ONTD Political

'Bed Intruder' Meme: A Perfect Storm of Race, Music, Comedy And Celebrity

10:14 pm - 08/06/2010
'Bed Intruder' Meme: A Perfect Storm of Race, Music, Comedy And Celebrity

It all began last week, when reporter Elizabeth Gentle of WAFF-TV in Huntsville, Ala., aired a story about a woman named Kelly Dodson who was almost raped in her bedroom by a home invader. The video included an interview with her, but it was her brother Antoine Dodson, who interrupted the assault, who stood out in the story.

Dodson addresses the camera directly with a mixture of anger, defiance and flamboyance.


“Well, obviously, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park," he says. "He’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up, trying to rape them, so you need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband, because they’re raping everybody out here.”



The video quickly became a runaway online hit. But is this Internet meme really about race, music, comedy, celebrity or a delicate mix of all of the above? And for Antoine Dodson, how would he respond to his new-found fame?

WAFF-TV received angry calls and e-mails from members of the public who felt the story perpetuated stereotypes about African Americans. The station, however, stood by its decision to air the piece.

“Some have contacted our newsroom saying that interviews with people like Antoine reflect poorly on the community. To that I say censoring people like Antoine is far worse," explained WAFF reporter Elizabeth Gentle in a follow-up story.

Online discussion of the “Bed Intruder” meme, as it’s become known, initially focused on that angle, as well as the divide between those who felt the video was funny or offensive.

“If you wonder why folks can't take the news seriously, here's Exhibit A,” noted the blog AverageBro.com. “Lord, Jesus, how can the reporter file this story with a straight face?”

But the tone of the meme changed drastically as people began to create parodies of the video a few days later. These parodies hit critical mass when the duo known as the Gregory Brothers, who produce the popular YouTube channel AutoTune The News (ATTN), put their own spin on the video. In their version, they AutoTuned Dodson’s voice to sound like he’s singing an R&B song.



At the end of the ATTN video, one of the Gregory Brothers performs a “cover” of the song on piano, then challenges YouTube users to create their own versions of it. And create they have: As of this morning, there were more than 750 videos on YouTube dedicated to the Bed Intruder meme. While a number of them are just rehashes of the video, many people have taken the time to record original versions on the song.

There were two things that struck me about these musical responses. First of all, the performers actually have some talent – and in some cases, a lot of talent. They put serious energy into crafting their own version of the ATTN song, sending the meme into new musical directions. Secondly, you can’t help but notice the multicultural nature of their videos. People of various racial backgrounds happily jumped into the meme. The initial TV news video was racially polarizing, but the Gregory Brother’s injection of music and humor into it led to a broad public response that’s been surprisingly colorblind.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder if all the musical versions of the original video have all but subsumed an important public conversation on race and media. So I asked Baratunde Thurston, Web editor at TheOnion.com and co-founder of the blog Jack And Jill Politics, for his thoughts on the matter.

“I first saw the news report last Friday on YouTube and posted it to my Posterous site,” he explained. “I thought it was amazing and embarrassing and hilarious and tragic. One of my commenters pointed out the AutoTune The News remix and I posted that as well with the same set of feelings.”

Baratunde continued:

As the remix took off, I became increasingly uncomfortable with its separation from the underlying situation. A woman was sexually assaulted and her brother was rightfully upset. People online seemed to be laughing at him and not with him (because he wasn't laughing), as Dodson fulfilled multiple stereotypes in one short news segment. Watching the wider Web jump on this meme, all but forgetting why Dodson was upset, seemed like a form of ‘class tourism.’ Folks with no exposure to the projects could dip their toes into YouTube and get a taste.

I also asked Kenyatta Cheese of KnowYourMeme.com for his take. KnowYourMeme has been documenting the spread of the meme over the last week.

"More and more we're seeing people be inspired by viral videos to respond by creating videos themselves,” Kenyatta explained. “While there is a long history of ‘amateur’ (non-market) spoofing, it is no longer the domain of professionals at SNL, Mad Magazine and drive-time radio hosts. Spoofing is participatory and it's just as good as the commercial stuff.

"There's a history of local news media exploiting under-represented communities for a quick story,” he continued. “And yes, I can hear the black community's anxiety about representation in the media coming from my own head - I'm African American and Chinese. But these issues are about the audience's perception. While there will always be a small percentage of the public who is laughing at him, it's hard to not empathize with Antoine because he is so sincere."

And that last point is really worth noting.

Both Baratunde and Kenyatta marveled at how Antoine Dodson himself has responded to the situation in recent days. He’s embraced his newfound online celebrity, launching a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and YouTube channel. Among his first videos is a clip of him hosting a meet-and-greet with some of his fans, who are almost exclusively white.

“The creativity unleashed has been amazing,” Baratunde continued, “and what mitigates my fears of people minimizing the gravity of the situation is how Antoine himself has responded and taken charge of his own meme.”

Dodson appears to be enjoying the limelight. This week he thanked all of his fans and supporters on his new blog:

You all made me who I am today and for that I will for ever be in your debt. Once again I say thank you from me and on behalf of my entire family. I love you guys so much. You have given me this opportunity to shine so dammit I'm going to shine.

If you’re measuring winners and losers in this whole thing, simply by counting YouTube views, WAFF-TV and AutoTuneTheNews have done well for themselves, accruing millions of views in a matter of days. Yet don’t discount how Antoine Dodson is trying to reclaim ownership of the meme by embracing various social media platforms. Let’s face it – he's literally become a brand overnight.

As Baratunde told me over the phone, more and more people who have been victimized by out-of-control memes now have the social media savvy to take control of the conversation. Contrast this with, for example, the Star Wars Kid, who struggled to respond when a video of him went viral in 2002. This was pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook, both of which make it easy for anyone to respond rapidly to a developing online situation.

“The transition to victimhood to agency is fast,” Baratunde continued. “I’ve been super amazed at Antoine Dodson. He still remembers what’s important, and a lot of people who are connecting to him do as well, asking him how his sister and family are doing. I like that he’s taking control of his own meme and keeping it grounded in the reality of what started it in the first place.”

Putting all of the racial, media and musical discourse aside, if Antoine Dodson plays his cards right, he might have the last laugh.

“Kelly and Antoine may be victims but they are fearless,” Kenyatta told me. “They both take control of the camera and call out their attacker. They issue a call to action telling people in their community to look out for the perpetrator. And yes, Antoine may not seem traditionally articulate, but he uses his time on camera to be performative and create spectacle and that gets our attention. In that sense, he's probably more effective in getting his message out there than a more traditional community 'representative' would ever be.

"To me, Antoine Dodson is brilliant.”

--

Here are some of the 'covers' that NPR had up:







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celtic_thistle 6th-Aug-2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Your HTML exploded! Can you please fix it? ty!

As for the article...this meme has made me very uncomfortable. It does seem like "class tourism" and it feels like people are definitely laughing AT this situation/person. If there were a news story about a white family in this same situation, even a poor white one, you know it would have been treated with more gravity by the media in the first place.
homasse 6th-Aug-2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
OK, strange; when I look at the code, the error it's saying is there...isn't. I'm confused, but I'm working on it, trying to figure out where it's dying.

ETA - AHAHAHA, FIXED! Thanks for the heads up!

Edited at 2010-08-06 02:05 pm (UTC)
lickety_split 6th-Aug-2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
I've watched this video (the Bed Intruder Song video) every single day since it came out, I don't give a damn.

HE'S CLIMBIN IN YO WINDOWS!!!!!

Edited at 2010-08-06 01:52 pm (UTC)
everythingonit 6th-Aug-2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
RAPIN' ERRBODY
nicole_anell 6th-Aug-2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
Ugh, hate this meme.
dearmisterecho 6th-Aug-2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
oh fml, I shouldn't have watched those videos. That song is not permanently stuck in my head. I'm gonna be walking around all day tomorrow going HIDE YA KIDS, HIDE YA WIFE, HIDE YA KIDS, HIDE YA WIFE

and that makes me feel bad, because yeah...now I'm totally distracted from the original story of that creepster crawling into bed with that poor girl :(
everythingonit 6th-Aug-2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
ngl, I love this song.

So dumb, so dumb, dumb so dumb SOOOO
lickety_split 6th-Aug-2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
HE'S CLIMBIN IN YO WINDOWS!!!!
lickety_split 6th-Aug-2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
And can someone get Evan out of the video, please? Your piano rendition is not wanted.
everythingonit 6th-Aug-2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
I know right? He ruined it for me.

everythingonit 6th-Aug-2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
HOMEBOY HOMEBOY HOMEBOY


bludstone 6th-Aug-2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
People thought the original video was racist? Wtf?!?! Reactionary much? Its not racist, its awesome. Its popular because people -like the guy-.

also


“Kelly and Antoine may be victims but they are fearless,” Kenyatta told me. “They both take control of the camera and call out their attacker. They issue a call to action telling people in their community to look out for the perpetrator. And yes, Antoine may not seem traditionally articulate, but he uses his time on camera to be performative and create spectacle and that gets our attention. In that sense, he's probably more effective in getting his message out there than a more traditional community 'representative' would ever be.

"To me, Antoine Dodson is brilliant.”


FUCKIN ASTUTE SHIT RIGHT THERE.

Also, the shamisen cover is dope.
everythingonit 6th-Aug-2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
Isn't it? I'm looking at it and I'm like, wait, is that the MOTHER FUCKIN SHAMISEN?! GET OUT!!!!

angelofdeath275 6th-Aug-2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
WAFF-TV received angry calls and e-mails from members of the public who felt the story perpetuated stereotypes about African Americans. The station, however, stood by its decision to air the piece.

“Some have contacted our newsroom saying that interviews with people like Antoine reflect poorly on the community. To that I say censoring people like Antoine is far worse," explained WAFF reporter Elizabeth Gentle in a follow-up story.


SO next time a rapist nearly rapes someone's sister we shouldn't air it because one of those black people?


The initial TV news video was racially polarizing, but the Gregory Brother’s injection of music and humor into it led to a broad public response that’s been surprisingly colorblind.

stop.


Then the right of the article reads as black people are ~*STRONG*~
homasse 6th-Aug-2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
The article definitely had some problematic aspects with word choice, from "flamboyant" to "colorblind."
spinnigold 6th-Aug-2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
I had not heard of this one.

I have to say, although I appreciate the presentation-polarisation and the fact that it has become a 'meme' and is potentially detracting from the original point-- that there is some sick fuck jumping into bed with women out there--all I can think of is that I would LOVE for Antoine to be my brother.
[/holy run on sentence, batman]
Or at least, just my friend. He seems like a pretty sound guy. I don't really feel anyone is truly laughing at him-- more like they find his way of communicating the issue fantastic. Which it is!

angelofdeath275 6th-Aug-2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
I don't really feel anyone is truly laughing at him-- more like they find his way of communicating the issue fantastic. Which it is!

You're serious aren't you.
lroche_nf 6th-Aug-2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
That was the first time I saw that! OMG I just keeled over. If that's how that guy speaks then that's how he speaks. It wouldn't have been right for the station to censor him because of it. They would get complaints about that too.
lroche_nf 6th-Aug-2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
He has a website! http://www.antoine-dodson.com/
just_smiling 6th-Aug-2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
At the very least I hope that this publicity has caused the police to keep up on Kelly Dodson's case and actually try to find this attempted-rapist instead of letting this case go cold...
lickety_split 6th-Aug-2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
IA. Too often violence against women of color are ignored because of a combination of racial/class issues, so hopefully the publicity will put some added pressure on the police to actually pay attention.

But they got his t-shirt and his fingerprints, so I'm sure they'll find him. That rapist is really dumb. Forreal.
dangerousdame 6th-Aug-2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
That song will now be stuck in my head forever.

Since the man himself is using the meme to spread awareness, I have a hard time getting angry. And the laughter at his words doesn't seem mean-spirited, the way it does at other internet "celebrities."
eyetosky 6th-Aug-2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
This post has almost everything I love about the Internet.

One day we'll lose everything to a corporate hive mind pay-as-you go censored collective, but we'll always have this, Internet.

Shhh. Don't speak. I want to remember just this way.
keeperofthekeys 6th-Aug-2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
Wow, how have I not seen this?

Also, A+ at "hide your husbands, because they be raping everyone"
crossfire 6th-Aug-2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
"Class tourism." Apt phrase is apt.
jetgirl78 6th-Aug-2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
There are things about this meme that I find problematic. The large one being that there was a sexual assault committed against a young woman and I feel that this is being "lost" in the fun, catchy nature of the song. That being said, if this song raises awareness in the community and puts pressure on the police to find this guy before his violence against women escalates, I can't say that the meme is a "bad" thing. The song is as catchy as hell and I've been listening to it for three days straight. Obviously, my feelings about this are mixed.
are_all_for_you 6th-Aug-2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
YES. I am disappointed it took this long to get to a comment that mentions, uhm, hey guys, he's talking about his sister being raped here. yes, his language is terrible, but, this being my hometown--if it was a middle class white guy saying this same shit, it wouldn't have aired. seriously.

velvetunicorn 6th-Aug-2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
when I saw the video I thought Antoine and his sister were awesome! their whole, "we're gonna find you!" kicked ass. They weren't as afraid of the rapist as he should be of them.
monkey_kong 6th-Aug-2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
I think that might be the thing that makes this video so awesome. They come off as fearless.
gunsofporn 6th-Aug-2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
WAFF-TV received angry calls and e-mails from members of the public who felt the story perpetuated stereotypes about African Americans. The station, however, stood by its decision to air the piece.

“Some have contacted our newsroom saying that interviews with people like Antoine reflect poorly on the community. To that I say censoring people like Antoine is far worse," explained WAFF reporter Elizabeth Gentle in a follow-up story.


I didn't feel like he was a stereotype. This guy was genuinely upset his sister was almost raped and by some dumbass who tried to sneak into the house and commit such a heinous act. I wouldn't say that made him a stereotype. Seeing something so genuine and coming from the right place (his heart) is a lot better than those cold family representatives who speak to the news about the situation.
monkey_kong 6th-Aug-2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
There's something about this that I love. It's like he's using the interview as a chance to yell "FUCK YOU" to the rapist. And there's something about him that I just immediately like. He's got spunk.
lroche_nf 6th-Aug-2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I completely agree.
nothingmuch 6th-Aug-2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
Now I'm gonna be singing "we gon' find you, we gon' find you" for a week.
xerox78 6th-Aug-2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
I hope the people who feel that women "share some responsibility" in their own sexual assaults will take note that Kelly Dodson wasn't prancing around in sexy clothes, hanging out in dark alleys alone, or getting drunk. She was in her OWN HOME, in her OWN BED, on the SECOND FLOOR, with her child, sleeping and minding her own business. And some sicko pervert she doesn't know from a hole in the wall still attacked her!

Point: If a rapist wants to rape, he will find a way, no matter what.
celtic_thistle 6th-Aug-2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
THIS.
popehippo 6th-Aug-2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
All in all, human beings continue to be a damn weird species.
my_private_muse 6th-Aug-2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
This is my ringtone on my BB.

My life is better for it.
carminaburana 6th-Aug-2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
I'm uncomfortable with a lot of reactions to the meme for the exact reasons that Baratunde Thurston articulated in the article, but i do love that Antoine Dodsen has basically taken control of it. Dude has a ton of charisma.

I wonder how Kelly Dobsen is doing though - she hasn't gotten much attention. I hope the police catch the rapist soon.
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