What's so funny about Antoine Dodson?
Sept. 24, 2010

One night, an intruder broke into the Huntsville, Alabama, home of Kelly Dodson and attempted to rape her. Her screams alerted her brother Antoine, who came to the rescue. The intruder escaped and in local news coverage of the incident, Antoine Dodson expressed his anger and issued a warning to the community. The resulting video of a young man frustrated by the violence in his community and his sister's near assault has reportedly generated more than 2 million hits, a Facebook page and a remix by Autotune the News seen below and available on iTunes.

I can't help thinking that Dodson's new-found popularity is not about shared frustration over crime or violence against women. On threads around the 'net, Dodson is branded "hilarious." But what is so funny about Antoine Dodson? Part of the Dodson meme is, I fear, about laughing at mannerisms that the mainstream associates with blackness, gayness and poverty. There is nothing amusing about a young woman assaulted in her home. And so, I worry that people are laughing at Antoine: his flamboyance and perceived gayness; his use of black colloquialisms, like "run tell dat," his grammar and accent.

I agree with Baratunde Thurston of The Onion and Jack and Jill Politics, who is quoted in a recent NPR report: "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 say it is cultural tourism.

It is not that the Dodsons have no agency in this matter. Antoine has welcomed his fame and has leveraged it to better his life. Proceeds from the remix and other Web ventures have allowed Antoine and his family to move out of the projects. Antoine has said they are thankful. Of the laughter that greeted his televised appearance, he told CBS News, "[It] bothered me at first but after awhile I started to see that people were doing other things about it, it was cool."

I certainly don't begrudge Antoine his right to speak or his hustle. But I wonder about the folks on the other side of the transaction — the folks tittering at the "Bed Intruder Remix" and snapping up those "Hide yo wife. Hide yo kids" t-shirts. I wonder, if Antoine were some traditionally masculine, young, white man from a random suburb, would his anger at his sister's attacker have been turned into a dance mix? And if Kelly Dodson were a young, white woman, would her near-rape be so trivialized and would her central role in this story be so obscured?

To ABC News, Kelly Dodson said, ""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," she said. "If Antoine wouldn't came in, I probably would be dead."

And isn't this the real story that is lost in the laughter?