At first it all seems rather banal: a politician delivering his grateful victory speech to a room full of excited supporters after a nail-biting campaign. Thanks for this, thanks for that… the usual platitudes and empty promises abound, resounding across the crowd amid waves of cheers and waving placards emblazoned with his name: Doug Jones. As a fatigued but smiling Jones bids his final farewells and shakes hands with voters while still on the stage, the campaign rolls to a close and the perfunctory victory song commences. BOOM, BOOM BOOM. Crack . “Yeah.” Slowly increasing in volume, a familiar refrain fills the room until it plays at full blast: bass thumpin’, mid-tempo, 2010 hip-hop dance hit “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Wait. What?
Doug Jones Wins Alabama US Senate Seat
Twitter user Evan Hatter noted that C-SPAN2 had played “30 solid seconds” of “Teach Me How to Dougie,” confirming for me and over 14,000 retweeters that our ears had indeed heard Cali Swag District playing at the Jones’ celebration. In an Alabama senate race that was already fraught with racial and gender tension, the “Dougie” inserted a bit of black pop culture levity, simultaneously signifying on multiple levels. The “Dougie” allowed Jones to enjoy a bit of hip-hop bravado as the song repeated his name. The “Dougie” underscored the joy many black supporters felt due to Jones’ victory over Republican candidate Judge Roy Moore. Roy’s assertion that America was great when “families were united — even though we had slavery” was taken as evidence of virulent anti-black racism; part of an ultra-conservative platform that also condemned abortion as sin. The “Dougie” also reminded us that although black women voters had “saved America” by overwhelmingly supporting Jones, their voices would still be relegated to the sidelines, echoing the black woman singing the hook of the song, in which she is at the same time being sexually objectified. Indeed, the “Dougie” playing as Jones ended his speech reminded us all that America loves black culture — but not necessarily black people.
On the surface, the song choice proves to be superficial: a dee-jay plays the “Dougie” for a winning candidate named Doug. But a closer listen to a larger slice of the soundscape highlights the diverse sonic space created by DJ Rob, the official dee-jay for the night. When the C-SPAN2 coverage starts, we can hear the “Wobble” playing, a popular black line dance song by V.I.C released in 2008. As DJ Rob delivered his best boxing announcer imitation to introduce Jones, he played the 2009 Bon Jovi song “We Weren’t Born to Follow” in its entirety. After Jones spoke, the “Dougie” played, as I have noted earlier. But then DJ Rob played “Watch Me” by Silentó, which in 2015 had the whole nation doing the Whip and NaeNae. Next he played the dance song “Macarena” by Spanish duo Los Del Rio, a pop party staple for years after its 1993 release, and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” written specifically for the 2016 animated film Trolls. Since nobody was dancing, I was sure that C-SPAN2 was perhaps just playing popular party music at this point, especially since none of the ambient sounds of people talking at the rally could be heard. But I was wrong. The sound feed was indeed relaying directly from DJ Rob’s board, the confirmation of which I realized when I heard him em-ceeing during the final song C-SPAN2 broadcast from the Jones coverage: “Proud Mary,” released in 1970 by Tina and Ike Turner. The Alabama senate race intensified our anxieties surround race and gender, from the four little black girls from the Birmingham church bombing that Jones vindicated with his prosecution of the klansmen perpetrators (and which Jones’ supporters touted as his black justice calling card), to the vicious proslavery and anti-abortion rhetoric Moore spouted with every soundbite. But at the rally, DJ Rob created a soundscape designed to dance us into unity across racial and gendered divides. One can only hope that we won’t forget the black women who help keep us in the groove, who do it “nice and rough” like Tina, but still get the job done.
Nina Cartier teaches at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. She researches Black time and space in media, and leads a variety of classes in media theory and history, interdisciplinary humanities and Africana studies. Cinema Journal, Velvet Light Trap and Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (Parlor Press) count among her recent publications.