|Posted by Elwin Green on May 8, 2013 at 2:40 PM|
Late last night, I watched the video of Charles Ramsey, the man who rescued three women from their imprisonment in his next-door neighbor's house.
I had deliberately refrained from viewing it for a couple of reasons - 1) Homewood and Pittsburgh by themselves generally produce more news than I can handle; 2) I was waiting for The Virality Cycle (tm) to play itself out.
The Virality Cycle (tm) works like this:
1 - The event.
An average Joe or Joanne does something remarkable. On Monday afternoon, Mr. Ramsey rescued the women.
2 - The video.
Joe/Joanne is captured on video, most often in a local newscast, talking about the event in a way that others find engaging. Monday evening, Mr. Ramsey appeared on the local news, with video by Cleveland station WEWS having the most immediate impact.
3 - The mashup/meme.
The video goes viral, aided by people autotuning it, adding captions to photos from it, and otherwise slicing and dicing it, primarily for comic effect. The day after Mr. Ramsey appeared on the local news, The Gregory Brothers served up their autotune mashup of the interview on YouTube. As of this writing, it has 288,841 views. The original video, uploaded by WEWS, has 2.8 million.
At this point in the cycle, Joe/Joanne typically has no control over his/her image, and others may not only reproduce or modify that image at will, but may make money doing so. We could spend hours on the issues raised here, and an intellectual property attorney could make a mint providing solutions.
4 - The backlash.
Observers express distress that Joe/Joanne is being exploited for others' amusement. Here I must interject that The Virality Cycle seems to especially attract, or by attracted by, videos of highly animated Black people who appear to be low-income and not well-educated. So, by 5 pm yesterday, Slate had run a piece on "The Troubling Viral Trend of the 'Hilarious' Black Neighbor," citing not only Mr. Ramsey's instance, but those of Antoine Dodson, Sweet Brown and Michelle Clark. And this photo is circulating on Facebook:
5 - The follow-on
National media converge to ask Joe/Joanne how his/her life has been changed by the attention they've received. And/or he or she gets new job offers. This doesn't always happen. It may have happened best with Antoine Dodson, who had the wit to hire a manager, and rode his Internet fame all the way to an appearance on Carson Daly's 2010 New Year's Eve special - not bad for someone whom the world had not known of five months earlier.
6 - The fadeaway.
The world and the internet turn their attention elsewhere and Joe/Joanne returns to whatever remains of their normal life. With Mr. Ramsey, we aren't there yet. My guess is that we will be relatively quickly, because he seems to have no interest in the attention.
We seem be poised between 4 and 5. Interestingly, Anderson Cooper interviewed Mr. Ramsey, but that interview was basically a retelling of the event, rather than a look at how Mr. Ramsey's life had changed as a result. Which is understandable, given that barely two days had passed, if that.
Mr. Ramsey was still animated in his conversation with Cooper, but while some may find him comical, I find his comments thought-provoking.
In the first interview, his statement that "I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms," speaks volumes about the state of race relations in Cleveland, if not in the country.
When Cooper asks him what it feels like to know that he was "living next to this for a year," Mr. Ramsey replies: "See, that's why now I'm having trouble sleeping. See, up until yesterday, the only thing that kept me from losing sleep was the lack of money. See what I'm saying? So now that that's going on, and I could have done this last year, not this hero stuff, just do the right thing "
When Cooper speaks of a possible reward, Mr. Ramsey pulls his paycheck from is pocket and says, "Take that reward and give it to (the women)"
Then he says that if he had known that his neighbor, Ariel Castro, was having sex with Amanda Berry, "I would be facing triple life."
All of these comments go to the quality of community and the question of what it means to be a neighbor. And they make me ask myself, "If someone were being held captive in a house on my block, would I even know?"
I need to create a better answer than the one I could give myself now.
Mr. Ramsey dismisses the description of himself as a hero, saying, "Bro, I'm a Christian, an American, and just like you." But he also said that sometimes we have to put away the feeling of, "I don't want to get in nobody's business."
"You have to have cajones, bro."
Lord, haste the day when more Christian men connect being Christian with having cajones. Haste the day when more people view actions like his as a natural result of their faith and their citizenship.
How can we make Homewood a community where something like the imprisonment of three women for a decade can't happen?
Categories: Citizenship and Governance