Antoine Dodson: Internet Star or Homophobic Joke?

August 4, 2010

I kinda love Antoine Dodson. The Huntsville, Alabama black gay (I mean he hasn’t said that, but can we just go with it?) man who has become an internet sensation because of a widely circulated local news story about an attempted rape made upon his sister with whom he lives in a housing project. The attempted rapist apparently climbed through the sister’s window and Antoine awakened to the sound of the ensuing scuffle, and helped chase the assailant out of their home.

So far there have been two news stories, and several remixes done by internet geeks of Antoine. I love that he’s so queer, clearly from a poor and /or working class community, and so visible–as someone who’s clearly somewhat femme in presentation if not identity, and not a victim. I have been, for the last several days, watched a lot of these videos and remixes with varying levels of pride, dismay, amusement, etc.

But some things are being lost here.  In my first viewing of this news story, I was less amused as the rest of America seems to be. A Black woman was nearly raped. And what disturbed me about the original video was that while Antoine and Kelly were angry, there was a way that it also seemed so normalized.  Maybe it was Kelly’s stoic way of dealing with it–I don’t want to tell anyone they need to perform their trauma  for the American media or public to feel they’re “properly hysterical”–but I hope that she has access to some support to deal with this. Is anyone helping her there or offering support? I totally commend her for being willing to come forward, which must not be easy, and could open her, and Antoine, up for retaliation. Maybe it was the way the story was produced that gave it a “this is what happens in the projects everyday” kind of tone.

Also, the news station intentionally included more footage of Antoine than Kelly, who was the actual survivor–were they going for ratings here? Did they stick this on Youtube? This just feels like exploitation of her situation by the press. You can tell the news station is responding to critism they received about the original story in the follow-up piece (no doubt some of the critique from bourgie black people who don’t think poor black people should ever be in public view at all, but that’s another blog post).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvm22wz0lcE&feature=related]

Secondly, like reality television, I am afraid that the joke is really on Antoine. Who, despite doing the right thing in this situation, is being made a mockery of, I think. If you really look at this phenomenon, this is really America making fun of this poor, black, and presumably gay man in a moment where he was clearly pissed off and angry about his home being invaded and his sister being subjected to violence. When I look at most reality TV shows like I Love New York/Flavor of Love, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of ATL/NJ, etc, I really see how much the reality TV culture exploits poor and working class people, our struggles, and or culture, especially people of color. The (often black) gay sidekicks on these shows adds to the circus-like atmosphere of it all, but at after 20 years of being invisible in American visiual culture (including black visual culture), one can’t help but be glad we’re even visible.

So while we applaud Antoine, let’s not make a mockery of him, nor lose Kelly Dodson, and the horrific event that made us know who they were in the first place.

11 Responses to Antoine Dodson: Internet Star or Homophobic Joke?

  1. dimpledmoon says:

    You really hit this one spot on. I felt similarly when I first saw the video. There was no reason for the news channel to edit the video such that Dodson was the main feature. After the testimony, his portion didn’t add more to the story… In a way, consciously or not, the video edit undermines the seriousness of the crime, but also makes it seem as though it is something confined to or inherently part of living among poor folks in government housing. It does this by emphasizing Dodson’s theatrics which, although sincere, are sensationalized by their emphasis within the broadcast. In short, Dodson’s dramatic behavior is shown to upstage the crime, which makes a mockery of the crime and him. His behavior becomes the target. It’s the “story” being told, and so, in this way, we are led to believe that rape is the subtext of living among people who act like Dodson is shown to act rather than a heinous part of all communities. The story does not make an example of the crime, but of Dodson.

  2. You betta work the analysis, dimpledmoon! Thanks for the comment. It really enriches what I originally posted.

  3. dimpledmoon says:

    Thanks Kenyon. It means a lot coming from someone with your critical acuity. I was really only building off your reading. -matt

  4. CAYENNE says:

    This post touches on every point and, while I must confess I have had more than a few laughs with one particular remix of Mr. Dodson, I have grown increasingly troubled by two things: the blatant invisibility of the attempted rape victim herself and the freakification of Antoine Dodson. In so many places (Facebook, youtube, etc.) I have seen and have been moved to respond to comments that characterize Mr. Dodson as everything from “Ms. Dodson,” to sick, disgusting, the “true rapist,” and a pity. Few have given much attention to the actual male violence attempted toward Ms. Kelly Dodson, nor have they considered how continuing to ignore such violence only perpetuates it. Still few others have called Mr. Dodson a hero for his acts. Whereas Kelly Dodson has been washed invisible, I truly believe Antoine Dodson has been pushed into or is being pushed into (first by the news network itself, then by the mass public) Baldwin’s idea of a freak, that is one “who cause[s] to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.” How else explain that he “sickens” you, yet you watch the video (continuously) and sing/rap the song? Ultimately, I guess, this mean there’s someething increadibly human and good about Mr. Dodson, and we (as in society) just aren’t prepared or willing to face it.

    Great post,
    RL.

  5. ashoncrawley says:

    ugh. i hate this exploitation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_8szPYvr4g

    and i suppose i could only echo what the others have said, Kenyon but the ways in which the cause – rape – is not thought about in any of these ways to celebrate Antoine are problematic as hell. but then again, we live in a hyper-capitalist society and a lot of people are “trying to get out of the projects”…Antoine has a page dedicated toward that end:

    http://www.antoine-dodson.com/

    and from the “Thank You” page:

    “Thank you guys so much for donating to us to help us get out the projects. You just don’t know how much you have made a big impact on our life. This feels like a dream and I don’t want to wake up. Guys you are the best and if someone tells you something different they are dumb I mean really dumb foreal. LoL! I can’t express myself enough to show you all that my family and I are grateful for helping us through this difficult time. You guys are amazing and you have made our lives amazing. I can never forget this. You all made me who I am today and for that I will for ever be in your debt. Once again I say thank you from me and on behalf of my entire family. I love you guys so much. You have given me this opportunity to shine so dammit I’m going to shine. Thanks guys so much. Love always and forever ANTOINE DODSON. You can really tell them now to RUNANDTELLDAT HOMEBOY HOM HOM HOMEBOY! LmaO Thanks again!”

  6. rjwanth says:

    I also want to weigh in as someone who found the story both problematic and ‘entertaining’ (as in, admittedly, I laughed).

    While I recognize the racism, sexism and homophobia at work in this event, I will admit that my hetero-privilege allowed me to more immediately tap into my concern over a black woman being assaulted and my anger over the media’s always-already portrayal of black folks (in general) in the most demeaning light possible.

    What I want to raise for consideration is a more critical evaluation of [our] analyses of this news story and responses to it. No doubt, the treatment of this news story should involve situating it within the structures of inequality and oppression in which it undoubtedly occurred. I also want to point out however that our analyses run the risk of understating the assertion of agency on the part of Antoine and his sister. Antoine and his sister were more than gazed upon actors in this event. We who are in a position of privilege to analyze this event need to consider the many ways in which we are experiencing this event differently from Antoine and his sister and that in our ability to engage in these analyses, we’re not the only ones who ‘know what’s really going on’ while Antoine and his sister are ‘unaware’ of the context(s) in which their experience happened and was portrayed. I raise this for a few reasons related to my own reading (privileged analysis) of the footage and responses to it as a black woman whose work and being revolves around reading, writing, teaching and acting against racial, sexual and gender-based oppressions. I’m also thinking about our negotiation of identities as members of minority communities and persons with certain professional, intellectual and (for me) sexual privileges that factor into our analyses.

    I want to submit/argue the following:

    1)Antoine and his sister’s response did not reflect a normalization of assault. Both expressed, in their reactions, a resistance to identifying as victims with no recourse. Antoine assisted in fighting the predator off and made it clear that he would continue to protect his sister and avenge her assault. More than that, his warning that followed to both the perp (‘…we got your t-shirt, your fingerprints…’) and the community (‘hide [everybody]!’), was a stated commitment to protect his community and sister. I also think it’s important to consider that his stated commitment was likely informed by his knowledge of the failure of the justice system to properly address crimes committed in poor, black neighborhoods.

    2) With regard to the media — I have no doubt that this was yet another sorry attempt at mockery on their part. BUT what had me laughing in large part was that with his over-the-top delivery, Antoine more than arrested the moment from the media and ended up making important, empowered statements about family, community, crime in his community – along with offering up an implicit critique of the police. He flipped the script on them and power was not necessarily flowing in one direction. With that in mind, I’m not assuming that Antoine did not consciously seize the moment to do so.

    I want to reiterate that I am not attempting to raise these points as if they exist in a vacuum. The range of reactions to this story – especially the ‘remixes,’ mostly produced by white males, underscore that ‘consumption,’ mockery, racism, sexism and homophobia are at work in processing this news story. However, I also think it’s important to consider the multiple levels of power and resistance operating here, including the agency/resistance asserted by Antoine and his sister. I think that this is especially the case in light of what Antoine had to say in the follow-up piece. He is a hero.

    Kenyon — thank you providing a forum for thoughtful discussion about this.

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  8. czare21 says:

    Thanks for posting another sharp and insightful piece, Kenyon. Don’t know if you read the New York Times update on Antoine Dodson, but here’s the link:

    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/bed-intruder-rant-buys-family-a-new-home/?scp=1&sq=Antoine%20Dodson&st=cse

    The article discusses the ways in which Antoine developed ways to economically benefit from his new-found fame in order to move his family from his neighborhood (and thus, highlighting rjwanth’s call to pay attention to the nuances of agency and power relations in this incident). It’s upsetting that Times’ celebration of Antoine is written through and against, as others have pointed out, the elision of any update on his sister’s well-being. Moreover, the fact that the Times’ only dedicated one sentence to update everyone on the case–that the attempted rapist had not been caught–illustrates the Times’ complete disregard for the seriousness of the attack as well as the general crime itself.

    Lastly, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the video posted in the Times article, where Antoine is in fresh cornrows, an ed hardy shirt, and a seemingly new leather chair. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. Happy to see you brought the blog back!

  9. Very interesting post. I think you added a lot to a dialogue that needs to happen.
    Great work!

    - Calhoun

    http://selfproclaimedmegalomaniac.wordpress.com/

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