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'Whoomp! (There it is)' and Obama -- the anatomy of a meme

An extra in a screenshot of a YouTube clip of a 1993 music video for "Whoomp! (There it is)." Not Barack Obama, according to the White House.

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Was Barack Obama an extra in the 1993 rap video hit for "Whoomp! (There it is)"?

Of all the conspiracy theories that have attached themselves to the president like sticky oil globs to a beach, the one that surfaced online this week based on the grainy YouTube of a 17-year-old music video by the Atlanta duo Tag Team has to be the most mischevious -- and harmlessly fun. Proof, if anyone needed it, that even in These Serious Times summer silly season goofs will still be had.

Gawker kicked off the speculation on Saturday when it picked up on the musings of conservative site Tennessee Sons of Liberty and some minor discussions on hip hop music boards to spin out one of its unique online investigations -- basically a ton of Googling plus close reading -- and concluded that the answer was no, "Sorry, Internet, it's not Obama. But as far as conspiracy theories go, it's way better than that whole secret Muslim thing."

A dominoes-playing extra wearing gold rings and a Compton hat (so early '90s!) at 1:02 in the video was not, in fact, the 31-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, but rather someone who looked a bit like the America's first black president as a young man only because the resolution on the YouTube video was so poor and the screenshot from it first posted was captured at a moment of fleeting resemblence later video moments undermined.

But in the new media environment, a funny question without a definitive answer can be too good to check -- and by Monday the idea had been picked up by CNN, The Fox Nation and variety of other outlets, both MSM and blog.

"I don't think it is, but it would be quite a story if it was him in the video...Obama does like rap music, and if you remember, Jay-Z was recently at the WH, sitting down in the Situation Room. Obama also met with Ludacris before becoming President," HotAirPundit opined.

Gawker came back to the subject on Wednesday:

This past weekend we examined the evidence for and against an Obama cameo and reached the conclusion that, no, Obama did not take time out in 1993 from his career as a community organizer in Chicago to film a 2-second cameo with an Atlanta rap duo.
But this is the Internet, where conspiracies die harder than Bruce Willis in a series of 1990s action films. Over 200,000 people have read our original post; thousands of other outlets picked it up. CNN actually asked the White House for a comment. They "did not immediately respond." A suspicious silence! And Obama's potential cameo is now in the Wikipedia entry for "Whoomp (There it is)" which means it is a true fact for all of eternity. Pandora's box has been opened, and the Whoomper Conspiracy will probably never die: Says commenter patlippert "I won't believe it's not him until he shows us his resume, which if he did and it proved me wrong, I'll claim it was faked."

At this point, of course, someone had to come in and referee the situation with more than Internet evidence. Enter Politifact, the truth-squadding site now working with ABC's "This Week" to fact-check the Sunday talkers. They reported:

We tracked down half the Tag Team, the rapper DC the Brain Supreme who also goes by the name Cecil Glenn. He first heard of the Obama video rumor on Saturday, and has since received calls from New York magazine and Inside Edition.
"This is like an episode of South Park," Glenn said. "You can't pay for that kind of publicity."
Glenn recounted the taping of the video in Atlanta, saying he gathered extras through word of mouth. A friend also put out an open invitation on a local radio station. The video was filmed at an Atlanta fairground.
Glenn said he doesn't think the man in the video is Obama. "It doesn't add up. It's hard to say he was in Atlanta and said, 'Ooh, I want to be in the Whoomp! (There It Is) video.' "
But, Glenn said, "I can't be for sure because that was a real big video shoot and thousands of people showed up." ...
Finally, the White House put the issue to rest. Spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield declared the rumors untrue.
"It is not him," she said.

But by then the meme was off and by nightfall Tuesday, it hopped to "The Colbert Report":

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Obama's Whoomp! There It Is Controversy
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

And once it was on Colbert, well...

Wednesday morning saw stories on ABC News "For the record, I have never asked Gibbs about the 2 Live Crew song, but then again, we haven't had a briefing in several days," Jake Tapper wrote -- and elsewhere across the Web.

And now, of course, The Washington Post.

By Garance Franke-Ruta  |  June 9, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Here's Obama's real rap video:

Posted by: juryrocket | June 14, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

No dl49; even white folks don't think it's him.

Posted by: Lilycat1 | June 10, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Just for the record, there is no such word as "mischevious"; the word is "mischievous", with an emphasis on the first syllable and no "i" after the "v." You need better proofreaders at the Post. "Mischevious" belongs with "barbeque" in the lexicon of the illiterate. Other than that, aren't there more important things to cover?

Posted by: RonPatterson | June 10, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Only white people could think that was the President in that video. After all, don't all African Americans look alike to us?

I can't believe I'm wasting time writing this much less paying any attention to this nonstory. Then again it is so much fun to see right wingers continuing to take Colbert's satire of them seriously. How dense can they be?

Posted by: dl49 | June 10, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Thus far, there are four scholarly books available on the subject of YouTube:

The YouTube Reader, (2009) Edited by Snickars and Vonderau.
YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, (2009) by Burgess and Green.
Video Cultures: Media Technology and Everyday Creativity, (2009) Edited by Buckingham and Willettt.

and this one:

Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People (University of Toronto Press, 2010).

Table of Contents

1. Home Movies in a Global Village
2. The Home and Family on YouTube
3. Video Diaries: The Real You in YouTube
4. Women of the ‘Tube
5. The YouTube Community
6. The YouTube Wars: Elections, Religion, and Armed Conflict
7. The Post-television Audience

Watching YouTube has been reviewed by the Globe and Mail ("Your Fifteen Minutes Have Arrived" Jenefer Curtis).
Another review can also be found at The Mark ("YouTube in Review").

-- Dr. Strangelove

Posted by: Doc_Strangelove | June 10, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

The guy in the photo doesn't even come close to looking like Barack Obama.

Posted by: momof20yo | June 9, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Jake Tapper is a tool. 2 Live Crew made Whoomp (There It Is)? That has WASPY WHITE GUY written all over it.

Posted by: fbutler1 | June 9, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

When the red phone rings at 3 a.m., I want that guy to answer it!

Posted by: joepops | June 9, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

If you watch the hi-res video, not just the screen-capture, you can tell from the guys chin and facial hair that it's not Obama.

Notice that particular screen-grab has the chin in the shadows and partially concealed by a hand and phone.

Once you see the guys full lower-face it becomes quite clear it's not Obama at all.

From the lips up it does look exactly like him though. They need to track this guy down and give him a job as a body double.

Posted by: Gover | June 9, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

This is a far better video of the US Presidents odd links

Posted by: walker1 | June 9, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, he looks nothing like this dude are folks serious. Get a life, job, something.

Posted by: love2much SE | June 9, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, he looks nothing like this dude are folks serious. Get a life, job, something.

Posted by: love2much SE | June 9, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I thought Bill Clinton appeared in the fight scene in Cool Hand Luke, but he was actually in the pilot for Alfred of The Amazon.

Posted by: blasmaic | June 9, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

That's him. lol Ya'll know it too. Why is he frontin?

Posted by: SickofMikeBaisden | June 9, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't know "who let the dogs out" but I do know who let them in - WaPo. Why is this a column?

Posted by: jlr6111 | June 9, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

That can't be him. There is no birth certificate in the photo.

Posted by: madstamina | June 9, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Dat how OBAMA roll.

Posted by: pamschuh9 | June 9, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Great reporting! Next you'll have to look into who let the dogs out.

Posted by: petunia1 | June 9, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Wow that is so him!

Posted by: RambleOn | June 9, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I wish! That'd have been awesome.

Posted by: Comunista | June 9, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

C'mon Post, what kind of reporting is this? As Americans we deserve the TRUTH, not more distortions and lies from the liberal lamestream press.

Posted by: jksesq1 | June 9, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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