I didn’t grab any shoes or nothing, Lord Jesus!

Sweet Brown excitedly tells Oklahoma City television station KFOR about the three-alarm apartment fire she survived. And purveyors of ironically racist viral Internet memes nearly orgasm with delight. This afternoon, Gawker proclaimed Sweet Brown the Web’s next hot viral video meme.

Remember Antoine Dodson and the once-inescapable “Bed Intruder Song”? I wrote about the Dodson meme on Change.org:

I can’t help thinking that Dodson’s new-found popularity is not about shared frustration over crime or violence against women. On threads around the ‘net, Dodson is branded “hilarious.” But what is so funny about Antoine Dodson? Part of the Dodson meme is, I fear, about laughing at mannerisms that the mainstream associates with blackness, gayness and poverty. There is nothing amusing about a young woman assaulted in her home. And so, I worry that people are laughing at Antoine: his flamboyance and perceived gayness; his use of black colloquialisms, like “run tell dat,” his grammar and accent. Read more…

I believe Sweet Brown found a place on the popular Gawker site today for nearly the same reasons. It’s her bright head scarf. It’s the gold teeth that keep flashing as she speaks. It’s the way she unabashedly calls on her god. It’s the way she says Lord Jesus, it’s faahr! in a drawl that speaks of the backwoods. It’s her emotionalism. It’s her very name: Sweet Brown.

Sweet Brown is so country. So poor. So uneducated. So (stereotypically) black. For most video watchers, so other. And that makes her not a recipient of sympathy, but ridicule. (Is it just me, or at about :13 do you hear someone in the KFOR newsroom tittering?) But knee-jerk amusement at the “other” may keep us from asking critical questions.

For instance, what other witnesses did news producers overlook to bring us Sweet Brown? In her book Reality Bites Back, Jennifer Pozner writes about how reality TV producers seek out characters that provide drama, including those that reinforce stereotypes about race and gender. In a rapidly shifting media landscape, has this thinking made it into the newsroom, effecting the way reality reality is presented?

When bad things happen to poor, country, uneducated, stereotypically black people, is it not still a tragedy? Or just funny? Because what the folks who forward this video to you probably won’t add is that the fire at Brown’s apartment complex burned five units and left 44 without electricity. The Red Cross has set up a shelter for residents. No laughing matter at all.

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