ColorLines contributor Juell Stewart offers some insight on Antoine “Bed Intruder” Dodson’s rise to fame—and fortune. Lots of readers have chimed in with their mixed emotions on Dodson’s story and have debated how well he’s walking the line between minstrelsy and entrepreneurship. Juell added a comment on today’s update to explain of why her emotions are no longer mixed:
I like Antoine Dodson! At the beginning of this meme, though, I felt conflicted. As is often the case in my life, I immediately thought of the racial implications behind the way it was spread. Many of my white friends were sharing the video with each other, which made it feel like it was walking a very thin line on the border of minstrelsy and mockery. But I also noticed that my black friends started sharing the video too. There’s something familiar about him; we all have an Antoine Dodson (or a few!) in our social and familial circles.
The biggest difference between Antoine Dodson’s brand of internet celebrity and the bona fide minstrelsy of the past (and in plenty of 21st century pop culture) is that Dodson has taken ownership of his image, starting a YouTube channel, interacting with fans and, very cleverly, somehow hooked up with the AutoTune the News guys to split profits! I think this is really important, because whereas past memes like this have thrived mainly off of depicting African-Americans in a negative light (the leprechaun video comes to mind), Dodson has reclaimed agency, and providing an example of how access to technology can give someone a powerful voice.
I’m not sure I agree, but it’s an interesting point many ColorLines readers have suggested—that the ownership new media provides changes the game for someone like Dodson. No question, his ability to grab ahold of other folks’ loaded mockery and turn it into his own content stream proves a savvy that I suspect many of those laughing at him would have never suspected. But in that, he’s hardly the first black performer to build a successful show business by exploiting racial stereotypes.