Why are we laughing?

The man who helped three women escape from their captor’s home in Cleveland Monday has already found Internet fame. In under 48 hours, Charles Ramsey has been gif’d, autotuned and made the subject of countless tweets, NPR’s Code Switch reported yesterday.

While many of the tweets and postings identify Ramsey as a hero, many more poke fun at his interview with WEWSTV. One of his final statements is the most common subject of the jokes. When describing the moment he freed Amanda Berry, he said, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

I understand what the internet finds funny about Ramsey. He was quirky and candid, and at the time of the interview he looked like he might have just woken up from a nap. But that down-to-earth comment signals a deeper truth in the situation that the internet might be overlooking.

According to a report from the Business Insider and cited by NPR, Cleveland is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. So Ramsey undoubtedly found it bizarre to have such an encounter with a young white woman, since he lives in an environment where the two races rarely mingle, let alone trust one another with their lives. And that fact isn’t so funny.

Similar internet “stars” that have come to light recently reveal similar social truths, NPR’s Code Switch reports today. We still snicker at Antoine Dodson, who advised the World Wide Web to hide its family members two years ago. His candid interview hints that he was not unused to or shocked about violent crime in his neighborhood in the projects.

Today’s Code Switch made spurred me to examine my own reactions to these internet fads. Where does their fame come from? Why do we laugh and “songify” these people’s stories? Is it because we’re uncomfortable? Because we’re glad we’re not in their shoes? Because we’re seeing new stereotypes constructed before our eyes? Because their stories are so unfamiliar to us?

I admit that I, too, am guilty of laughing in these situations, and I admit that I don’t know why. Ramsey, Dodson and others confront what could become life-changing events in the face of adversity, and responding with carelessness is far from appropriate.

When the next songified, meme-ified internet sensation turns up, I hope I (as well as the rest of the Web) take a step outside of myself to consider the humanity present in these stories. We all like to laugh, and there’s nothing wrong with laughing, but sometimes we need to see beyond the humor to discover the soul of the situation.


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