Reactor

The Awkward Laughing Moment of Charles Ramsey’s Hero Tale

by Alicia Eler on May 8, 2013

Some of the many images circulating the web that are part of the Charles Ramsey meme (via 1, 2, 3, 4)

Some of the many images circulating the web that are part of the Charles Ramsey meme (via 1, 2, 3, 4)

CHICAGO — The internet is amazing, the internet is awful. It amplifies the general public’s internal thoughts, projecting them out into the cybersphere. This is how and where internet memes are born.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-16902-1367938579-12The latest internet fodder for comment threads and message boards is Charles Ramsey, a man who helped rescue three Cleveland women who were thought dead more than a decade ago. As of less than 24 hours ago, Ramsey was trending #6 on whatthetrend.com. Yet watching this video calls to mind the problematic stereotype of the “hilarious black neighbor,” as noted by Slate:

It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.

Ramsey’s awareness of racism in the American media is most definitely clear through this statement, which made the plump white ABC-7 anchorman and everyone else laugh uncomfortably. Says Ramsey when discussing the rescue: “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!”

Internet media moments like these are the subject matter of Chicago-based artist James T. Greene‘s work, which focuses on self-identity, online engagement and our dependence upon technology. User-generated data, online objects, and social media at the intersection of race and American pop culture are ripe subject matter for Greene.

In #Character from his 2012 series BetaEyes, the artist picked apart black stereotypes by first filtering what was said on Twitter. Using the tool Twitpipe, he searched for key terms “black people,” “black guys” and “black girls,” and then let the screen do the work.

JamesTGreen_TwitPipe

James T. Green, “#Character” (photo courtesy the artist)

@RonTheAnchorman was retweeted quite a bit on September 28, 2012, the day that I viewed this exhibition at Columbia College’s Hokin Gallery:

RonTwitterRon the Anchorman’s tweet is eerily close to what Ramsey said in his now-famous YouTube video. Somehow, on the internet it becomes more acceptable to shout and tweet and ‘like’ and LOL about these moments of failed understanding, instead making light of that which is in fact a very serious and sad reality of race relations in America.

Today a search for “black people” using search.twitter.com yields some results that mention Charles Ramsey, like this one.

And fast responses about the implied racism in this laugh were produced by those who knew the news would keep spreading quickly online.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.luna.16 Daniel Luna

    What I love most is how patrons of political correctness aka Gawker, titled their post on him ”
    The Hero Who Rescued Three Kidnapped Women in Cleveland Is Hilarious”. To me it really exposes how mainstream political correctness is so learned that it over reacts to certain things, but can’t react as fast to the present. They can only comment on sort of well known cliche forms of liberal correctness, but critical thought in real time doesn’t seem to be their strength.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sgeras Stephan Geras

    what’s really disgusting in this clip, and in the resultant discourse like the one above, is that the perception of “being black” is enough to excite a popular discourse on race relations, discourse that springs from ignorance of the actual effects of debilitating racism towards African Americans throughout history in USA. And these perceptions of race relations have simply limited the intelligence of white Americans.

  • http://www.facebook.com/goodnamesrgone Derek Perry

    some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.

    Have you heard you the television show, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?”

    They’re WHITE, simple-minded ramblers, living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Giving this family a TV show to show them merely as funny instances of random poor people is disrespectful at best, but they’re not black (they’re dumb white hicks), so it isn’t racist.

    what is racist, is capitalistic marketing based off assumptions of what title would get the most hits for their content in regards to their average reader base (white people with internet) i.e. a “black man” being “hilarious”

    the only difference between “black people” like sweet brown, antoine dodson, and charles ramsey and ‘white people’ like Honey Boo Boo and family, is that the white people got paid…

    now THAT’s racist..

  • http://twitter.com/skb127 sandy borkowski

    I think he’s a hero, and at the moment he was interviewed obviously excited. I would be too! What a bunch of snobs society has become, especially to pick apart a man who moments before just saved 2+ girls after TEN YEARS!! I can’t believe where we all put our focus here. If that is how someone acts, who gets involved and doesn’t turn a blind eye saying “not my problem,” like too many people these days, then I hope we’re surrounded by these heros. Furthermore, I was more shocked to watch just what a regular kind of guy he was after reading so many comments before hand. Overexaggeration and snobbish. I think he’s wonderful!

    • http://twitter.com/thelovelyjazmin thelovelyjazmin

      I’m confused about this comment. Are you calling the author “snobbish” or the people who create these offensive memes?

  • thom thom

    I would disagree that memes “amplify the general public’s internal thoughts”. Memes are created by a specific niche in cyberspace. The success of a meme is usually dependent on how outrageous and extreme it is. A particular group of people with common sensibilities enjoy the humor in memes, and an even smaller group take the time to create them. Hardly the general population expressing their views.

    I think that implying that memes can express the dark underbelly of the population and expose us as monsters in disguise (or anything else) is a pretty big leap.

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