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On the radio this morning they were discussing the three women who were discovered after being held captive for 10+ years. They were talking about the neighbour who discovered them – and how he is being seen as “hilarious” instead of a “hero” (citing an article about “The Troubling Viral Trend of the Hilarious Black Neighbour”). What is your perspective on this topic?

Oh my, here you are asking me this fantastic, thoughtful question that presumes I have thoughts that sometimes stretch beyond diapers and sleep schedules, thigh rolls and nursing bras. I kind of love you for this.

But also, this question has arrived on the heels of a night where Olive woke up almost every hour, so please be patient if I ramble and end up in tangent after incoherent tangent – my critical thinking skills are rusty.

I think there are a few things at work here. 

1. Shitty Media

I have seen many differing representations of Charles Ramsey (the man in question, who rescued Amanda Berry and led to the capture of two other kidnapped girls).

Some do refer to him as a hero, some stray towards the “funny black dude” story, and which one is used seems to depend on the source- legit news organizations vs. tabloid style online news or 24 hour news channels. 

If you’re getting your news from a shitty source, you really can’t expect much in terms of unbiased, intelligent, coherent coverage. These outlets treat news as though it were a soap opera or a tabloid – every editorial decision is based on getting maximum ratings so they shoot for the obscene, the ridiculous, the bizarre.

Their reporters and anchors aren’t usually chosen for their journalistic skill, nor for their experience or achievements – and so we end up with horrific situations like sympathizing with Steubenville rapists, or posting breaking news stories that sound as though they were written by a drunken, illiterate eight-grader. 

These networks seem to thrive on embarassment and scandal, and so it’s not really surprising that these missteps just seem to make them more popular, rather than less.

On one hand I don’t take seriously the news emerging from these sources, but on the other hand, these shows and networks are incredibly popular, and you kind of have to wonder why. Their popularity seems to indicate that not only is this sort of dumbed-down news tolerated, it is being demanded, encouraged, supported.

As long as there are the ratings to support this quality of reporting, it will continue and probably continue to get worse, too. 

2. Race 

Obviously, there are major race issues at play here.

With almost every major news story there seems to emerge a video clip with a hilarious black person hilariously recounting their hilarious story in hilarious terms – and most often the subject isn’t really that funny.

An apartment fire, an attempted rape, a kidnapping rescue. Rather than focussing on the events, we focus on the race and mannerisms of the individual recounting the tale, and the story becomes about the “hilarious black neighbour”, rather than the incident itself.

Pop culture has a bad habit of featuring African Americans in this sort of clown role – the sassy black woman (snap snap snap!), the fast-talking partner, the comedic relief who shoots off a handful of one-liners before getting killed off in the second scene.

As the line between fiction and reality becomes more and more blurred, perhaps we are trying to recreate that character in real life?

I don’t know why – as an attempt to reinforce existing racial stereotypes? To delegitimize black people as a whole? To give ourselves something to laugh at, so we don’t find ourselves crying instead at a world with fires and rapes, where little girls are kidnapped and held prisoner for decades? 

Whatever the reason, it’s only a manner of time before Charles Ramsey becomes a meme; is auto-tuned and remixed, lives on forever in YouTube fame (willing or no).

3. The Dumbing Down of America

This trend goes beyond racial lines though, because hello- Honey Boo Boo,  Mytrle Manor, The Kardashians, and every other “reality” show out there that showcases not our best and brightest, but the weirdest, most socially unnaceptable and undesireable individuals for our gawking pleasure.

TV has become a carnival and we’re all just sitting around gaping at the bearded lady with the comfort of a screen between us so we never have to look them in the eye while laughing.

TV isn’t aspirational any more – it doesn’t showcase families we look up to and desire to become, like the Waltons or the Brady’s. In some ways this is good because that sort of glossy perfection is unnattainable, but in other ways it’s just depressing to turn on the TV and see peope pandering to an audience, becoming their most stupid and vapid selves for a big fat cheque. 

This trend reaches beyond race and just speaks to something at work in North American culture in general. It’s depressing and disheartening and I kind of hate it.

[edited to add: in this section I am referring to the way Charles Ramsey’s interview is being reported upon and portrayed, not his interview itself.]

Get to the point Madeleine! What do I think about this whole thing. Let me try and coherently sum it up with all of my conflicting thoughts:

I’ve watched the interview, and parts of it are funny. From that brief few minute clip, Charles Ramsey seems like a kind, laid back guy who was also actively trying to elicit laughs from the surrounding crowd at some points.

I appreciated the awkward reporter laughter as Charles said, “Man, I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl runs into a black man’s arms”, managing to sum up the decades of simmering race-relations conflict in one succint sentence. 

And at the core of it, the fact that Charles Ramsey is a hero, and should be treated as such. Whether or not he is, depends on whether we are mature enough to get past the fact that he doesn’t appear as a blonde man in front of his suburban home, speak in clipped tones and wearing khakis. 

If you have a question, click “Ask” to your right.

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