What is it about Charles Ramsey, the hero in the Cleveland kidnapping saga, that takes America’s imagination captive? Whether or not his appeal lasts a short or long period of time, his words and deeds have gone viral.
There are no doubt numerous reasons for Ramsey as a web phenomenon. One is how unbelievable the story is of his (and quite possibly others) freeing three women and a child brutally imprisoned for ten years in Ramsey’s neighbor’s house. It has all the makings of a horror/hero adventure film.
One also has to account for how unscripted and yet penetrating Ramsey’s words are. For example, the way in which he addresses America’s racial fears of black men surprises and challenges us: “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway … Either she’s homeless or she’s got problems. That’s the only reason she run to a black man …” (Take note of the reactions of those around him, including the reporter interviewing him, when he says these words.)
One must account for the fears that Ramsey is being exploited as a black man, as has been documented. While such fears must be accounted for, I also wonder if the rest of us should be afraid as to how often we as a society are exploited by manicured personalities and celebrity phenoms who script everything to increase their star-studded status. I couldn’t help but think of NBA MVP LeBron James’ much-debated-exit from Cleveland a few years ago for Miami, where he announced his “decision” on national television after agonizingly dragged-out suspense. Regardless of what one makes of James’ decision and exit from Cleveland, and regardless of how radically different his life is from Ramsey’s, I for one am not lost on how refreshing Ramsey is: he’s apparently more real than Reality TV.
I doubt we can bottle and preserve the Ramsey caught in those moments involving the rescue of the kidnapped women and child or Ramsey’s initial interview. No matter how many t-shirts bear Ramsey’s image and regardless of how McDonald’s with all its preservatives packages Ramsey’s reference to eating a Big Mac when he first heard the screams, this heroic story will have the most enduring impact if we can live in the moment like Ramsey did in coming to these victims’ aid—long before the reporters and cameras arrived. Perhaps we can also learn to be a little less scripted, a little more penetrating in our words, no matter if we are dishwashers with or without squeaky clean pasts like Ramsey, basketball starts like James, or doctors, lawyers, or candlestick makers.
What sparks heroism? What keeps the heroic flame going long after the candle of celebrity burns low? True heroism is not something that can be canned or manufactured. Whether or not Ramsey deserves all the attention and accolades he has received, or if others should share in the praise, true heroism doesn’t care. It responds in unscripted moments to needs around it, no matter who’s looking. As Ramsey says, “You do what you gotta do.” Do we?
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and The Christian Post.