Humor in Digital Discourse: Kelly Dodson and the Invisibility of Violence Against Women

By now, we’ve all watched the Bed Intruder Song (if you haven’t watched this video, or you don’t know who Anton Dodson is, watch the full video here and climb out from beneath the rock you’ve been living under)

As of today at 2:02 p.m. Eastern Standard time, the Bed Intruder video has 53,632,772 You-Tube hits, making it one of the most watched internet videos of 2010. More people tuned in to watch this video than the amount of people who watched President Obama’s inauguration. Anton Dodson has become so popular that his red bandana and black tank-top wardrobe was the most popular Haloween costume of 2010.

But beneath the laughter, there’s an important story that has gone overlooked. We’ve watched and re-watched this video so many times, we’ve forgotten that Dodson’s fame— and the Bed Intruder song—was derived from a real news story about the attempted rape of Anton’s sister, Kelly.

On the night of August 2nd, 2010 Kelly Dodson was nearly raped. She was sleeping with her daughter in her bedroom on the upper-level of her home in Madison County when a man climbed the rafters of her house, smashed her windows, and crawled into bed with her. The details of Kelly’s narrative have been overshadowed by her  brother’s eccentricities, and the impact of the man’s (rapist’s?) violence has been cushioned by the comedic retelling.

We laugh when we watch Anton, with his crazy afro, waving a rolled-up newspaper into the camera: “You are so dumb” he says, in the slangy Southern accent that has by now become a familiar voice of mimicry in cultural conversations. But after the laughter has quieted, and after the video is done playing, how many of us walked away wondering what happened to Kelly Dodson, or whether or not the bed intruder was actually found and convicted?

The Gregory Brothers—the creators of Auto-Tune the News and innovators behind the Bed Intruder song—framed the video in such a way that Anton’s afro hair and buck teeth took centre stage while his sister’s rape narrative fell into the background.

We live in an absurd culture: all around us, every day, things happen that are beyond rational comprehension: rape, death, poverty, war. We’re immersed in the absurd. Laughter is both a by-product of an absurd culture as well as a necessary healing tool, but at what point are we simply— to borrow Neil Postman’s phrase— amusing ourselves to death?

The Dodson video is a perfect example of the invisibility of violence against women. How many of us did anything about the injustice Kelly faced?  How many of us even noticed?

I’m not saying that the bed intruder song isn’t funny—in fact, I think it’s hilarious. What’s not funny to me, however, is that millions of people can watch this video and do nothing about it.

If we don’t talk about the violence and injustice that caused the Dodson video, then we’ve failed, as a culture, to get it. If we don’t use the internet in an ethical and productive way, then the joke is on us.



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