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Teaching a Meme: Antoine Dodson

posted: 9.29.10 by Barclay Barrios

One of the things I love about using Emerging is that current events constantly remind me of readings in the text. The incident involving Antoine Dodson is a good example. In case the meme hasn’t reached you yet, Dodson is a young black man who interrupted a rapist attacking his sister in Huntsville, Alabama. His interview on the local news was uploaded to YouTube and went viral:

Subsequently, the Gregory Brothers, a musical group known for using AutoTune software to set video news clips to music, converted Dodson’s interview into the “Bed Intruder Song.” That song in turn went viral and, released digitally, hit the charts on both iTunes and Billboard.

As soon as I encountered the story I thought of Leslie Savan’s essay “What’s Black, Then White, and Said All Over?” Savan is centrally concerned with the appropriation of black talk by pop culture, and the Bed Intruder Song is a perfect example of that phenomenon. But Dodson’s story also complicates Savan in productive ways. For one thing, Savan focuses on the commercial appropriation of black talk in advertising, while the “Bed Intruder Song” shows that process operates equally well outside of corporate culture.

This particular meme can also help students deal with a part of Savan’s essay they often overlook: her discussion of Black English in the classroom; Dodson’s dialect, rooted firmly in Black English, would be considered unacceptable in many contexts but in pop it becomes celebrated (or is that mocked?).

To really complicate Savan’s argument, though, consider using the Double Rainbow meme.  This meme involves another viral YouTube video—a man in Yosemite park in awe of a double rainbow.

Like Dodson’s interview, this video was AutoTuned into a song by the Gregory Brothers. And, perhaps most interestingly, the term “double rainbow” is already being integrated into pop talk. The processes that Savan addresses, then, might have nothing to do with race.

To determine what might be in operation instead, you may want to pair this meme with Steven Johnson’s essay “Listening to Feedback.” Johnson explores the effects of the social on media and looks at what happens when new stories come from the bottom up (in this case by going viral) rather than from the top down.

Gary Olson’s “The End of Race” is another interesting essay to add to this sequence. Olson argues that there’s no longer a biological basis for race; the Dodson meme suggests how race is far more entrenched as a sociocultural phenomenon.

I love to get students thinking about the connections between what we are reading and what’s happening out in the world. The Antoine Dodson example is one great way to do so. If you’re interested in exploring this meme, here are some interesting remixes of “Bed Intruder Song.” (It’s interesting to see the song translated into different musical genres [including a Japanese shamisen] by people of different races. The mashup of the “Bed Intruder Song” and the “Double Rainbow Song” is particularly rich for analysis.)

Leave a comment with your ideas!

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Categories: Emerging, Popular Culture
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