“Bring the Amberlamps!”: What does the video really say?

Occasionally the Internet spews out something that takes on like wildfire and within days is seen everywhere. The most recent of these is a video of a confrontation on a bus:

A white bearded man misunderstands something a younger black man says and they get into an argument. The black man threatens the white man, the white man unceremoniously beats him up and storms off the bus, leaving the black man with a nosebleed and calling for an “amberlamps” (due to his nose being blocked with blood that is how he pronounces “ambulance”). The other people on the bus either egg him on, laugh at him or – like the girl sitting next to him – ignore him completely.

Something about this situation made it a meme. But what part exactly?

Many passed it on, laughing at the fact that a trouble-stirrer got what he asked for. Some marvelled at the irony of the “reversal of roles” where a young black gangster-like figure gets his ass handed to him by a elderly man.

I put “reversal of roles” in inverted commas because the other aspect, the more disturbing one, is that this isn’t really a reversal of roles, is it?


“More proof of the white man keeping brothers down. Literally in this case.” was a comment left on forum FAZED by user jhumbug.

It stands in stark contrast to the comments on YouTube like that of  dukenukembunz69 who says, “Nigga got split by an old ass white guy with balls and all the black fucks are sayin its the white guys fault. NEVER EVER FUCKIN LEARN and when shit hits the fan white people and asians arn’t gonna take shit no more.”

Many of the comments passed along with this video show exuberance, not at irony or a sense of justice, but at the fact that a white man beat a black man.

Knowing nothing about the two people involved, the white man was characterised as a Vietnam veteran who knew how to defend himself – an image of honour, a hard life and willingness to work hard at what he does. The black man was characterised as a gangster. Some comments went so far as to say that it was “karma” getting back at the man for all the trouble he’d caused.

These assumptions are what makes  a video such as this dangerous and shocking. There is no evidence that the black man was not a hard-working young man who had pulled himself to where he was by toil and strife only to (mistakenly) hear a old white guy ask how much it would cost for him to shine his shoes. There is no evidence that he is not a usually mild-tempered guy who decided to stand up for his rights. But the comments do not allow for this possibility:

“Yeah but we got jobs and don’t mind working for our stuff. Can’t say that for many niggers though. After all, the best way t starve a nigger to death is to hide their food stamps under their work boots.” – URTARDS, Youtube

Other characters

This video features characters besides the protagonist and villain.

There is the woman sitting ignoring the violence. Her lack of interest in the situation has served to make her an object of fascination – where “object” is the word. The Internet has christened her “Amber Lamps”, the “hot chick”.  She shows none of her personality in the video and this seems to make her less-than-human outside it. The meme has many spin-offs directed towards her – the hot woman, the object.

There is also the black woman who films the scene and says to the black man, “we can sue him, I got it on video”. Comments point out that her and her friend are eating Fritos while watching the action and they take the old man’s shopping once he has left the bus. They are used to epitomise the image of lazy, thieving black people – the black people who go ” ‘sho good eatin!” (referenced in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks).

Lastly there is the older black woman, the one who sits out of the action but eggs on the black man. She plays the role of the modern stereotype: the African American liberal who cries for civil liberties but does not take part in claiming them.

Real danger

Aside from this video’s popularity re-enforcing stereotypes, it can also cause real danger. Some viewers have put together what they call a “movement”. They have managed to get hold of the name and address of the woman who filmed the video and say their mission “was/is to get the man with the epic beard his bag back and ruin this woman’s life.”

Once again the Internet has managed to produce something, passed along because of humour, that can cause real damage to real people and enforces stereotypical views. And most are all-too-willing to accept it. Why? Because it’s funny!


~ by tallulahlucy on February 19, 2010.

2 Responses to ““Bring the Amberlamps!”: What does the video really say?”

  1. There are many people that say the internet has more good than bad to it, but I would argue that when videos like this make the rounds, the internet becomes the disturbing and quickly changing mirror of the Western, wasted world. (Unfortunately, I cannot comment on internet trends elsewhere in the world due to a lack of knowledge.)

    I hate to blame the net, it is usually just the medium, but I wish it could police or monitor itself a little better than it is already doing.

  2. I am interested in the the meme from the point of view of how one makes meaning.
    To begin with, I would want to consider the original intent of the encoder of the message – the teenage girl and the person who uploaded the video. Whatever their original intent, the open nature of the participatory web has taken what they may have anticipated to be mere spectacle and rendered it as an open public sphere where multiple meanings are taken from the text (but actually little dialog really takes place).
    By posting this video on the web, the authors permitted an unravelling of their intended meaning and an appropriation of this into comments, graphics and mashup by others intent on fixing the meaning of their representation from their own perspective.

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