Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mach speed production: The news, the catchphrases, and the Gregory Brothers

When the news broke on Monday that three young women, presumed dead for a decade, were discovered to be living in the home of a middle aged man in Cleveland, the media erupted.  So much so that the round the clock coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing all but disappeared, even though that story was still in the 'no cemetery wants the body' stages. Nevertheless, the 24 hour media cycle continued online and on CNN, with bits and pieces of the story of the womens' captivity over the past ten years starting to emerge.


In short order the requisite interviews with locals and neighbours had begun. By Monday night we met the man who was to be dubbed the story's hero, though he himself rejected the title. His name was Charles Ramsey, and he was the person who heard the screaming coming from the house that eventually led to Ramsey breaking down the door and releasing the women. Ramsey had lived next door to Ariel Castro, age 52, the man identified as the captor, for about a year. And he was, well, in a phrase 'ghetto fabulous'....and I say this with utmost admiration. The man knows how to tell a story.  Though he had only lived next to Castro for a short time was able to paint a vivid picture of what it was like to be porch-by-porch with the man now associated with a troika of hostages. "You got to have some big testicles to pull this off, bro, because we see this dude every day. I mean every day," Ramsey said. "I barbecue with this dude. We eat ribs and what not and listen to salsa music. Know where I'm coming from?"


But it was this line -- "I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway." --  that inspired musical parodists The Gregory Brothers to get out their recording gear and start 'songifying'. This was a term of their coinage used to describe their art of taking news clips and marrying them with beats and autotuned vocal effects to create 2-3 minute video commentaries on stories in the news. By Tuesday afternoon The Gregory Brothers were hard at work and posted this teaser on Twitter.


...And by Tuesday evening they had posted Dead Giveaway, their tribute to Charles Ramsey, America's newest hero.


In its first 12 hours online the video had received 225,000 views, #deadgiveaway was a muchtrafficked hashtag, and the video was trending on Twitter. This is not viral, by any means, but this is something The Gregory Brothers are able to make a living doing. They have 126,000 Facebook followers and 37,800 Twitter followers....not overwhelming numbers, but enough that their YouTube channel has been able to amass 1.68 million subscribers and over 500 million views. (Of which more than 100 million views were chalked up with their Bed Intruder video of July 2010, similar in theme to Dead Giveaway, in which the "hilarious black neighbour" -- a problematic trope, but inarguably a popular one -- becomes the 'brand' of the story in the media.)

But the larger point, as far as this blog is concerned, is that such are the new processes of media production, and that this is the new speed at which things can be taken from conception to execution to global distribution. In this case, were there traditional middlemen involved, such as producers and editors and broadcasters, the piece would probably never have gotten made, or if it did, we wouldn't be seeing it within hours of the original news story breaking.

Well done, Gregory Brothers, well done Internet.


See Part 2 here, which checks in with the story the following day, as the video nears 5 million views,  and Part 3 here, which picks up the story one week later, as the Internet teems with jpg's, gifs, and fake McDonald's commercials 'starring' Charles Ramsey.