An American Dream
Voila, we have a new American idol, a fresh icon to distract us from the drudgery of madness and remind us that humor is the best weapon against anger or angst. For those who live in the alternate universe known as Planet Earth, where life is a process of tangible interactions and time is measured by the rotation of planets, the name Antoine Dodson may not ring a bell. A month ago, one might have been forgiven. Few beyond his Huntsville, Ala., housing project knew who he was. But that was then.
Today, he is a phenom—the kind that can occur only in the world of Internet viruses and social media. Google produces more than 7 million links. YouTube offers a universe of newscasts and musical remixes featuring everybody’s New Favorite Person Ever. At least for a while, to know Dodson is to love him.
His stratospheric rise to celebrity began with an un-funny incident, when a man climbed into the bedroom window—and then the bed—of Dodson’s 22-year-old sister, Kelly, and tried to assault her. When Dodson heard his sister scream, he ran to her room and wrestled her assailant, who managed to escape.
Next came the police, the cameras—and Dodson’s now-famous performance. Sometimes we don’t know quite who we are or what we’re made of until forced into action by circumstances. Tsunamis and hurricanes reveal heroes and expose monsters. A would-be rapist and a television crew bring out the beautiful and, yes, hilarious fury of a brother in the throes of his own Howard Beale moment.
Words can’t do justice to Dodson’s performance. You simply have to watch it. And then you have to watch the remix by the Gregory Brothers, famous for creating musical videos that go viral, especially “auto-tuning” news clips. In spite of the seriousness of the event, it is impossible to keep a straight face as Dodson rails against his sister’s assailant, red bandana and passions ablaze.
An excerpt will have to do: “Obviously, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park. He’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up, trying to rape them; so y’all need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband because they’re raping everybody out here. … We’re looking for you. We gonna find you. I’m letting you know that. So you can run and tell that, homeboy!”
Suffice to say, it’s all in the delivery.
Nobody’s laughing about what happened, least of all Dodson and his sister. But both admit to laughing—all the way to the bank—about what has transpired since. With the help of the Gregory Brothers and that indefinable something that causes a moment to become a movement, Dodson has taken a lemon and made a lemonade franchise. Through Facebook, Twitter and a PayPal button, the proceeds from which he splits with the musicians, Dodson has made enough money to move his family out of the projects. So you can run and tell that, homeboy!
It’s not precisely a Horatio Alger story, whose rags-to-riches tales described how unlucky boys could achieve the American Dream of wealth and success through hard work, determination and courage. Dodson did display courage when he saved his sister from rape, but his moment on the stage was just that. A moment, random and uninvited.
Such is the new mechanism for the American Dream. Wealth and fame are valued over hard work and achievement.
In a related fantasy come true, social media has made 20-somethings into billionaires. Dodson’s fortunes, though modest by comparison, are nonetheless gratifying. We don’t begrudge him his moment of fame because, among other things, he made us laugh. He also expressed a rage that most feel but don’t express.
Finally, on some level, we all recognize that luck has much to do with anyone’s claiming the dream. Dodson and his family weren’t enjoying much luck when some idiot climbed through that window. The story of Antoine Dodson is a high-tech fairy tale where the bad guy is a national joke; the brother who saves his sister is a hero and gets rich; and the Gregory Brothers are a merry band of musical pranksters who made us all laugh.
Only in America. The end.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.