By Arturo R. García
Based on this interview he did with NPR, the Antoine Dodson phenomenon seems to be turning out more favorably than these memes tend to. But not without reaffirming some of the worst tendencies of both media distributors and consumers.
By now many of us know how the story started: on the morning of July 28th, a man broke into the Dodson home in Huntsville, Ala. and, according to Antoine’s sister Kelly, attempted to assault her in her bedroom. As originally reported by WAFF-TV, Antoine struggled with the assailant, who subsequently escaped.
The first thing to note is that WAFF’s original story was not a live-shot. Meaning both the reporter, Elizabeth Gentle, and her editors had virtually the entire business day to get an interview with either a police spokesperson or the crime scene investigator shown at the scene to add to the story and respond to Antoine’s allegation about there being “a rapist in Lincoln Park” – for instance, had there been similar incidents in the area as of late? Gentle also had time to get a description of the alleged assailant from either the Dodsons or the police department, information that would be useful when the suspect in a forced entry and attempted sexual assault is still at large.
Instead, as you can see, the bulk of the story is devoted to capturing Antoine’s anger. And while the visceral emotion might have made for “compelling television,” that kicked off the most disturbing part of this entire affair. While it’s possible this is because of her own choice, Kelly Dodson, the original victim of the assault, became a non-factor in the story. In fact, WAFF aired a follow-up story that completely ignored her and focused on the online fuss surrounding Antoine, while absolving itself of any fault for its’ own reporting:
It’s also worth pointing out that WAFF was the only local news outlet to report on the story; searches for “Antoine Dodson” on the Huntsville Times website and other local outlets provide no additional information on the case; WHNT-TV, meanwhile, chose to post the same clip on its’ site rather than seize an opportunity to follow up on and improve upon a competitor’s story.
From there, as you’ve no doubt seen on your friends’ Facebook pages, the memestorm started. Antoine’s rant has been dissected, remixed and parodied. It’s not a stretch to believe that some of that attention came from a scarcely-veiled sense of privilege, the kind inspired by “Ain’t They Crazy” shows like Cops or Flava of Love. As she told ABC News:
When I first seen it, I was very upset about it because they were taking it as a joke and I was feeling like they were not looking at the part where I was the victim … If Antoine wouldn’t came in, I probably would be dead.
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.
Even people who seemed to mean well, like the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capeheart, did little but sound disconnected from the situation with statements like, “Dodson’s cringe-inducing performance was something I — and whole bunch of other folks — thought only existed in the comedic minds of Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry.”
On the bright side, the Gregory Brothers, the duo behind the popular Autotune The News YouTube channel whose remix of Antoine’s original remarks has actually reached the charts – according to Gawker it’s No. 3 on iTunes and No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100(!) – have agreed to split the revenue from the song equally between themselves and Antoine.
Between that money and Antoine’s presence of mind in establishing himself as his own brand, complete with a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,things have already improved for himself and his family: he told ABC that he’s made enough money to move his family out of Lincoln Park, where the incident took place. It’s anybody’s guess what will happen once Antoine’s 15 minutes are “officially” up, and online voyeurs find somebody new to gawk at. But here’s to hoping those folks have the same savvy. And get a better shake from the media to begin with.