Updated | 7:46 p.m. It began with unlikely fodder for music, comedy or pop culture stardom: a local news report about an attempted rape. But then the victim’s brother stepped before the camera and delivered a lecture to the stranger who had tried to attack his sister one night last month in Huntsville, Ala., that somehow managed to be both deeply angry and oddly compelling.
Within hours a viral video franchise was born when a copy of that report, about the intruder found in Kelly Dodson’s bed, and her brother Antoine’s reaction, was posted on YouTube and quickly shot up the viral video charts.
Soon enough Mr. Dodson’s warnings to Huntsville residents — “Well, obviously we have a rapist in Lincoln Park; he’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up, trying to rape ‘em, so you all need to hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband ’cause they’re raping everybody out here” — racked up millions of views and attracted the attention of the Gregory Brothers, who transform news clips into songs for their popular “Auto-Tune the News” series.
That led to their reworking of Mr. Dodson’s rant as “The Bed Intruder Song,” which has now been seen more than 10 million times on YouTube and reached No. 3 on the iTunes R&B chart.
That song, in turn, has now spawned dozens of covers and remixes on YouTube, including this one, performed by a North Carolina A&T marching band:
What distinguishes this surprise hit from other viral videos is that its accidental star, Mr. Dodson, is sharing in all the profits from the auto-tuned version and hopes that his new fame could be a route out of the projects for his family.
In an interview with Wired about their hit, Evan Gregory said, “Antoine is participating in all of the revenue from the sale of anything we do [with the song], 50-50.” His brother, Michael, added:
We’re really breaking ‘unintentional singing’ ground, so we’re trying to set precedents by making it so that Antoine, or whoever that artist might be in the future, has a stake not only as an artist but as a co-author of the song. It’s like you said: He wrote the lyrics, he’s the one who put it out there. What we’re doing on iTunes and on any other sales, we’re splitting the revenue after it gets through Apple down the middle.
For his part, less than three weeks after the original report was broadcast, between media interviews, Mr. Dodson is now selling “Hide Yo’ Kids, Hide Yo’ Wife” T-shirts on Facebook, bantering with thousands of followers day and night on Twitter, asking visitors to his Web site to donate money to a “Help the Dodson Family” account on PayPal and responding to questions from his fans on YouTube:
While Mr. Dodson told ABC News this week that his sister’s attacker was still on the loose, he also said that he has made “a nice amount of money,” from his various new income streams: “enough to move my family from the projects.”
In a report on Mr. Dodson’s sudden Internet fame, the Huntsville television station that first put him before the public reported that some African-American viewers had called to complain that “interviews with people like Antoine reflects poorly on the community.” Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post wrote that he understood that reaction, since “Dodson’s cringe-inducing performance was something I — and whole bunch of other folks — thought only existed in the comedic minds of Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry.” But, Mr. Capehart argued, after reflection it seemed unfair to criticize Mr. Dodson for his spontaneous outburst or flamboyant manner:
[W]e must put aside our judgments and remember that we don’t know Dodson, his family or their story. Like millions of families across this country, the Dodsons appear to be proud people who are making their way the best they can. They crave security and comfort. And no matter where you live, when that sense of safety is shattered, you lash out. Fo’ real.
Update: Baratunde Thurston, The Onion’s Web editor, and a co-founder of the blog Jack and Jill Politics, which brings “a black bourgeoisie perspective” to discussions of American politics and culture told Andy Carvin of NPR that when he first saw the original news report on YouTube, “I thought it was amazing and embarrassing and hilarious and tragic. One of my commenters pointed out the Auto-Tune the News remix and I posted that as well with the same set of feelings.”
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.’ Folks with no exposure to the projects could dip their toes into YouTube and get a taste.