Let’s start with this: I love me some Charles Ramsey. The fellow is a master of the language, equally skilled in long- and short-form story-telling. In a media landscape where every sinkhole victim, scandal participant and “other woman” manages to secure a publicist and the legal services of the loathsome Gloria Allred by the time the evening news is aired, Ramsey – instantly and all by himself – oozes concentrated authenticity. I can only hope that McDonalds Corporation has noted Ramsey’s frequent and earnest product placements on its behalf and has dispatched a multi-million-dollar endorsement contract via corporate jet.
Not just that. I trust that Jimmy and David and Jay will put Ramsey up in the finest hotels when they fly him first class to come and speak to them. I pray the auto-tune guys are kind in their treatment. Ramsey has already “trended” and will soon deservedly become a “meme.” Indeed, there’s every likelihood that Ramsey is about to become, however briefly, a cultural icon. To all of this I say, “Good on you, Charles Ramsey.” As is demonstrated every time the Kardashians steal another hour of airtime, this nation could do a lot worse.
What may keep him in the limelight for more than the standard number of news cycles is the fact that this guy seems to have nearly perfect comedic timing, an unflinching regard for the truth, a perceptive understanding of the impact of race in American society, and a moral compass capable of finding North.* But for all that Charles Ramsey is, for all that the star-maker machinery of popular culture is about to make him, there’s one thing Charles Ramsey is not, one thing that neither the glittering Chryons under his image, nor the nattering news anchors** can make him.
Charles Ramsey is not a hero.
I trouble to point this out not because I oppose Ramsey’s fleeting or superficial glory, or merely out of general cussedness. No. I think the matter is far graver than that.
I’ve written before about narratives, about how no event is reported or discussed in its own context anymore. Instead, it is seized upon by commentators and politicians and other scoundrels to support whatever narrative that serves their ends. Any fact or event not capable of such manipulation – and few are the facts composed of sturdy enough stuff to hold their shape under such a hammering – is ignored. Any proponent of such information is similarly dismissed or, more usually, demonized.
So a fellow who did what Ramsey did is unrelentingly called a hero in service to a narrative that I have labeled the Unified Field Theory of Dependency. It is the notion that the average man or woman lacks the wherewithal to defend himself, or to save herself in an emergency, or to help those around them in similar circumstances. It is the insidious, statist contention that defense of life or the deterrence of evil are skills so esoteric and so generally unattainable that they belong only to an elite praetorian class. And – conveniently for would-be rulers of other men – since no one can manage these daunting tasks on his own, no one has need of the tools or liberty or autonomy with which to accomplish them.
Only in that narrative, only in the reductionist world of the lord and the peasant is the act of answering the door to a screaming woman and then dialing 911 heroic.
COOPER: Has the FBI said anything about a reward or anything? Because there was that - there was a reward for finding her.
RAMSEY: I tell you what you do, give it to them. Because if folks been following this case since last night, you been following me since last night, you know I got a job anyway. Just went picked it up, paycheck. What that address say? That say?
COOPER: I don't have my glasses. I'm blind as a bat.
RAMSEY: 2203 Seymour [Ramsey’s address]. Where are them girls living? Right next door to this paycheck. So yes, take that reward and give it to - that little girl came out the house and she was crying.
** Besides not being able to afford spectacle for Cooper, has CNN lost the lease on its studios? I have to ask, because its anchors seem to spend every minute of airtime standing outside these days. I get it – evidently having an a talking head stand on a street in the same city as, but five blocks away from, the police line demarcating the crime scene is supposed to convey to us the overwhelming sense verisimilitude and urgency. I just hope these poor “news” people are being supplied with comfy shoes, or maybe those cushy rubber mats restaurants have for their line chefs.
*** I confess it: I will never get tired of watching that.