The 48 Hour Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Charles Ramsey

Well, that took even less time than I expected.

Yesterday, on the weekly “Bob & Chez Show After Party” that I do with Bob Cesca, I made a prediction that really wasn’t a prediction at all since it relied on nothing more than a quick examination of the past rather than any sort of supernatural knowledge of the future. We had already been introduced, just a couple of days previously, to Charles Ramsey, a man who was being hailed as a hero for helping to rescue three young women who’d been held captive in his neighbor’s Cleveland home — what turned out to be a literal house of horrors — for ten years. We’d also been treated to, to put it mildly, a colorful interview from Ramsey, whose tale of how the rescue unfolded involved McDonald’s, eating ribs with the seemingly benign neighbor, shock at the balls on that guy, and the “dead giveaway” that something was wrong next door when a pretty young white girl ran to him, a black man, looking for help. But that wasn’t going to be the end of the story, the Charles Ramsey story, I mean. Not if you know anything at all about how fame works in the age of social media.

Now let’s follow the timeline: The rescue and Ramsey interview happened on Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning, Ramsey was already a viral superstar, his interview actually eclipsing, at some media outlets, the horrific ordeal of the women he’d helped save. In maybe 18 hours, Ramsey’s refreshing straightforwardness had made him even more of a hero than he would’ve been had he just pulled Amanda Berry to safety. If you couldn’t see what was almost certainly coming next, you’re living under a rock — or at least without an internet connection: By yesterday morning, the Gregory Brothers, America’s premiere YouTube autotuners had turned Charles Ramsey’s interview into a song, officially allowing him to take his place alongside Antoine Dodson, Sweet Brown, and Kai the impossibly stoned hatchet-wielding hitchhiker. Charles Ramsey had become a full-fledged meme, the latest all-consuming media culture fascination in a media culture that’s now nothing but fascinations like this. America is now a Meme Nation.

Warhol’s prescience, these days, seems otherworldly.

But you have to follow the pattern and if you did yesterday afternoon, you already knew what was about to happen. Not long ago, it might’ve taken days and even weeks for the next stage in the reality TV/social media celebrity cycle to make its inevitable presence known. This time around it took hours. My prediction yesterday at 3pm PST? That we’d learn something terrible about Charles Ramsey, that one news outlet or another would dig up something on him that would tarnish his heroic image. There would be a backlash, because there’s always a backlash. We build up our idols then tear them down. As it turns out, right as I was talking about what was surely to come, it was already happening — The Smoking Gun was publishing a piece that delved into Ramsey’s past and showed him to have a history of domestic abuse. Think about it: In the eyes of at least some people, those who likely wouldn’t be willing to overlook a violent past, Charles Ramsey had gone from hero to villain in less than 48 hours.

This is who we are now. 24 hour news cycles. 140 character attention spans. An entire national narrative is born, grows big and strong, then withers and dies in two days.

Now granted, thankfully in the case of Charles Ramsey there are plenty of people who are still so caught up in viewing him as a hero that they’re not willing to allow that image to be sacrificed on the altar of our cultural capriciousness. Ramsey claims that it’s his criminal past that made him the kind of man who’s willing to get involved and help someone in need rather than simply looking the other way. The narrative takes a detour and Ramsey doesn’t just become a good guy with a great sense of humor and a plainspoken demeanor that the media eat up; he’s also a redemption story, the tale of a once-bad guy made good.

At least for now. Because there could easily be another twist left in the story of Charles Ramsey.

But it had better happen soon, since by this time next week he could be a distant memory to us. Our rapid-fire culture will have moved on to something else. Some other fixation. Some other celebrity we created, hailed, viewed with suspicion, then maybe forgot about in just 48 hours.

Of course if Ramsey is as decent and humble a guy as he seems, that could be just the way he wants it.