They Rapin' Errbody Out Herre: The Curious Case of Antoine Dodson

YouTube phenomena are almost too numerous to mention these days, the term "viral" almost taking on a completely separate definition in our cultural vernacular from its original usage. Yet this summer, a young gentleman by the name of Antoine Dodson raised all sorts of cultural issues for this humble writer with his rise in internet hits.

In July, Mr. Dodson was awakened by an intruder into his family's apartment in Huntsville, Alabama who was supposedly attempting to rape her in her sleep. The local news media ran a story on the nightly news, which was soon picked up and remixed into a song and posted on YouTube.

For a couple of views, the remix is pretty damn funny. Mr. Dodson is clearly upset, outrageously effeminate, and...let's be clear, poor and black.

Mr. Dodson's sister was the victim of a terrible act that could have been much worse had the suspect not been run off by the rest of the family. This type of violent crime happens more often in poorer sections of our cities, obviously. Take a good look at the actors and hopeful comedians making remixes of Mr. Dodson's desperate anger to catch the suspect: They are almost without exception white and not poor. Mr. Dodson's appearance seems to subconsciously suggest stereotypical images of black poverty, something all too easy to laugh at from a vantage point of white comfort. In interviews, Mr. Dodson does not seem to be aware of being made fun of. Quite the contrary, he seems to think that people are laughing WITH him, not AT him. However, the comedians, amateur songwriters, YouTube video makers are overwhelmingly white.

I find the YouTube remix a fascinating form of music. It takes what viewers see as the funniest part of a video that would otherwise have more emotional weight and removes that weight by adding humor. The basic repetition of anything possibly sad with a beat behind it suddenly becomes funny. Yet it is this humor at the expense of real human emotional distress that I find alarming. On Mr. Dodson's website you can see video of him doing radio commercials for local businesses in which Mr. Dodson's uses the basic script of his interview with the TV station to sell products like auto loans. In essence, Mr. Dodson's actions and vocabulary were hilarious to middle-class white Alabama (and indeed America). He is now making money for himself, and for numerous wealthy white businessmen in Alabama off of his own intense emotional reaction to the sexual attack on his sister.

This is not music. This is not art. This is not funny. This is racism. This is exploitation.


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