When WAFF of Huntsville, Alabama arrived at the home of Kelly Dodson last week, their intention was to interview her about her experience with an attempted rapist. Instead, they ended up making a viral star out of her brother, Antoine.
As explained in the following clip, Kelly Dodson was attacked by a man who broke into her home last week and got into her bed while she was sleeping, attempting to remove her underwear. Dodson screamed; her brother, Antoine, heard the commotion and tried to help her. The would-be rapist escaped, but Antoine had a message to send him:
Dodson's interview is the stuff that memes are made of, filled with instant catchphrases ("They rapin' everybody out here") and obvious emotion, as well as a subject who is extremely animated and completely unapologetic as to how he approaches what is, of course, a very disturbing subject. The original video already has over 2 million views and there are already tributes to Dodson's interview up on YouTube, including several remixes, and Facebook page in honor of Dodson already has over 7,000 members.
Dodson himself seems surprised by the attention, telling WAFF in a follow-up interview (during which he wore an outfit described by Michael K at DListed as "sweeter than a Kiwi Banana Starburst dipped in hummingbird juice") that he wasn't trying to be famous, he was merely trying to scare the man who attacked his sister:
There is something very creepy about this second video, namely the way the WAFF reporter points out, "he is a victim, and just like any other victim, he has the right to speak out," as if Dodson's reaction was somehow dishonest or intentionally designed to gain viral fame, as opposed to a very real display of emotion and anger. Perhaps the creepiest part of the local coverage, however, is the fact that Kelly Dodson's attack is secondary to the viral video angle: an attempted rapist is still on the loose, but that doesn't seem to be as important as noting how WAFF had a hand in creating an internet superstar. There's also several references to "people like Antoine," and the reporter doesn't seem to realize the underlying subtext of such language while she pats herself on the back for being a crusader against censorship.
I have to admit that my reaction to the video was mixed: I wasn't sure whether I should laugh or cry. The fact that an attempted rape was pushed aside by the internet in favor of "oh my God, this guy is so funny" doesn't necessarily surprise me, but it's still frustrating when one considers that the viral video angle seems to be more of a focus for the channel following this story than the actual attempted rape itself. The video is amusing in its own way, but it also makes you somewhat angry — which is strangely fitting, as humor and anger seem to be how the family itself is handling the situation.
Kelly Dodson's own reaction — "I was attacked by some idiot from out here in the projects" — is not one you typically hear from an assault victim on television, but that doesn't mean it's any less real. Antoine's rant is clearly directed at his sister's attacker, who he refers to as "so dumb," and warns, "you don't have to come and confess — we lookin' for you." There's something especially honest and slightly depressing about all of this; too often, we expect people (especially victims) to play certain roles, and with our idea of "reality" being warped by what is presented to us on television, we tend to look for hidden motivations in the "characters" we see on our screen. The internet has made Antoine Dodson into a character — "that guy from that rape video" — and his words will become fictionalized in many ways, drawn into meme culture and used until they lose their actual meaning and become a go-to joke in random situations.
The sad part of all this is how frustrated but unsurprised the family seems to be about the attack, and Antoine's directness toward the attacker makes it seem as if they aren't holding their breath for police assistance, but rather are relying on community support and awareness to track this guy down before he attacks anyone else. Kelly Dodson's experience becoming secondary to her brother's new-found fame is depressing as well, but more for its predictability than anything else. The entire phenomenon is strange: is it okay to be horrified but to laugh, as well? Can we understand the frustration and anger but still smile at the delivery? If the Dodsons are handling this with a bit of humor, is it okay to find their reactions funny? It boils down to differentiating between laughing at and laughing with, I suppose.
Dodson's own explanation behind his interview might provide an answer: "What people fail to realize," Dodson tells WAFF, "is...our family, we don't run around crying and acting sad, know what I'm sayin', we just dust our shoulders off and keep on movin." Just because Dodson and his sister don't fit the traditional victim mold to which we're used to being presented, it doesn't make his, or his sister's, words and emotions any less true. But those emotions, and the reasons behind them, will most likely be forgotten as his video circulates. After all, it's easier for the internet to anoint a new hero than to worry about the villain who is still on the loose.