Friday, April 13, 2007

CC's Complex Feelings on Don Imus

I’m honestly torn on Don Imus. I think I dislike everybody involved in this mess excepting the Rutgers ladies themselves.

I’ll start with Imus. I find the “I was a firm believer in racial justice and political correctness until rap music changed my mind” argument ridiculous. (Note that this isn’t a quote from Imus, but what I see is the essence of his argument.) I wonder if Imus would rather be a racist than an old man who tried to sound current and couldn’t pull it off.

Also, people who claim that Imus’s right to free speech has been violated by his bosses not letting him say whatever he wants on a television show that his bosses pay for are idiots. Free Speech means the government can’t stop you from saying what you want. You can still get fired, people don’t have to like you, you can even get excommunicated.

But honestly, can we please find someone other than the Reverend Al Sharpton to represent what white people consider the majority African American view on these things?

I mean, I can’t deny that Al Sharpton knows something about the power of words to hurt people. Between the Tawana Brawley case and the Crown Heights Riot,
Sharpton has repeatedly shown himself to be a man willing to hurt lots of people in the name of his cause.

I don’t know if he was ever required to apologize to the family of the rabbinical student killed by the riot Sharpton worked hard to incite, but I do know that I find it weird that Sharpton feels that anyone who says anything against African-Americans ever owes him an apology and we all go along with that.

I mean, the ladies of Rutgers were hurt less by the initial comment than by the fact that people like Sharpton have worked so hard to keep it in the press. I’m torn on that one. Maybe a comment like that needs to be famous so we can all hold it up as a bad example for society. But does that help the originally insulted person more or hurt them more? I doubt there’s one answer.

It also leaves me wondering: At this point, what can Imus do?

He’s apologized over and over, he’s provided excuses, his reputation has been destroyed, he’s gotten fired.

And everyone is still mad at him.

It seems sort of an ironic end to a guy who became a celebrity through insulting people to be forever hated now for insulting the wrong people the wrong way.

And while any of us could have seen that "Nappy-headed Hos" would cause problems a mile away, what is offensive and to whom is a really complex subject. To take an example that's pretty personal to the UU blogosphere, pretty much all UUs have heard UUism referred to as a "cult" at some point, we know it's not so we ignore it. But when Robin Edgar heard his revelation referred to that way, it obviously really hurt him. Not condoing anything else he's done. But I do believe him that he heard it called a "cult" early on and that really hurt him. And as I mentioned above, there are a bunch of things Al Sharpton has done that I don't condone either.

I’m not a Don Imus fan. But, if, say, the Simpsons went to far and did something really, really over the top insulting Christianity and Christians started to pull up every example of Christians being the target of unkindnesss on that show, I would be pretty quick to defend their overall record as making fun of everyone but not really meaning any specific insult on any specific group.

Heck, I already defended South Park the same way when Scientologists were condemning it.

What Imus said was way out of line, whatever his motivations for saying it.

I guess I’m having trouble seeing why this is so different from similar incidents of entertainers making fun of similar groups.

Do we need to change the culture of entertaining ourselves by making fun of people?

As a major, major, Simpsons fan, I hope not.

But I don’t know.



PeaceBang said...

I hear you, CC. But there's something so especially hateful and deragatory about this. I responded viscerally to it and I think I'm one of millions.

It seems to me that usually when there's insulting going on, it's of a figure with some power or fame, someone you could kind of see being fairly lampooned.
This felt to me like a rape. It was so shockingly brutal, like, "Just because I feel like it, and just because I CAN, I'm going to sit here in my big white man chair and call these young female athletes ugly whores."

The hateful, out-of-touch, irresponsible arrogance of that finally set the walls tumbling down. People are saying, "Enough. There's no excuse whatsoever. Enough. This is TOTALLY out of control." It's like we've all gone beyond the outer limits of decency, and this was the last flipping straw.

Joel Monka said...

Strangist of all is the possibility that Imus could profit from all this in a big way. His listeners already knew what he was; he won't lose any of them. What he has lost is a contract... if he goes independent on subscription internet or satelite radio, he might have fewer advertisers than before but would be collecting all the revenue personally, rather than a percentage from a network. He could actually make more money that way than he was before!

Anonymous said...

I heard a clip of what Imus said on the radio, and he and his buddies went on to further comment on both teams, and what they said was entirely based on the looks of the players, which struck me as very sexist. These young women are top athletes and scholars at prestigious universities, and they must be something other than how they look. So not only racist but sexist too.
On the other hand, the definition of "going too far" is not definite --it's in how people react. He had to know that people would be insulted, but he didn't know the extent of it ahead of time. He has apologized. When is an apology accepted and when not?
Maybe he underestimated how much athletes are the saints of Consumer Hedonism, and thus beyond reproach? It must be especially hard for a shock jock, who makes his living insulting people, to know who he can and who he can't insult and how much. Maybe things are changing and insults that used to be "ok" aren't anymore. Maybe he was trying to be hip, as you say, and wasn't sensitive enough to the meaning of what he said.
Maybe the whole shock jock schtick is becoming obsolete. Maybe Americans are maturing beyond being ok with a professional insulter? or is that too much to hope for?
There are lots of worse people on the air, I have been told. What about them?

Steven Rowe said...

Kim said "There are lots of worse people on the air, I have been told. What about them?"

You know that's a pretty sad commentary there, isn't it?

I've heard of Imus - but knew his show wasnt something I would care to hear (or see); if there are lots of worse people on the air, I don't care to see or hear them either.

Comrade Kevin said...

Speaking on the case of Al Sharpton--it's one of the reasons I have a hard time living up to the first principle, because I don't respect the inherent worth and dignity of the self-serving.

I learned a lot time ago that few people are leaders and most people are followers. And furthermore, people want to have heroes. But it is my opinion that there are no heroes. We are all flawed individuals being that we are all human.

And ultimately, the self-serving will pull the walls down upon themselves. The true irony is that most of us do it to ourselves. So I would question with much skepticism anyone we place on a pedestal. They are bound to prove themselves human.

PG said...

To be fair to Al Sharpton (something as painful to me as being fair to Ted Stevens), it's inaccurate for CC to imply that Al Sharpton demanded an apology from Imus to Sharpton. According to the NYT timeline of events, on April 7 'the Rev. Al Sharpton calls for Mr. Imus to be fired. "I accept his apology, just as I want his bosses to accept his resignation," said Rev. Sharpton.' The next day, 'Mr. Imus appears on Rev. Sharpton's radio show but fails to mute calls for his dismissal.'

From what I can tell, *Imus* was the one who chose Sharpton "to represent what white people consider the majority African American view on these things." Perhaps that also says something about Imus if Sharpton was who came to mind for him; alternatively, there's something to be gleaned from the apparent dearth of black political figures who were willing to bother with him.

I am very much in agreement with peacebang that this has a lot to do with "insulting down." As Gwen Ifill pointed out, it wasn't a big deal when Imus referred to her in saying, "Isn't the Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House," because although this was a racial insult, it was to someone who had her own media platform. South Park, to my knowledge, doesn't say, "Joe Schmoe the Scientologist or Jane Doe the Christian is a moron." Both the Simpsons and South Park pick on people their own size: Tom Cruise, televangelists, Barbara Streisand, etc. If Imus had said during the 2004 primaries of Carol Moseley-Braun, "That nappy-headed 'ho will never be president," it would have generated some outrage, but we would see it as political commentary (albeit couched in offensive terms), and Imus probably still would have been on the air.

I think there are three elements that go into this scandal, in descending order of inflammation:
1) racism
2) sexism
3) offensive language
4) abuse of power. Had Imus used only three elements -- "Man, those Rutgers players are some ugly bitches, I wouldn't touch that with a 10 foot pole" (2, 3, 4) -- he might have gotten through this. He just managed to piss off everyone; Sharpton's outrage was followed quickly by NOW's calling on members to protest to CBS.

PG said...

Oops, that was supposed to be four elements.

LaReinaCobre said...

I haven't heard "Imus in the morning" in probably two decades, but I just wonder where all the vitriol is coming from? Why are people so angry - and why are they lashing out at certain things and not others?