Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus no longer in the morning

I wanted to keep my mouth shut about this Don Imus thing. I really did. But it's just spun too far out of control. This morning Meet the Press dumped the Gonzales testimony and the 2008 run so they could all pat themselves on the back for 20 minutes for being so much better than Don Imus, and it was just all so uber-liberal that it made me want to vote Republican.

First of all, Eugene Robinson and John Harwood: of course this is a free speech issue. It always amazes me how poorly the majority of Americans grasp the purpose of free speech. The whole POINT of free speech is to encourage as wide a spectrum of views as possible, and the way this is accomplished is by fostering a consequence-free environment for speech. Of course a true consequence free-environment is impossible, since the solution to outrageous speech cannot be mere silence but must require some criticism and light condemnation. But if people think they'll lose their jobs for speaking freely, they're not very likely to speak, are they? Hence the purpose becomes defeated. Just because this isn't a constitutional issue doesn't mean it's not a free speech issue. Surely Americans can go beyond following the letter of the law by honoring the principle behind it.

The hypocrisy of this whole issue astounds me. Eugene Robinson and Gwen Ifill (and others) have the audacity to compare the response to Imus with the response to hip-hop language. "Yes, this same language is perpetuated in black society," they say, "but we're working to combat that there, too. Imus can't be excused for committing a crime just because other people do it." He can when the people who arrest him don't arrest others for the same crime, especially when the reason for said disparity seems to result from differences in skin pigmentation AND when the crime itself is "being a racist." Al Sharpton doesn't rush for a microphone when a black person says naughty words nearly as quickly or as loudly as when a white person says them, and that raises some fundamental questions. A lot of people didn't even know that Sharpton had made efforts to combat offensive language in rap lyrics. Imus says "ho" once and the black community has him fired within a week; hip-hop artists have perpetuated the same language for years, and Robinson's only defense is, "Gangsta rap sales went down 20% last year." I'm sorry, I missed the part where you fervently demanded Snoop Dogg be dropped from his label.

The hypocrisy here ties into the greater hypocrisy that has plagued America: white people have to live in fear of offending black people, while black people could really give a shit. The Michael Richards incident is a perfect example. In all the shock and horror that resulted from his cries of "nigger," no one blinked twice at the fact that the "victims" of his "tirade" called him a "cracker." Perhaps it's because Richards fired first, and once the door's open any racist comment goes. Or perhaps it's because Richards is a professional who should be held to a higher standard. But I would guess it has more to do with the fact that nobody cares about "cracker" (perhaps because white people don't piss and moan about it?). In a society in which no one can even bring themselves to say the word "nigger," and only black people are permitted to use the diluted "nigga"...two things I refuse to abide by, by the way. I hate to compare racism to children's books, but the taboo around "nigger" reminds me of the taboo around "Voldemort": refusing to say the word has only given it power. And of course, to disallow white people from saying "nigga" is racist, since it's predicated entirely on skin color.

Let me just say: I think what Imus said was pretty stupid. But it didn't nearly deserve the press coverage it got. People should have gone on the air, said, "I don't think it was appropriate," and then gotten on with their lives. By refusing to do so, by making this a prolonged thing, black America may have won this battle, but they've set back the war. They threw an organized temper tantrum because Imus was a meanie, and that has a lot of white people wondering. The NYT had an Op-Ed which claimed Imus's comment wouldn't have flown "on a low-bandwith radio station in the Jim Crow South"...which , given that colorful chapter in American history, displays a poignant ignorance of the Jim Crow South. Imus didn't suggest we round up all the Negros and hang them from the Gallows Tree, after all. At most his comment reflected an underlying insensitivity to black people. But the fervor with which Sharpton et al responded has left me feeling like African-Americans are whiners more than anything else. It makes me think their movement's run out of issues that are really worth fighting for. They keep crying "wolf!" over spilled milk, and after a while people are going to stop caring.

4 Comments:

Anonymous tcandew said...

cry me a river

To compare rappers to Don Imus is just silly.

Imagine that Biggie Smalls hosts a radio show. Now imagine that Tim Russert is a weekly guest on his radio show. Can you picture that in your mind? Good. Because ONLY then would a comparison between the condemnation of Don Imus and the so called 'non-condemnation' of gangsta rappers be valid. (even though there has been plenty of condemnation of rappers from Black activist, the media just does not care enough to show that.)

If Howard Stern had said what Imus said (and Stern has said MUCH worse) it would not be a big deal and nobody would care. Imus on the other hand is afforded a certain level of stature, apparently hes a good guy to have in your corner if you need to sell a book. He has politicians, pundits, and mainstream journalist on his show every day to speak about serious domestic and foregin policy issues. These people are respected figures (John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Tim Russert et al). They know Imus reputation, they know he says sophomoric, offensive, sexist, sometimes racist things, yet they continue to support him and continue to go on his show.

Why didn't they stand up to the vulgarity, and ignorance of Don Imus?

One minute hes (Imus) doing an offensive (probably unfunny) comedy bit, the next minute Chris Dodd is on anouncing his presidential candidacy.

What the hell is that?

You dont see Snoop Dogg as a regular on 'Meet The Press'.

You dont see Howard Stern on 'The Mclaughlin Group'.

You dont see 50 Cent on 'Hardball'.

You dont see the the creators of South Park on 'Face the Nation'.

The real double standard is that Don Imus, because he is a white man and liked by other more respectable white men, had been given a vulgarity pass. He had a liscense to have it both ways. That liscense afforded him the right to be crude, sexist, and racist and still be taken seriously by the mainstream media and political establishment.

Please spare me the "censored white man" rhetoric. Nobody took away Imus first amendment rights. The free market decided his fate.

For 40 years Imus acted like an immature brat yet he was still invited to the grown up table.

The lesson of this entire ordeal is that if you want to be taken seriously as political commentator you have to act like a serious political commentator (not a juvenile).

It took Imus 40 years to learn that.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Law Revue said...

You seem to be trying to say that because Imus had a degree of respectability that rappers don't, he should be held to a higher standard. First off, I don't accept your premise. When I think of Don Imus I often think of Howard Stern: their shows have often been advertised and marketed together. As always, The West Wing is pertinent:

RADIO GUY: Say, is Howard showing up today?
C.J.: Stern?
RADIO GUY: I heard he was going to show up if Imus was coming, and Imus wasn't showing up if Howard was coming.

In addition, Imus usually makes headlines by making crazy comments, ie, "Rush Limbaugh is a fat, pill-popping loser." And his Billy Sol Hargis character didn't exactly reek of high-minded debate.

I also don't think rappers are politically irrelevant. Most rappers build their success around the concept that they are expressing the hardships and complexities of inner-city life in the medium most accessible to them. In addition, rappers are given a similar level of credibility you refer to when they perform (ie, become voiceboxes for) for politicians like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. So the idea that Don Imus is so respectable and rappers don't count for shit is a little simplistic.

Even if that were the division, however, to suggest that someone who interviews respected politicians showed be restricted to certain language is to have a limited view of a talk-show. Imus built his reputation (and hence his audience) out of being straight-talking and foul-mouthed, in the same way Jon Stewart has built his reputation and audience out of being a jackass. The presence of the latter doesn't mean we still can't have the former. If anything, I wish politicians and other respected figures would be more crude and "real" rather than sounding like automatons for fear of expressing an opinion that might offend someone.

It's true I don't see 50 cent or Snoop Dogg on Meet the Press or Hardball, but I don't recall ever seeing Don Imus there, either. Like I said, I really don't see him as being the poignant, respected figure you obviously esteemd him to be. I'm sorry your hero fell so far.

As to free speech, if you'd read the statements from NBC and CBS and followed the commentary, you'd see that Imus' demise wasn't the "free market" at all. The reason he got the axe was because black executives and other high-profile black members of the NBC/CBS families (ie, Al Roker) said they found his comments offensive. It was because blacks were embedded in the power-elite at those stations and exerted their influence, not because people stopped listening to his show.

2:50 PM  
Blogger H. Lewis Smith said...

The media is one sided and fans the flames of racism. As a result America has become a simmering teapot which is someday going to boil over. America needs to know that there are Blacks who are just as fed up with other Blacks using denigrating terms, and to stop always painting this picture of it only being a black vs white bigotry kind of a thing.

Non-black America hears Blacks using the n-word and other offensive terms all the time and they are under the false impression that this is acceptable by all Blacks...nothing could be further from the truth...but this is a picture that the news media paints. You are invited to visit the following website to gain an understanding as to why the real fireworks is yet to BEGIN.

http://www.theunitedvoices.org

3:50 PM  
Anonymous The Black Ninja said...

You may not see 50 cent on Hardball, but you do see Camron and Damon Dash on The O'Reilly Factor!

Oh snap: http://youtube.com/watch?v=5oLGjhpY9jM

4:17 PM  

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