Racism and Cultural Phenomenon

A few months ago, Alan showed me a video, which I found extremely distasteful and somewhat disturbing that he found funny. But then he followed up with another video that was awesome. Basically, these kids called the Gregory Brothers who are part of Autotune the News, some folks who use this autotune feature that changes vocalization (or any noise, really) to sound more on-pitch used some things from a news clip about an attack on Antoine’s sister in the projects in Georgia. There are a lot of issues here. Antoine and his sister are both poor and black. They speak like they are Southern, poor and black. Antoine is also gay (though I actually did not catch that from the original news piece, but from this other clip. Obvs I am slow in the gaydar department).  And the Gregory Brothers, along with many of the people who subsequently parodied the song, called the Bed Intruder Song, are also white.  There seems to be an inherent question of whether we are laughing at or with Antoine Dodson and his sister.

I want to begin from the beginning of the story.  Antoine’s sister, Kelly Dodson, awoke to find a man who she did not know in bed with her.  She screamed and fought him, and Antoine came into the room and defended her, fighting this intruder.  It seems that the intruder was somewhat insistent and the fight quite physical.  The man left his T-shirt and, according to the interview, his fingerprints, but the whole scene was actually somewhat traumatic, according to Antoine’s interview with NPR.    The event was really effed up and sad.  So let’s just not forget that.  I think it’s important to remember that the whole song and resulting phenomenon is only possible because of an awful thing that happened to Kelly, her 5 year-old daughter (who was in bed with her) and her brother.

What happened after, though, is that the Gregory Brothers used autotune to filter Dodson’s voice and then cut and edited the interview with Dodson, added a beat, and lo & behold–magic.  This song went totally viral (Alan and myself being swallowed up in that mix) and then many people made their OWN versions.  These are the main lyrics:

“He’s climbin’ in your windows
snatchin’ your people up
tryan’ rape your people so
hide yo wife, hide yo kids
and hide yo husband cuz they rapin’ e’reybody out here

You don’t have to come and confess
we lookin’ fo you
we gon’ find you
So you can run & tell that homeboy

We gotch yo t-shirt you done left fingaprints and all you are so dumb
you are really dumb. For real”

There’s some other parts where they talk about how there is obviously a rapist in their neighborhood.  But I think this is sort of a fascinating phenomenon.  On the one hand, there’s some advantage taken of the Dodsons and people are, to some degree at least, laughing at Dodson and how he speaks and looks.  But what happened after all of this is what is amazing.  The Gregory brothers contacted Dodson and asked him if he wanted in on the proceeds from the song.  Dodson agreed, and then bought a house with the money the song made.  This, to me, is where everything changes.  He made an album of other rap songs that he’s selling on iTunes, and he is selling t-shirts, stickershalloween costumes, and various other items.  He is making money off of people making fun of him, and he’s using it to get out of poverty.  It is also clear from some of his interviews that Dodson had to work to get this incident into the news, for people to be aware of it.  He was enraged that his sister had been attacked and actually took action.  And now he is having the time of his life.  So maybe it’s fine.  But we’re also laughing about rape.  I know I’m laughing because I feel helpless.  At least this guy and his family are getting out of the ghetto so they won’t be raped by this “rapist.”  And Antoine did release an App for the iPhone that identifies registered sex offenders within a certain radius of wherever you are.  This may be well-intentioned, but considering that most rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (even pretty well), an app that shows where people how have been not just accused, but also prosecuted for rape can be found is not too helpful to all the date rape victims.

I think some of the fascination with this particular attempted rape is due to the fact that is is so cut & dry.  Clearly, there is a perpetrator who broke into these peoples’ home uninvited and attempted to rape Kelly Dodson.  This story fits perfectly into our society’s idea of “rape.”  So it supports that, and people look for these kinds of stories to be able to define what “rape” is.  Anyway, just some thoughts.  Race, class, sexual power.  All very interesting.