doing stories about it, and I thought at some point, like, I have no comment regarding my tweet about cake pops, like, some journalist would read that and be like, wow, you know what? This is ridiculous. [Laughs] Let’s, like, go do some other story! We’ll move on. But nope! That didn’t happen. So, like, over the course of the week, I mean, Daily Mail, like, did a deep dive into my tweets to, like, find info.
Sarah: Oh yeah. I got, I got questions about your reaction to that. The thing that I find so interesting about the media is that there are ways in which they feed each other, but they only feed each other according to like kind.
Sarah: So HuffPost will feed Daily Mail will feed People will feed BuzzFeed –
Sarah: – but they’re not going to jump to The New Yorker and NPR.
Sarah: Those, that’s a separate circle. So you got into the maximum virality circle of media.
Alisha: I did, yeah. And it –
Sarah: Also the, the tawdriest, most bottom-dwelling commenters.
Alisha: The tawdriest! And, like, honestly, like, the way some of the outlets, like, framed it, it was like, like, Fox News, like –
Sarah: Oh God.
Alisha: – had me, like, as this, like, oh, she said he’s a monster! [Laughs] Like in the headlines. Like, oh no!
Sarah: Do you not understand sarcasm? Wait, no, I know that you don’t, but seriously!
Alisha: [Laughs] That was a joke!
Sarah: So let me back up a second and ask you this question: what do you think it was about this particular tweet that went viral, and why did they pick up on it and start writing articles about it? Which is actually two very different questions, so feel free to tackle ‘em in whatever order you want.
Alisha: Yeah, so I think initially, I mean the response initially was the hundred people I thought would laugh, right? Like –
Sarah: Right! Yeah!
Alisha: – they’re like, yeah, this guy wouldn’t share his door on the Titanic, you know, like, oh yeah –
Alisha: – like great responses. I must say, like, I feel like my friends really brought it on Twitter.
Alisha: Like, the responses are funnier than my tweet, I think.
Sarah: And when you get those responses, it makes you feel like, okay, well, at least I got something good out of this crappy –
Sarah: – hour and a half.
Alisha: And I really think – you know, I’ve spent some time thinking about it. I’m like, why did people find it funny? Like, the people who liked it, why did they like it? And I honestly think we’re just so tired. We’re so tired.
Alisha: And it’s such a small thing, like, to share a Valentine’s Day treat with someone. That’s something that, like, you know, when your kids go to school in elementary school you say, okay, bring a treat for the whole class?
Alisha: It’s, like, the bare minimum of, like, romance, sort of.
Alisha: And I know, like, you know, we talk about cancel culture a lot, but I, I don’t actually think we’re all in a race to cancel each other. You know, I think there’s, like, nuances to it, but I actually think a lot of people are looking for even the smallest reasons to be with someone, and I, I mean, I know for a fact, like, you know, there was a guy I was dating, I would get, like, we would have a fight at night, and in the morning he would make me coffee, and I’d be like, well, you know, at least he made me coffee. Like, at least, you know, like, he’s, he, he does care. Like, he is, you know, trying his best.
Alisha: So I do think, like, that was it. Like, we’re all just sort of looking for that, and, like, my friend, where she was like, what?! Like, that was sort of the deal-breaker, where it’s like even this tiny thing, you couldn’t do that? Like, you know, that’s, I think that’s why it really resonated with people.
Sarah: I also think that it resonates because I know that person.
Sarah: I am, I am not dating, for the record. I have been married for almost twenty years.
Sarah: I am a –
Alisha: Your husband will be very happy to hear that you’re not – [laughs].
Sarah: Yes. He’s tele-working right now, so I’ll leave him alone, but –
Sarah: – I am not dating. However, I know that person. I know that person who is thoughtless and selfish and, and it sucks, because I hear you and other friends of mine who are dating constantly running into people who are in the dating pool who are just as thoughtless and selfish, and then to have such a perfect encapsulation of gesture –
Sarah: – that illustrates so much of what’s wrong, and it speaks to entitlement and just absolute carelessness.
Sarah: And I’m like, yes, I know that, I know that person. I’ve met variations of that person. That person does in fact suck, and you deserve cake pops.
Alisha: Yes. And, and you know, I, this isn’t like a gender thing at all. You know, I –
Sarah: No! No, no, no! I know that person in –
Sarah: – in every gender –
Alisha: Yeah, in every – yes.
Sarah: – in every permutation –
Sarah: – of gender, I know the, I know people like that.
Sarah: And the thing is, you know what also burns my ass? Is that if you or I or anyone else had been in that situation, the ones of us who are making the jokes, we would have shared our cake pops.
Alisha: [Laughs] I know!
Sarah: Like, there’s two kinds of people here, and you only want to hang out with people who are going to buy two cake pops for two people and share one.
Alisha: Right. So and when, so when the tweet landed on Good Morning America –
Sarah: Oh Jesus!
Alisha: – it’s like, I forgot about the TV component of this, right?
Sarah: Yeah, I was about to ask you about that.
Alisha: Yeah! Like, so, so it first showed up on the Today show with Hoda and, and Jenna Bush Hager – whatever.
Sarah: Did you ever think that that’s where you’d end up?
Sarah: Like, a tweet of yours?
Alisha: And I’m, I’m very disappointed this is not in the Kathie Lee, like, era? Because she would have –
Alisha: – had a lot to say about this, and it would’ve been funny, but – [laughs] – but, you know, so it landed in that –
Sarah: Oh –
Alisha: – and then it went to – you know, and, and –
Sarah: And they, they supported you! They were like, yes, he’s a monster!
Alisha: Oh yeah!
Sarah: That’s terrible!
Alisha: Oh! Oh, they were horrified!
Sarah: They were, like, entirely on your side.
Alisha: [Laughs] I mean, I was like, well, Hoda and Jenna are on my side, so that’s great. Then, but then, you know, like you said, media feeds media, so the next day it was on “Strahan, Sara and Keke,” and the next day it was on The Talk, and they were discussing it. But one –
Sarah: They all feed each other. Yeah.
Alisha: They feed each other! They feed each other, and so, you know –
Sarah: This is how Fifty Shades happened. The minute one of them covered it, they all covered it.
Alisha: I think that is it. I mean, it would have been cool if it was my book – [laughs] – they were covering, but me? But, but whatever! But, like, you know, there was this thing where, like, you know, one of the hosts on, you know, for the three minutes they talked about my tweet on “Strahan, Sara and Keke,” you know, I think Sara said something like, oh, you know, like, this is like a man thing. Like, you know, they’re just like –
Alisha: Yeah! And, and Michael Strahan, I must say, got very offended. [Laughs] And I was like, you go, Michael Strahan! Like, you know what’s up. And he was like, no, this is just selfishness. Like, it has nothing to do with women being more empathetic or anything, and I agree with Strahan, and you know, I don’t think – like, to say, like, oh, this is a man thing. I mean –
Alisha: – first of all, we’re not giving men enough credit. Like, I know wonderful men who would absolutely, like, buy three cake pops and give me all of them – [laughs] – you know, and –
Sarah: I should, you know, everyone’s home in my house.
Sarah: I should call one of my sons in here and be like, listen, pop quiz: you have –
Sarah: – two cake pops and you’re sitting with a person. Do you share? And – [laughs] –
Alisha: I know! You should! It’s just how people, you know, are! And so I, I thought about that afterwards. I’m like, yeah, we’re letting, like, to say something like that, we’re perpetuating this i- – like, don’t let ‘em off the hook that easy, you know? We’re raising –
Alisha: – good men. Like, let them – we’re raising good people. Like, let them be good people.
Sarah: Yeah! Oh yeah! This is not a, this is not a, a, a gender or a man thing.
Sarah: And if it is, it’s, it’s a thing that needs to be eradicated.
Alisha: Oh, for sure. For sure.
Sarah: ‘Cause it’s just – ugh.
Alisha: I think the idea that it is a man thing should be eradicated. Like, you know, the idea that, oh, men are just selfish; like, shrug. You know, like, that’s –
Alisha: – a wild thing to – [laughs] – a wild thing to come up with!
Sarah: I mean, you, you, you have a hand in raising a young man.
Alisha: I do, yes.
Sarah: I am directly responsible for raising two dudes.
Sarah: No! Hell to the no! That is not acceptable!
Alisha: No, and I, like, thought about it. My, you know, my brother, he’s twenty now, and he’s, like, a great young man, like, very sweet, and when I told him about this, like, afterwards, after it went viral, and he was just like, but what’s the issue? [Laughs] And I was like, the issue is he didn’t share his cake pops! And he was like, yeah, obviously. But, like – [laughs] – you know, like –
Sarah: Why are, why are people still talking about this?
Alisha: Yeah! He was like, but, like, what is this, like, why are people framing this as a debate? And I was just like, you know, you’re right. It was, first of all, it’s my error. I shouldn’t have framed the last line as a question. I did –
Sarah: No, that was, that was, that was not an error. That was why it went viral.
Alisha: It was a rhetorical question. I didn’t think anybody – [laughs] – would disagree with it, but, but that’s how every media outlet was framing it, as, like, a debate, and he was like, what’s the debate? I was like, I don’t know! I, I didn’t think it was a debate either! I didn’t think it was going to be contested this hotly!
Sarah: So then it reached the deepest, darkest cesspools of people –
Sarah: – who did want to answer that question in a way that was opposite of what we think, to put it generously. ‘Cause then you got on the radar of men’s rights activists.
Sarah: And so I will say, when I saw it on To-, on the Today show and then I saw it on that and on the Strahan show, my first thought was, holy fuck, I hope you’re okay.
Sarah: Because that level of exposure is a lot, and then it got worse!
Alisha: Yeah. Yeah, and thank you for checking in on me; it was very kind of you. You know, it was, it – so the first wave of sort of negativity, it was not expected, but it was, like, easily –
Sarah: Well, the Daily Mail commenters are gross.
Alisha: Yeah, but, like, you know, it was like, oh, you know, she’s a gold digger, and I was just like, well, if I was a gold digger – [laughs] – I would be going for different – you know what a type A, like, overachiever I am. Please!
Sarah: [Laughs] You would not be stopping at cake pops!
Alisha: I would have a Malibu beach house by now! Like, I was mildly offended by how little – [laughs] – like, you think I’m that poor of a gold digger? If I wanted to be a gold digger, I would be the best gold digger in the world! And so, you know, that was, like, a weird thing, but it was, you know, so easy to shrug off. Like, okay, whatever. Like, these people don’t know me; not a big deal. But then, as you said, yeah, it hit sort of this, like, whatever corner, like, dark, deep, gross corner of the internet that, like, these – and, and many women too, not just men – but, like, these men’s rights activists, incels, whatever you want to call them, you know, where red pill –
Alisha: Yeah. Like, they live, and, and it was – you know, I’ve gotten harassment before. Like, who, who is a woman –
Alisha: – on the internet who hasn’t gotten harassment, right? And it’s scary, and it’s frightening. I’ve gotten, like, emails; I’ve gotten all sorts of, you know, terrible things. I got one email that was like, that, like, still haunts me, where it was like, you know, you’re, you’re so lucky; like, he went, you know, back in my, figured out my father had passed away when I was young, and he was like, you’re so lucky your dad’s dead so he can’t see, like, what you’ve become. You know, like that sort of –
Sarah: Ahhh –
Alisha: I’ve gotten that before.
Sarah: – fucking –
Alisha: Right? Like, horrifying stuff. I mean, really, like, my level of, like, what I’ve gotten that’s horrifying is very high, and this was the most horrifying thing that has ever happened. Like, it hit like a tsunami. Like, it was, it overwhelmed all of my social media, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
Sarah: And this is what you use to run your author career.
Alisha: Oh right! Right? Like, this is, we can’t just leave –
Sarah: You’ve got a book coming out! You can’t be turning this all off!
Alisha: No, no, I can’t. I mean, I, I just can’t, I can’t go anywhere. I mean, this is my business. Even deactivating it for me is like, you know, not great. And that’s what I had to do. I mean, I spent like a day deleting comments, blocking reporting, and then I realized, like, you know what? I’m, I’m actually getting very affected by this. Like, this is –
Alisha: – so overwhelming in negativity and scariness – like, the fact that these people are so angry is so scary to me – that I just took everything offline; like, I, I went private. You know, I deactivated my Facebook profile – sorry if you’re Facebook friends with me; I haven’t – [laughs] – activated it again, but so I, you know, I did that, and then I deactivated my contact form actually on my website too, so they couldn’t email me, and they still found my email somehow. And then I went private on all my other stuff, and I did that for a weekend, thinking, like, that’ll knock ‘em off, and you know, I reactivated it, like, and this was like a full week after this had all happened, right. This was not like a –
Alisha: – immediate thing, and, and I reactivated it like sort of after the weekend, and it was still going on! And I was like, I can’t, I can’t just stay closed indefinitely. It’s like shuttering your shop. Like –
Alisha: – this is how I find readers. Like, I have a book coming out, like you said. You know, I can’t just stay gone.
Alisha: But I also can’t stay here, and so what I did was, I just gave my password to my friend, and I was like, you know, tell me when it’s safe to come back, and it took like almost a week and a half, and after that –
Sarah: Good God!
Alisha: I know! And, and even after that, like, after they kind of lost interest, I, I could only really tweet about Love Is Blind for like a week, ‘cause I was so, like – [laughs] – too traumatized to really, like do –
Sarah: Well, it’s terrifying!
Alisha: – anything else, and, and it’s funny, because I have noticed, you know, when I, and, you know, it’s not purely like a gender thing; I think it’s also sort of like, you know, who’s on the internet very much, but when I usually tell men, like, oh yeah, like, you know, in the weeks after I was like, oh yeah, like, I went viral, their immediate reaction is sort of like, oh, congratulations! Like – [laughs] –
Sarah: No, no, no.
Alisha: And, and when I tell women, usually, especially women who are on the internet and visible on the internet, their reaction is yours, where it’s like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. Like –
Sarah: Are you okay? Are you safe? Yeah.
Alisha: Are you okay? Like, how are you feeling? What’s going on? And, and I think it is partially, like, they don’t know. They don’t know how bad it is and how terrible it can get, and, and it’s bad and it’s terrible. And it’s impossible to really trace – I mean, I kind of traced some of it back to this, this YouTube video, and, and it was by this guy, and I looked at his subscriber count, and it was like over a million.
Alisha: And he’d posted, like, an eleven-minute video, and all I could read was, like, the title read something like, Feminist Berates Man! [Laughs] First of all, I was like, that could be the, like, that would be a great thing to put on my resume if you actually mentioned it in a positive way!
Sarah: Author of feminist berating tweets.
Alisha: Author of feminist berating men tweets!
Sarah: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! You have a third book coming out, right? Have you thought about that for the title?
Alisha: I, I should! You know, it’s not titled yet, so maybe that’ll be the title. [Laughs]
Sarah: Feminist Berates Man!
Alisha: Feminist Berates Man!
Sarah: Take that shit to the bank!
Alisha: [laughs] – ‘cause it’s really what we all –
Sarah: Take that all the way to the bank!
Alisha: And it was so, ‘cause I could see the preview, and he was so red-faced and shouty.
Sarah: [Laughs] Oh no!
Alisha: Oh my God! And I said to my brother – I don’t want to say the name of this guy, ‘cause I don’t want to drive any traffic his way.
Sarah: Oh no, no, no, we’re not talking about this shitheel.
Alisha: Yeah! And so –
Sarah: He can, he can fuck off a pier.
Alisha: – like, like, my brother really is sort of my, like, you know, plug-in to sort of like a lot of things, because he’s not a terrible guy, but he is, like, always on the lookout – [laughs] – for terrible guys, and so I was like, oh, I landed on this guy’s, like, YouTube channel, and, you know, he was just like, oh my God. And he was like, don’t look at it. Like, don’t. And I was just like, oh man. Like, it’s got to be bad. And, and I’m sure it was really bad, but, like, and the comments were, like, I, I looked at, like, the first two, and it was just like, oh yeah, like, she got what she deserved. [Laughs] Like, she, you know, she – this is like the feminist agenda, and I was like, what the fuck? Like, what the fuck is wrong with you people? And so, so yeah, it is, it’s scary, like, to be the focus of that kind of rage and anger. Ugh.
Sarah: And it’s, it’s so interesting to me, objectively speaking, that just as the idea of dealing with this date that was terrible resonated with people who recognized that experience and responded with sympathy and humor –
Sarah: – it also really challenged people who are threatened by the fact that you had an opinion about a guy’s behavior.
Alisha: Yeah. And I really think –
Sarah: And –
Alisha: – that’s it. I mean, like –
Sarah: Like, they were threatened by you having an opinion and critiquing some guy who was actually rude.
Sarah: Like, how dare you? The whole, the whole how-dare-you is really, like, the fuck is wrong with you? And then they get competitively like, oh, I’m going to find out where she lives! I’m going to find out her address! I’m go to call her on the phone! They get competitively terrible.
Alisha: Mm-hmm! Yeah. And I think, you know, they egg each other on, and I think that’s, like, you hit it right on the head, right? Like, I don’t think, I don’t think that they were mad about cake pops. [Laughs] Like, I just, like, I don’t think –
Alisha: Just like I don’t think people cared about cake pops if they agreed with me. Like, I think this was just, I mean, I wrote it, like, I wrote about it, you know, in a HuffPost article too. Like, I, I sort of wrote –
Sarah: Which was, by the way, really, really good.
Alisha: Aw –
Sarah: Well done.
Alisha: – thank you! Thank you. And I, you know, I wrote about it, and one thing I was like, this is a metaphor. Like, these cake pops are a metaphor for everybody. Like, whatever they initially stood for for me, it’s not about that anymore. It’s not about, like, I don’t even remember what that guy looks like – [laughs] – anymore that I went on a date with, and you guys don’t, shouldn’t, probably don’t really care about him either. Like, you care about the metaphor. And for these guys, it was just that the cake pops and me, like, we were just sort of a sign of changing times, right? The fact that I have a platform big enough to make a joke –
Alisha: – and that people –
Alisha: – found it funny, and I made a joke –
Alisha: – and in any way, like, shape or form I criticized a guy in it, right. That –
Sarah: And the person who made this video was a white dude, right?
Alisha: Oh, of course! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, of course, right?
Sarah: So I have this, I have this theory that, that I have not proven, and I’m sure that someone who actually studies society has a better way of expressing this, but I sort of imagine a staircase.
Sarah: And at the very top of the staircase are cisgendered, white, straight dudes.
Sarah: And then the next stairs down can vary, but usually it’s white, cisgendered, straight ladies –
Sarah: – and then the, the positions vary depending on situations, intersectional circumstance, right?
Sarah: You are allowed to yell down the staircase, but you are not allowed to yell up the staircase.
Sarah: You can’t yell at people who have more social power than you; it’s not allowed. How dare you?
Sarah: And how dare you, a pretty woman of color who is successful, criticize a man for being rude? This white guy at the top of the staircase, you’re not allowed to yell at him either, and he took it very personally. Whereas, you know, the people who supported you reacted with sympathy and empathy, they took it personally.
Alisha: Right. Yeah. And first of all, thank you for calling me pretty. Second of all – [laughs] – it was, you know, yeah, I think that’s exactly –
Sarah: I ain’t lying! It’s not like I’m full of shit here!
Alisha: You’re very pretty too.
Sarah: Well, thank you!
Alisha: You’re welcome! Aw! No, so yeah, I think you’re exactly right! I think it’s, it’s yelling, you know, I yelled upward, and – I didn’t even yell! I joked. I joked upward. And they were just really –
Sarah: You mocked his soul!
Alisha: I mocked his soul! And so –
Alisha: – he just didn’t like that, and, and I think in a lot of ways, like, they are just running scared.
Sarah: Anything that’s a threat to their social power –
Sarah: – is very scary.
Alisha: I bet it is scary, and I, you know, in some ways I’m like, I understand you’re scared, but also, don’t send me death threats. Like, don’t, don’t tell me you’re going to sexually assault me. Like, that’s, don’t screenshot my profile photo and do things to it. Like –
Sarah: And that’s the kind of thing they send you.
Alisha: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. Like, it’s, it’s not just like, you know, amateur hour stuff. These guys know how to terrorize.
Alisha: Like, they know what they’re doing. And I was terrorized. Like, I was genuinely frightened, you know, for, like, me as, like, my mental health, you know, alone, like, I was frightened for me physically; like, I upgraded my alarm system, actually? ‘Cause I was so worried about anybody. You know, like, it makes you so paranoid, like, I was scared to go out. You know, I was scared to stay in. It just messes with your head so much, and they know that!
Sarah: That’s why it, it, it works!
Alisha: Yeah, it’s terror; it’s terrorism. You know, like, they want to make sure that you’re scared to go about your daily life, because how dare you. How –
Sarah: And they want you to wake up at three in the morning wondering what that noise was and are you safe, because it’s already a situational trauma that you have to process, and on top of that, you have to process it knowing that if you try to explain it to someone outside of the situation, like if you called the police and said, I am concerned that I am being threatened online and that someone has shown up to my house, maybe you get somebody who understands what that means –
Sarah: – and maybe you’ll get someone who’s like, fuck is wrong with you?
Alisha: Right. Yeah. I mean.
Sarah: And having to justify your own reaction.
Alisha: And I have heard, like, actually, Los Angeles police do take that more seriously, like, online stuff –
Alisha: – ‘cause they get so many, like, celebrities and stuff, and I’m not a celebrity, but you know, they do – but at the same time, I’m not a celebrity. [Laughs] And so, you know how, how seriously –
Sarah: Yeah, but –
Alisha: – they take it? I don’t know! Like you said, it’s a crapshoot. Like, who do you get, and, and what do they do?
Sarah: Who do you get on the phone in that moment? Yeah.
Sarah: Do you get a dispatcher who’s like, I’ve got a loony tune on line two, or –
Sarah: – do you, do you get somebody who takes you seriously?
Alisha: Right. And so it really is just, you know, it’s just, it’s just scary, and it is –
Sarah: Further indicative of people who don’t share their cake pops being a problem in the world.
Alisha: Exactly! I did think it was –
Sarah: It all comes back to the cake pops.
Alisha: It does all come back, and I did think, like, one thing that was interesting was, you know, how much they – like, it wasn’t just me. Like, I was feminism. [Laughs] Like, I was, I was the feminist.
Sarah: All of it is you! Wow.
Alisha: All feminism was me. You know, the cake pops were a metaphor; I was a metaphor. Like, ‘cause that was what every single one said, like, how, you know, how could you? How could you, like, a feminist, want a man to buy you something? And I was like, you know, it’s not really about feminism at all. That’s not what feminism is – [laughs] – you know. Feminism is paying equal pay and, you know, making sure we all have sort of the same opportunities to get whatever it is we want. It’s not about –
Alisha: – who buys something for each other, who opens a door, or who lends someone their coat. Like, I’ve done all that stuff. I’ve done all that stuff for men. I’ve offered my coat to men. [Laughs] I’m not very cold, ‘cause I’m, I run a little bit hot. So –
Alisha: – you know, like –
Sarah: Equality and kindness –
Sarah: – are not the same thing.
Alisha: This is just, like, bare minimum decency, guys. Like, that’s it; it has nothing to do with feminism. They’re so angry that they really can’t –
Alisha: – past their own rage.
Sarah: And that’s something you’ve spoken about, ‘cause I’ve been on panels with you and you’ve spoken about how, you know, we are taught to accept something as the ceiling when that should be the floor.
Alisha: Right. Yeah!
Sarah: Like, the bare minimum of kindness and, and decency and thoughtfulness, that’s the floor. That’s not something to aspire to; that’s the minimum you should expect from another person.
Alisha: Sure, and I think that’s something that we, we talk about a lot, you know, in romance, and in romance I feel like we’re often teaching like a three hundred level course –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Alisha: – and everyone else is at, like, high school level? [Laughs] Like, it’s not, it’s not even comparable! And so one thing that I find very interesting is when people talk about romance readers and romance authors, you know, they talk about, oh, like, oh, you’re still single? Maybe it’s ‘cause your expectations are a little too high because you’ve been fed all of this whatever, like Happily Ever Afters and knights in shining armor. And, you know –
Alisha: – I do think if my expectations were that I was going to end up with, like, a Navy SEAL, a cowboy billionaire? Sure. Maybe –
Alisha: – maybe romance has warped my expectations. [Laughs] Maybe. But if my expectation is just that somebody will be kind to me and respectful and care about me and care about, you know, where, where I’m going in life? I mean, those are the romances I like to read. And –
Alisha: – and I don’t think that that’s so unrealistic; I think that is literally the bare minimum of what you would expect in a partner. If you, if you would expect that from your girlfriends, you should expect that from a partner.
Sarah: And if you’re on a first date?
Alisha: Yeah, you should be on your best behavior! [Laughs]
Alisha: Yes. Agreed! Yeah, you should be –
Sarah: This person hasn’t contacted you, have they?
Alisha: No. No, we kind of ghosted each other.
Sarah: Thank God!
Alisha: I try not to ghost, but we kind of mutually ghosted each other, and it was fine. [Laughs] It was totally fine! I honestly, like, if he walked past me, I would not be able to probably pick him out. It’s been so long now, and it was just such a, in every other way, it was just kind of like forgettable. I mean, that’s just what a lot of first dates are in a lot of ways, you know, if you don’t click with them.
Alisha: But yeah, like, you should be on your best, very, very best behavior. [Laughs] Like, that’s, that’s, that’s when you do it. Not, never else can you have, like, sort of that high bar. But yeah, I think we are sort of, we’re in a very weird time right now, I think, for people who are trying to date, and I speak, you know, my experience is heterosexual relationships, so I sort of speak from that point of view, but, you know, our ideas of what gender is and what, you know, roles we play and, and what we expect from each other, this has changed so rapidly with the onset of technology and social media and all this other stuff that I think we are navigating sort of this new world that people who are dating five, ten, fifteen, twenty, you know, forty years ago didn’t really navigate in the same way.
Sarah: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And we also have an exposure to one another that creates situations like this, where you can get empathy and commiseration from people on the other side of the planet, just as much as you get people who can bring your terror from the other side of the planet to your inbox.
Alisha: Oh sure, yeah. And I think social media, you know, in one way it’s, it’s amazing, right? Like, it’s made the world so small. I have millions of friends in my pocket. [Laughs] Like, you know, theoretically. You know, there’s millions of people in my pocket that I can tap into at sort of a few strokes of the keyboard, and on the flip side of that is, you know, it’s me.
Sarah: You are accessible.
Alisha: Right, I am accessible, and, and also, I don’t think they think of you, like, I think a lot of people have trouble thinking of you as a person, which is actually one of the things –
Alisha: – you know, I wrote about, like, in Girl Gone Viral. You know, there’s a part in the book – so, so, you know, the girl goes viral, sort of against her will because somebody live tweets a conversation she’s having, and, and suddenly, like, you know, posts pictures of her and stuff, and she is in a situation where, you know, she has PTSD, she has panic disorder, and so that level of attention is overwhelming to her, and, and now I know – [laughs] – how –
Alisha: – overwhelming it can be if somebody who doesn’t –
Sarah: And you wrote that before this.
Alisha: Wrote it well before this. If I had written it now, I probably – ‘cause at the time I was like, oh, you know, one of my beta readers is like, oh, you know, I don’t really, like, like, I, I am trying to understand, like, why this is so panic-inducing for her, and now I know. Like, I can feel it. Like, I know, I should have probably made it worse. [Laughs] Like, I should have probably made her panic ramped up higher, because I was probably ramped up higher, and I don’t have panic disorders or, like, that level of anxiety, and so because of that, you know, her bodyguard, who’s also her crush, sort of whisks her away to his family farm so, so she can kind of hide out in peace. But one of the things that she sort of wonders at one point in the book is, you know, did this person think about me? Like, did they think about me as a person and how this would affect me? Like –
Alisha: – you know, and, and, and I left it kind of open-ended in the book, and now I just think no. Like, the answer is no, they didn’t. You know, they didn’t think about what would maybe make this experience even worse for her. You know, like, how, how would this affect her as an individual? What, what possible, like, you know, as a woman of color, like, you know, what, what level would that bring to it? And so it is like a, a weird twist. Like, it’s sort of the double-edged sword of social media is that people don’t sometimes think of you as people. Like, they see you as a persona –
Alisha: – or as a character and not an actual flesh-and-blood human. And that was one of the things, like, I wanted to kind of change when I wrote Girl Gone Viral, where I was like, you know, I, I think it would be good to maybe write a book where they come, you know, like, the, the characters are grappling with how quickly somebody can explode, and what it means for them, and maybe next time, you know, they go to live tweet somebody or take a photo of – [laughs] – someone against their permission, like, they’ll be like, oh, wait a minute; like, maybe that person doesn’t want this.
Alisha: Maybe there’s something particular to that person where they wouldn’t enjoy –
Alisha: – this level of attention. And they’re not characters –
Alisha: – maybe they’re people. So –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Alisha: – yeah, it is weird that I wrote it – [laughs] – before all this happened!
Sarah: Just a bit!
Sarah: Especially because once you show up on all these mainstream media formats, so you’re on morning television –
Sarah: – you’re no longer a real person there either.
Sarah: You become a character –
Sarah: – and the, you know, the, the source of comedy. Even if it’s a penname, and even if it’s your author persona, it is also still you.
Alisha: It’s me!
Sarah: And you are a person.
Alisha: Yeah. It didn’t escape my, my notice that a lot of those morning shows didn’t mention my name. Like, they said –
Alisha: – you know, like, romance author or novelist. Like, they didn’t, they didn’t say who I was. Like, they, you know, they’d show the tweet and with –
Alisha: – with my name and my picture next to it, but, but they didn’t refer to me as, as an entity –
Alisha: – in my own right. And –
Sarah: You’re not a person.
Alisha: And you know, I don’t know if they, I doubt they thought about it that deeply or anything like that, but I, I did. [Laughs] I thought, I’m like, why? Why didn’t you think of me as a, like, why didn’t you say my name? Why, why are these guys, you know, who are emailing me, why are, I mean, they’re not addressing me by name either. Like, I’m, I’m just nobody. Like, I’m just a figurehead.
Sarah: You’re public and erased at the same time.
Alisha: Yeah. It is, like, the worst. It’s the worst –
Sarah: That’s very disorienting and demoralizing!
Alisha: Yeah. It was really demoralizing. I mean, I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t work; I couldn’t do anything. It is, that level of attention is sort of overwhelming enough.
Sarah: It’s awful.
Alisha: But when you add in the fact that, oh, these people don’t care. Like, you know, they don’t, nobody cares about you.
Alisha: Except for, you know – but it feels, it really feels like nobody cares about you. And that’s frightening. Like, you know, intellectually I was like, of course. Like, my friends care about me; they know I’m real. You know, like, I have a good group of people who, who genuinely want me to not be in pain and stuff, but, but for the most part, you know, I had the feeling for, like, weeks that the world doesn’t care about each other, and that –
Alisha: – for a romance author, I mean, how do you, how do you go write a Happily Ever After where, where people do care about each other when, when you have sort of that, you know –
Alisha: – feeling that, oh, well, nobody cares about each other. Like, everybody’s just sort of out to hurt each other. Nobody cares about you as a person. And –
Sarah: And that’s happening right now!
Sarah: With the coronavirus.
Sarah: Like, Anne Helen Petersen from BuzzFeed has been writing a lot of directives and instructions on how to talk to people about why you need to isolate yourself, and the –
Sarah: – basic thematic thread is, I don’t know how to convince you that you need to care about other people –
Sarah: – but if you don’t change the way you’re behaving, you’re harming people you don’t know, and I don’t know how to convince you that that’s important. And it’s related so much to how your identity becomes flattened into a punch line and people feel as if – I mean, just think about the amount of energy and time it takes to go and see, that much hate to go back into your history, to go look through tweets that are five years old, to figure out what your vulnerable spots are and then compose something specifically to hurt you, but they’re not actually thinking of you as a person, except where you’re vulnerable.
Sarah: That’s depraved. That is absolutely depraved!
Alisha: Right, yeah. I mean, they’re looking for things that they can use to hurt you –
Alisha: – but they don’t know who you are.
Sarah: You’re not a person, you’re a target –
Alisha: I’m a target.
Sarah: – and they’re going to destroy their target.
Alisha: Right. And it is, you know, I, like I, I mentioned, I had no, I had no comment – [laughs] – about the two –
Sarah: About the cake pops.
Alisha: [Laughs] Yes!
Sarah: Until you wrote for HuffPost and was able, you, you were able to comment and have complete control over –
Alisha: That was exactly it.
Sarah: – your response to the narrative, yeah.
Alisha: I, you know, I, I had no comment until all of this happened, and then I realized, all these places? Like, they, they took the spotlight, they took my free content – [laughs] – they made me feel –
Alisha: – you know, it was a joke and it was a debate. It was, you know, two sides, right, like, to them this was a two-sided debate. This was something –
Sarah: Hmm, no?
Alisha: – give them – yeah, no, first of all. But the, you know, like, they wanted it to cause some controversy or whatever, and they thought that was the story, and I had no comment on that story. But what came after? I mean, I had something to say about that. I think that was the real story.
Sarah: That’s actually one of my questions: do you, do you think that these media outlets, the, Good Morning America, the Today show, the Strahan show, the Daily Mail, do you think they fully understand what happens when they single out a young woman, especially a young woman of color, for, by harvesting tweets from Twitter? Do you think they understand what they are unleashing? Did you think they even fully understand what it is that they’re doing when they do that?
Alisha: No. No, I do not.
Sarah: I don’t think they do either.
Alisha: I don’t think they do. I think for them it’s free content. That’s it. And –
Alisha: – and maybe it’s like the thing where, you know, I’ll tell people, like, oh yeah, I went viral and they’re like, congratulations! Like they think it’s a good thing –
Alisha: – you know?
Sarah: Oh my God, are you okay?
Alisha: – like they’re doing you a favor, like, with this level of publicity, and, and it’s not a favor, and I don’t think they understand. I mean, the number of, like – forget, like, the misogynistic and sexist things; there, there’s a huge level of, like, racism overlying every, like, most of the hate mail I got. You know, go back to your country; go, like, back to where you came from; this is America; and I was like, my people are very hospitable; excuse me? [Laughs] And also, like, bitch, I was born in Jersey. Like, I’m not, like, going back –
Sarah: Cheers to that.
Alisha: Like, I’m not, I’m not – I mean, I’d love to go back to Jersey, I love Jersey very much, but, like, bitch, where you want me to go? Like, I can’t go anywhere! And so, you know, that is – and I don’t think they understand that. I don’t think it even occurs to them. Like, the producers are looking for content to fill their show. You know –
Alisha: – all these outlets, these written outlets that, like, consulted relationship experts to, like, find out what the right answer was? They’re all looking for content too. And that was why I was like, I’m not commenting; I’m not giving you any free content. Like, I’m not giving you –
Sarah: I already gave you the free content –
Sarah: – and look at what I’ve paid! Look at the price you paid for their free content.
Alisha: I pay the price, yeah. Like, you know, you got it for free. I had to pay the price, and you never followed up. Like, that was the thing: I was waiting for one of these outlets to be like, oh yeah, we saw all the abuse you received. Can we follow up? And honestly, the only one, you know, that really kind of did was, you know, this lovely reporter at BuzzFeed, Shyla; she’s sort of their romance beat? I didn’t know BuzzFeed had a romance beat, but they do, and it’s adorable, so – [laughs] – you know, I, she was the only reporter afterwards that I, I spoke to, or that I wanted to speak to, ‘cause I was like, I trust this woman; she’s going to do a good job; and she did, and she was very empathetic and, you know, sort of figured out, like, where the story actually, you know, lay; and, and, but after that I was like, I’m not giving, I’m not giving anybody any content. Like, if I’m going to write about this, I’m going to write about it on my own terms, and so I did write the HuffPost piece on my own terms. You know, like, I –
Alisha: – I had control over that. But no, I don’t think they understand how, how awful it is when they shine a spotlight on someone like that.
Sarah: And then they walk away.
Alisha: And then they walk away! Like, that’s the thing! They just walked away, and I mean, it’s silly to feel, like, betrayed, but I couldn’t help it. Like, I felt like, you did this; you –
Alisha: – exploded this bomb. I mean, until, until it sort of went to those outer, tawdry reaches, this was just like a little photo that you screenshot and put on Instagram; like whatever, you know? And people commented –
Sarah: We’re going to move on and keep scrolling, and in another twenty-four hours it’ll be gone, but this kept –
Alisha: Yes, like –
Sarah: – resurfacing and kept coming back!
Alisha: Right! Like, you guys did this, and then you left me to deal with the fallout. And –
Sarah: And it’s like, how do they not know that as a young woman of color who has experience with being the public face of her own product and therefore has an online presence, that you’re going to be the target for really shitful things? Like, you don’t think Hoda and, and Michael Strahan and Jenna, Jenna Bush, they don’t, they don’t have haters? Like, you don’t think, like, what you’re exposing this person to?
Alisha: I don’t think – and, you know, I’m not saying this personally about Hoda or Jenna or Michael, but, like, I don’t think they care. [Laughs] I think they’re trying to fill three minutes, and I think, you know, they’re, they’re doing it in a way that, like, you know, gets people laughing or whatever, and if it’s me –
Alisha: – that makes them laugh, whatever.
Alisha: I, I genuinely, you know, I do think in a lot of ways, you know, and especially with this COVID stuff where people are closing bars, and restaurants are voluntarily closing and, you know, people are voluntarily staying in, I’m like, wow, like, there’s a lot of people in this world who care about each other. I do think that, but I think also, like, this experience has sort of taught me that, like, demoralizing sort of fact, like, there’s a lot of people who just don’t care.
Sarah: They’re not going to share your cake pops, and they’re going to expose –
Alisha: Right, yeah.
Sarah: – you to the worst recesses of racist, hateful internet.
Alisha: Right, and even if they do agree with me, right? Like, a lot of these places agreed with me that he should have shared the cake pops, like – [laughs] – you know, they weren’t on the other side of the debate, but they still, they either don’t understand or they don’t care, and I’m not sure, like, I’m not sure which is, which is better, like, ignorance or just a lack of caring? I’m not sure. I can, I mean, if there is anybody who’s ignorant, I can assure you, like, this is terrible. Like, don’t do this to people! [Laughs] You know, like, it’s, it’s, it – or if you do it, maybe follow up and make sure they’re doing okay afterwards in some way or another.
Alisha: Follow the story! Like, keep going on the story. Why are you leaving the story right when it gets to the part where you could be holding somebody accountable for their behavior?
Sarah: Well, because then they’d have to hold themselves accountable.
Sarah: And they’re not going to do that! They’ve got to move on from that! Can’t – they’ve got to leave that there!
Alisha: That is true. That is true.
Sarah: Yeah. And the thing that I, I think that many people might misunderstand is that the net positive of this experience is not that great compared to the negative. Like, do you know that this has done anything positive for your book sales? It’s impossible to know that!
Alisha: Oh –
Sarah: The book’s not out yet!
Alisha: It’s impossible to know that, right. Like, and no way to track, you know, what, what is actually contributing. We had a sale on The Right Swipe last month. [Laughs] You know, like, how do you know what’s contributing to any book sales ever? Sometimes –
Alisha: – it’s very hard!
Alisha: You know, somebody was like, oh, you probably got, like, a bunch of new followers, and I’m like, you know, I, I –
Sarah: So fucking what?!
Alisha: So, who cares? Like, I mean, I, that’s the thing: like, I’ve never thought of my social media in terms of numbers. You know, this is sort of like whatever amount of followers I have I try to get through sort of just, like, organic engagement because I feel like that’s the most fun. Like, that is –
Alisha: – more fun for me. It’s not fun for me just to have, like, followers for the sake of having followers. And so –
Sarah: Right, and your, your, your social numbers sell you. They don’t –
Sarah: – sell a product!
Sarah: Having forty-five thousand Twitter followers doesn’t mean you’re going to sell forty-five thousand books.
Sarah: Those don’t correlate!
Alisha: Oh, there’s no correlation. And so, you know, it, I don’t think there, like, there’s no monetary positive, really, to this level.
Sarah: You’re just more publicly exposed. Yay!
Alisha: Yep. Like, I’m out there, and the majority of, you know, stuff I was getting was from people who don’t follow me, right? Like, they just found me –
Sarah: Of course!
Alisha: – harassing me. So, yeah, there is no real, like, monetary upside to it. There’s no, like, tangible upside to it. I will say, you know, I think maybe if there is any positive to this, the fact that all these outlets framed it as a debate – and I never intended it to be a debate, again – [laughs] – but –
Sarah: It’s not a debate.
Alisha: Not a debate! But, but in one way, like, the people who were sort of defending sharing cake pops – [laughs] – like, they were doing it with such passion. I mean, I watched Michael Strahan get so upset and worked up over this! Like, of course, you know, like, this is just a bad, selfish date! Like, of course you share the cake pops, you know, and, and other people who, even initially, when they were joking about it, and then some people started coming back with, like, oh, am I the only one who doesn’t feel entitled to somebody else’s food? Or something like – like, I watched them suddenly turn. Like, it’s not about the food. Like, it’s not about that; it’s about bare decency. Like, you know, and it, they became so worked up over it, and in one way, I do think that’s kind of a positive, that people –
Sarah: People were defending decency!
Alisha: They’re defending decency, but also, like, in some way, in one way or another, you’re thinking about what you expect from a person that you’re in a relationship with.
Alisha: Partner, friend, whatever. Like, you are so passionate about that! That’s good! Like –
Sarah: You should absolutely think about what you want from the people you spend your time with!
Alisha: Absolutely! So, like, if there’s any positive from this, and I’m going to take this as the positive –
Alisha: – it’s that maybe I got people thinking who, who maybe otherwise don’t consciously think about it, like, what do I expect from people around me? Like, do I expect my friends to treat me well? Yeah!
Alisha: You should! Do I expect my, my dates to share their, you know, dessert? Maybe! Especially if they’re individually wrapped. [Laughs] You know? So –
Sarah: At this time, yeah!
Alisha: Yeah! You know, in this context, yes. I, I’m not saying that everybody has to share their food all the time; I know people have very, sometimes strong opinions about that, but, but, you know, in what way are we doing things for each other?
Alisha: And even these small things that we do, you know, what are you doing? Like, what are these tiny things that you’re doing to show somebody that you appreciate them and that you care about them?
Alisha: And –
Sarah: It’s all courtship.
Alisha: It’s all courtship, and I will say, like, you know, I went out like three days later with another guy, ‘cause I was like, I need to just get this, like, out of this viral world! You know, I, apps are great – [laughs] – ‘cause they get you a date, you know, and so I went out with this other guy; he was great! Like, he was so sweet and funny, and, you know, we went, like, for a few more dates, and, and, you know, on the second date or third date I was telling him about this sort of viral story. Like, the best thing was, it was kind of a test, right? And he was flabbergasted.
Alisha: He didn’t share his food, his cake pop? [Laughs] And I was like, no! He didn’t! He had two of ‘em! And he was like, and they were Valentine’s cake pops? And I was like, yes! And he was like, wow!
Sarah: This is an excellent litmus test! You have invented the cake pop test!
Alisha: I know! I have invented the cake pop test! So –
Alisha: You think about –
Sarah: If you ever wanted to write a nonfiction book about dating focused on the sharing of cake pops, I’m pretty sure you could sell it.
Alisha: [Laughs] I think I should! It’s, it’s, it’ll be like, you know, like, are you my mommy? Like, would you share my cake pops? Like, would you share your cake pops?
Sarah: Yeah! Totally!
Alisha: I think I could, yeah! And I do think, like, after that I was like, man, this is a great litmus test. I’m going to, I’m going to – [laughs] – like –
Sarah: There’s the Bechdel test –
Sarah: – the cake pop test.
Alisha: The cake pop test!
Sarah: We got, we got tests; we’re, we’re testing you. Stay aware.
Alisha: I mean, yeah, whip it out on your dates! [Laughs] Let’s see – like, don’t actually, like, don’t whip anything else out, but, like, whip –
Alisha: – whip the cake pop test out and see what they say, and I don’t think it’s a bad, bad litmus test of, you know, how is a person –
Alisha: – going to think about someone else? Like, you know, how considerate are they? It’s the, you know, would you share your french fries – [laughs] – question again.
Sarah: Yeah! It’s a good question!
Alisha: But on a more, like, even more sort of nuanced level, with the context of it. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah! I mean, I can understand not wanting to share french fries right now.
Sarah: We’re all potentially virus transmitters. I –
Alisha: Gotcha! No, not, please don’t share your food right now.
Sarah: Individually, individually wrapped snacks on sticks where you have two and there are two people?
Alisha: On Valentine’s Day with, like, little hearts on them.
Sarah: Even I can do that math.
Sarah: So here’s my, here’s my key question here.
Sarah: When does Girl Gone Viral come out?
Alisha: Comes out April 21st.
Sarah: April 21st, and it’s about a girl who went viral!
Alisha: It is! Yes! Funny enough! But –
Sarah: Funny enough!
Alisha: Yeah, yeah, like, the internet viral, not, you know, the viral we’re all worried about right now.
Sarah: I hope, I hope some people buy copies of it!
Alisha: I hope so too! I, I really love this book, and, you know, I, I feel like I really, you know, there’s – let me get nerdy for a second? May I?
Sarah: Oh yeah, like I’d stop you! Come on!
Sarah: It’s like you don’t even know me!
Alisha: I know, I know.
Alisha: Please! Indulge me, Sarah.
Sarah: Have you listened to my show before?
Alisha: [Laughs] Indulge my nerdiness for a second. One of the things –
Sarah: Never a problem!
Alisha: One of the things I loved about writing this book, so it’s set in this place called Yuba City in northern California; it’s a little bit north of Sacramento. It’s a tiny little town, and what happened was I was watching this episode of the United Shades of America, and they were doing this thing about Yuba City and about how it’s predominantly Sikh, like, Punjabi people –
Alisha: – and I was just like, that’s weird! Like, what’s that about? And it’s primarily an agricultural com-, like, you know, area. It’s where, actually, the majority of, like, our peaches and plums sort of come from? Like, that is the area that they come from.
Sarah: Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s cool!
Alisha: Yeah, not Georgia, surprisingly enough, right? It’s California! [Laughs] And so, and I was like, I need to know more about this! So I kind of did a deep dive, and I’m a bit of a foodie, so I go on, like, late night, like, dives into food stuff, and I came across this thing called a roti quesadilla, and I was like, what is that? And I traced that also to this little town called Yuba City, and I was like, that’s interesting, ‘cause it closed in the ‘90s, like this restaurant that serves it, and I was like, Mexican-Indian fusion is not a big deal now, but in the ‘90s, and in the ‘50s when this place opened, this family-run restaurant, like, that would have been a really big deal!
Alisha: And so it turns out, what happened was, you know, sort of before the anti-Asian sentiment in the 19-, like early 1900s –
Alisha: – a lot of Punjabi men came to America to work on the railroads and work on farms, like a lot of Chinese men did. It wasn’t a lot of women because they didn’t have jobs for them. Like, the jobs were for the men. So a lot of men came, and then they closed the borders. Like, America closed the borders for, for Asian immigration. So all these Punjabi men were sort of stuck here, and, and they didn’t know what to do, because there were also anti-miscegenation laws in effect, so they couldn’t marry outside their race, and what happened was a lot of them would work around that by realizing that the clerks couldn’t tell brown people apart?
Sarah: Oh no! [Laughs]
Alisha: And so they married Mexican women! They married Mexican and Mexican-American women, because, you know, the clerks couldn’t tell them apart; they would just write down brown on the marriage certificate. What sort of was born of those unions was this hybrid community, and a lot of it settled in that Yuba City area. That area is sort of one of the largest enclaves outside of Punjab of, like – [laughs] – Punjabi Sikh people! It’s very interesting! And they make our food! Like, they grow our food –
Alisha: – and they send it out all over the country. This is like the American heartland, right? But it’s an American –
Alisha: – that nobody really knows about. So that was sort of one of my main goals in writing this book, where I was like, oh man, like, there is this little city up north where all of our peaches come from, and we know nothing about it or what it really looks like. That’s sort of one of the main inspirations for the book, and it’s in, you know, like, the town’s sort of in there, and, and I hope it’s sort of its own little character.
Sarah: That’s really cool.
Alisha: Very nerdy! [Laughs]
Sarah: It’s my favorite kind!
Alisha: Yeah! I want to give you this history lesson in this romance novel! [Laughs]
Sarah: That’s kind of why I read them, yeah.
Sarah: [Laughs] It’s my favorite thing!
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this episode. I want to thank Alisha Rai for hanging out with me. If you would like to read Girl Gone Viral it’s out now! You can find it wherever books are sold, and you can find Alisha Rai at alisharai.com, and she’s on Twitter @alisharai, and she’s still pretty funny. Especially talking about cake pops.
If you would like to email me, you can do so at [email protected]. I do love hearing from you. It is always a delight, especially when you send me bad jokes, and you know I have one for the end of this episode, because, well, you guys are so great! [Laughs] And you send me bad jokes!
This episode is brought to you by BetterHelp; that’s Better H-E-L-P. BetterHelp is a professional counseling service done securely online, accessible worldwide! BetterHelp will assess your needs and match you with a licensed professional therapist, and you can start communicating in twenty-four hours! Log into your account and send a message to your counselor. You’ll get timely and thoughtful responses, plus you can schedule weekly video or phone sessions. BetterHelp is committed to facilitating great therapeutic matches, so they make it easy and free to change counselors if needed. You can take a look at all of the options. Visit betterhelp.com/TRASHYBOOKS; that’s Better H-E-L-P dot com slash TRASHYBOOKS. You can get a special offer just for Smart Podcast, Trashy Books listeners of ten percent off your first month at betterhelp.com/TRASHYBOOKS.
Thank you again to our Patreon community for being entirely wonderful. Patreon support keeps the show going, helps me make sure that every episode receives a transcript, so if you’d like to have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches, it would be marvelous to have you join our community.
I will, of course, have links to all of the things that we talked about in this episode, and I will have links to Alisha’s new book, Girl Gone Viral, and the first book in the series, The Right Swipe, in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
But now, as always, I end with a really bad joke, and of course I have tested this out on my family because I am a merciless individual. This joke comes from Karelia. Thank you, Karelia, who is a listener, who sent me this joke. I love this joke so much! [Clears throat] Are you ready for terrible humor? I hope so!
Question: If you have a bee in your hand, what do you have in your eye?
The answer? Beauty, because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder.
[Laughs] That’s so dumb! I love it so much! Beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder. [Laughs more] It’s so great! Thank you, Karelia! This has completely made my week. Ah, I love it!
On behalf of Alisha and myself and all of the mammals in my office, who are mad that I shut the door, we wish you the very best of reading. Thank you so much for hanging out with us. I am so honored to keep you company right now, and we will be back next week with more mayhem and shenanigans for you to listen to. Stay safe, and have a wonderful weekend.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to listen to at frolic.media/podcasts.
[Laughs again] Bee-holder!
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.