Is the Meme-ification of Charles Ramsey all that bad?

This story began unraveling earlier this week and it’s like something out of an intense, and slightly juicy, CSI episode. Three women (Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight) who were missing for over a decade, finally made their escape on Monday all thanks to a man named Charles Ramsey.

The girls were held captive in what sounds to be a 50 Shades of WTF scenario (like, chains in the basement, leashes crawling on all fours in the backyard etc) but finally, after Berry called out to her neighbour, Ramsey (who happened to be chomping down a McDonald’s burger at the time), to help her break out of the house, things escalated.

Long story short, the girls are free, back at their own homes, and their families (and naturally the media) is trying to fill in the missing pieces of the story.

But the thing that REALLY ended up capturing the public’s attention was the neighbour, Charles Ramsey. From the initial 911 call he made, to the interview he did with television media, this man, who is clearly and unquestionably a good Samaritan, became an instant Internet meme.

They’ve auto-tuned him:

 

They’ve created memes around him and McDonald’s even tweeted out to him, congratulating him on his heroism.

Hodge’s Cleveland apparently even wants to sell t-shirts on his behalf (with proceeds going to the three girls he saved).

But Internet Culture is a funny beast. On one hand, its users meme-ify anyone who is hilarious, outspoken, has a bit of flavour or even just plain idiotic (I’m thinking politicians here…oh and Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Remember that interview? LOL) for the sake of sharing something worth a laugh. But for some reason, the meme-ification of Charles Ramsey has caused a virtual protest towards the idea there’s an underlying racism to it because it seems like anytime there’s an non-PR-polished, straight-talking interviewee who is African-American, they happen to become Internet sensations. Like Charles Ramsey or Bed Intruder Antoine Dodson. And some people feel like the Internet has taken it too far.

Some even argue that the meme-ification of Charles Ramsey in some ways has overshadowed the root story of Amanda Berry and the two other girls being held captive. No arguement that’s a concern if the main facts of the story haven’t made their impact.

But I’d like to pose the idea that perhaps the meme-ification of anyone or anything shouldn’t necessarily always be seen as an automatic joke or insult.

If we’re dealing with a generation of people who are obsessed with celebrities as well as Internet Culture, rather than breaking news and current events coming out of mainstream media, perhaps this meme of Charles Ramsey has helped to engage people to look into the details behind the story and, ultimately, end up becoming much more informed with the news of the world.

Maybe a meme from a news story can more-often-that-not act as a gateway for those who wouldn’t normally have engaged in breaking news, to actually educate themselves about the news of the day.

I mean, the Internet doesn’t react to headline news ONLY through meme-ifying someone. Look at what happened with the Boston Marathon bombers. Sure, there was criticism about the amateur detective work being done on 4chan or Reddit, BUT people became fascinated with the story. They engaged and interacted with it in ways they probably wouldn’t have if they were just watching it on the television or hearing it on the radio. Some people even went so far as to create #FreeJahar support communities, because they could connect with the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev¬†through his Twitter or other social networks. This new generation of news consumers could derive their own opinions about these headline stories through engaging in layered elements existing on the Internet.

I’m not here to argue whether it’s right or wrong. But I do think it’s worth considering that the meme-ification isn’t all bad. In the least.

Food for thought.

I'm a journalist, producer and host who thought I would get into "traditional" broadcasting until the lusty call of the Internet drew me in. I've been fortunate enough to have launched 10 web series about a wide range of niches, like: Greek culture, Wines, India and Battlestar Galactica (BSGcast FTW!). But these days I love being one-half of Nat&Marie, exploring Internet Culture and dissecting how the web affects IRL and vice versa. Instagram's my vice and Technoviking is my home boy!

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