We broadcast certain personalities because only certain personalities are broadcastable. The media televises people who have charisma and the ability to tell a story, though anyone self-aware has issues being in front of a camera. We notice being noticed, and it's hard to feign not knowing when we're being watched. But there are characters out there whose "what am I going to look like" gland isn't as stimulated by being on camera. Sometimes they're actors; sometimes they're real-life people like Charles Ramsey.
People have been saying Charles Ramsey is famous for all the wrong reasons, that because we find him funny, we're reaffirming stereotypes about black people and therefore we're actually mocking him. Being able to make people laugh without trying is an admirable trait, and on the contrary, most people are laughing with Ramsey. Many probably hear him and feel, that's a fun way to talk.
That said, some people are on TV, while others watch and experience the story on the other side. Ramsey's character has certainly taken away some of the spotlight from the more important, and not-so-coincidentally graver matter here, which is that three women who were kidnapped, raped, impregnated, and held captive for over a decade have been rescued from Ramsey's crazy neighbor.
As we've all witnessed, Ramsey punctuates his sentences with as many curses as chicks stammer "like," and he uses a lot of slang. He also has a shorthand accent that makes everyone feel like homies. We're still not laughing at him, and if you're jumping to say that this is bad caricaturing of black people and their poor speaking habits ... well, perhaps you yourself are saying black people have poor speaking habits, assuming this explains all the laughter.
Or is the question precisely whether we're listening merely to his voice or what he's actually saying? If we shouldn't be laughing, maybe people are just wondering what exactly we're supposed to do? How can we respond appropriately? Where do we go from here?
Now Ramsey himself has turned our eyes back on the victims, commenting that he will grant them any reward money on the case. If the media, and in turn the public, doesn't pay attention to the victims now, then we have problems.
Interviews and memes of Ramsey are being played on repeat, and he shouldn't be covered in this context. What he should be is an entertainer, but the public discovered him down an alternate path, and it's taking a second for us to get a grip.
This is the way things happen on the Internet: a thing appears, we freak out, it blows up, and then it dissipates overnight. The GIFs don't require a collective re-examination of morality; they just suggest we're not asking the right questions, we're flirting with the wrong topics, and so we’re leaning toward distractions.
Our only qualm should be with whether or not we're listening. While our attention is grabbed, shouldn't we take the opportunity to decide where to turn next if we're not satisfied with the direction this conversation is going?
It's not that Ramsey speaks poorly, or that he thinks simply. Who is anyone to declare either of those things? Charles Ramsey is being Charles Ramsey — talking how he wants to talk, coming across as he does, on his porch eating McDonald's, right? He's just another guy who acts upon some good old common sense at necessary times.
We're not laughing at the fact that few people act like him, we're reveling in it, glad that he exists among a uniform mass of people. "Cool, he wasn't no freak of nature," as Ramsey described his criminal neighbor, is a great and relatable way to describe someone you don't know well but felt was alright. You can never really say for sure because of all the twisted things people have done and will continue to do, but that's what we want to assume, right? "He was like me and you, 'cause he talked about the same thing you talk about ... Regular stuff, bro." We can find truth in humor. Irony has gotten us far.
But if the Internet reaction was really so wrong, why are we still making this about us?
"What does this say about us?" What about them, the victims? How did the relationships last over a decade? How do you even describe that dynamic? What transpired in that basement? When and how have they tried to escape before? Were there any cases of Stockholm syndrome?
Or what are the implications of the captor's psychological state? What failed to keep the chaos of libido in check? Should we be examining his sadomasochistic tendencies that broke free and clamped down upon those unfortunate women? What it is about "the temptation of forcibly invading the sanctuary of another body" that makes it so common?
Is rape an act of aggression, and an act of violence? Is sexual violence different than other types of violence? Why did these men rape these women, and why would they create pregnancies only to destroy them? Is such a feat manageable only by a psychopath, or are we name-calling now?
Our attentions are going to be caught by what they're going to be caught by, because our minds have a funny little authoritative way of working like that. But crazy, stupid, appalling shit happens in this world, and we shouldn't feel bad about every Charles Ramsey that comes around who incidentally makes bad news a little easier to swallow.
One thing is for sure: memes, GIFs, audio files, and YouTube videos aside, every article on the Internet has focused on the same aspect, over and over — speculating over our immoral fascination with the other media portrayals, delaying the conversation from moving past that part. The magnitude of speculation all makes it seem like utter bullshit ways to fill up word counts.
Maybe the real fascination here is in the realization that people hardly speak the way they think, and will make deliberate moves around doing just that. The fascination with Ramsey could simply be that he says what he's thinking. Maybe the camera, too, is flattering of him because of this.