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Charles Ramsey goes viral after Ohio hostage rescue

© zennie62 via flickr

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-08

After freeing three women and a girl who had been held hostage for years in a Cleveland house, a middle-aged African-American man named Charles Ramsey has become an overnight online sensation in the US. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look.

Just days ago, Charles Ramsey was a forty-something, African-American man working as a restaurant dishwasher in Cleveland, Ohio.

Today he is being hailed as an American hero and has become an online sensation after knocking down a neighbour’s door on Monday night in order to free three women and a girl who had been held hostage there for a decade, according to police.

It did not take long for Ramsey to go viral: within hours of Monday’s events, a video of a TV interview Ramsey did explaining the rescue had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube; his name was becoming a hot topic on Twitter; and newspapers from the prestigious Washington Post to the tabloid New York Daily News were publishing profiles on him.

Tributes both earnest and humourous

Part of the national infatuation with Ramsey is undoubtedly rooted in the man’s wisecracking, colourfully detailed, slang-inflected accounts of his big moment.

Even during his initial phone call to the police, the recording of which has been rebroadcast on news channels across the country, Ramsey’s rhetorical flair is on ample display. “Hey bro,” Ramsey tells the operator. “Check this out. I just came from McDonald's right? So I'm on my porch eating my little food, right?”.

He then proceeds to recount how he heard screams coming from the house next door. Those screams turned out to be from Amanda Berry, one of the hostages.

When the operator asks him to see whether or not Berry needs an ambulance, Ramsey replies: “She needs everything. She's in a panic, bro. She's been kidnapped, so, you know, put yourself in her shoes.”

Ramsey’s off-the-cuff, televised interview with a local TV reporter hours after the events also contributed to making him a wildly popular online trend.

Explaining that he had no idea that neighbour Ariel Castro had hostages hidden away in his home, Ramsey said, “I've been here a year. You see where I'm coming from? I barbecue with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music.”

A fake Twitter account created in Ramsey’s name came with the description: “I eat ribs, listen to salsa music, and rescue white girls.”

The last part is a reference to one of Ramsey’s most quotable quips in the TV interview. “I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms,” he told the reporter with a chuckle. “Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

Ramsey’s comical riff on a serious subject also earned him a Twitter shout-out from popular comedian Patton Oswalt, who tweeted, “Dear Charles Ramsey: I am not a little pretty white girl, but I totally want to run into your black arms. #hero.”

Meanwhile, more earnest tributes to Ramsey could also be found online. Hodge’s restaurant, where Ramsey worked, posted a message on Facebook praising the employee. “[W]e're extremely proud of our employee Charles Ramsey for not turning his back on the young women. He's a true Cleveland hero.”

After featuring rather prominently in Ramsey’s account of his experience, McDonald’s corporate offices acknowledged the Cleveland resident via Twitter: “Way to go Charles Ramsey -- we'll be in touch,” read a tweet from McDonald’s Corp.

Still, much of the online buzz about Ramsey was humourous. In a musical remix entitled “Little Pretty Girl”, some of Ramsey’s catchiest turns of phrase are edited together against a backdrop of hip-hop beats.

Reinforcing ‘stereotypes’?

Some in the press, however, are not amused by the Charles Ramsey web craze. An article on the prominent news and analysis site The Atlantic Wire called the jokey online reactions to Ramsey and his retelling “a little gross” and suggested that all the video and audio reinforced “stereotypes” of “a lower-income black man”.

“Charles Ramsey is a hero because he called the police and helped them save three women from reportedly being raped and impregnated in a basement for a decade,” the journalist writes. “But he’s a meme [an idea or image that spreads rapidly] because he’s black and on TV, and because so many choose to ignore the horrible realities of the crime.”

Date created : 2013-05-08

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