'Whoomp! (There it is)' and Obama -- the anatomy of a meme
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.
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 Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Obama's Whoomp! There It Is Controversy|
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.
June 9, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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