Despite its fondness for lolcats slang and celebrity meltdowns, the viral Internet is a pretty sophisticated place: It can eviscerate an image, argument, or sales pitch in seconds. But lately, one ubiquitous meme has us feeling like an employee at Dunder Mifflin during Michael Scott’s Diversity Day festivities. Yes, friends, it’s the mania for Antoine Dodson’s Bed Intruder interview and the song that quickly followed it. And after nearly two months of grinning and bearing it, we just can’t hold our peace anymore.
You see, we had no idea it was going to last so long. Alas, this morning, Vulture brought us an impromptu cover of “Bed Intruder Song” by none other than Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man:
Notice that this video didn’t come from some snarky blog, but was actually made by ABC News! And it’s far from the only high-profile endorsement of “Bed Intruder.” Hayley Williams of Paramore, Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory, and Ethan Luck of Relient K got together to record a pop-punk cover of the original Auto-Tune The News version, and it begins with a cringe-worthy impression of Dodson:
We’ve heard old people sing it. We’ve heard it, literally, out of the mouths of babes. A marching band performed it! Someone even got an Antoine Dodson tattoo (and we can’t imagine he won’t regret it this time next year). And yet, very few people seem bothered by a largely white, middle-class audience’s problematic appropriation of what actually amounts to a pretty brave and smart subversion of race- and class-based expectations and norms.
We’re not the first to make this point: The Awl included the Dodson meme as #2 on its list of “Five Memes That Are Mostly Just People Laughing at Working-Class African-Americans, in Order of Views.” (The only worse offender? Soulja Boy.) Racialicious dissected the original news station’s decision to edit the interview the way they did and pointed out that the attempted rape of Dodson’s sister — a serious crime that actually does deserve attention — went mostly ignored in favor of Bed Intruder mania. (It remains unsolved.) And Jezebel talked about how sad it was in the first place that such an event could be so unsurprising to its victims that it could only be met with sarcastic humor. What remains really scary, to us, is that in every new incarnation of “Bed Intruder,” higher profile people and more legitimate news organizations are sanctioning what pretty much amounts to a celebration of someone else’s systemic oppression.
It’s not that the story hasn’t had a somewhat happy conclusion for Dodson: Because he got a generous cut of the Auto-Tune The News track, which in turn became the first Internet meme to hit the Billboard singles chart, he’s earned enough money to move his family out of the projects and into a new house. And no one’s arguing that what he said wasn’t funny. It takes a lot of courage to subvert the expected anguished-victim response, to actually confront and explode viewers’ just-another-crime-in-the-projects apathy. But we agree with Baratunde Thurston, who told NPR,
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.’
Amid all that laughing at Dodson, the serious (and seriously subversive) elements of what he did on TV (not to mention the fact that he really did heroically save his sister from rape), have been almost totally obscured. And the longer it goes on, the more divorced the humor becomes from the actual facts of the situation. As the Bed Intruder meme lingers, we could at least keep in mind what Dodson himself has to say about it: “I want people to realize that this is funny. It is funny — I’m not going to lie, ’cause we’re laughing too. But this is a serious matter… I really thought that when I went into Kelly’s room, he was choking her life out of her. I was terrified. … It was so crazy. But God allowed me to save her and that’s what I did.”