Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus is gone, but is the cost too high?

With all this “Imus” hoopla swirling around, I was forced to think about my first experience with the “I-man”. That encounter with Imus happened about 3 days after learning my middle son was gay. It was about 5:30 in the morning (which for a non-morning person like me is the middle of the night) and as was my normal routine I headed to the kitchen in my half-awake state to start the coffee and make the school lunches for that day. I turned on the small television we have in the kitchen and tried to kick start my brain with the first major decisions of the day: PB&J or turkey sandwiches? Milk or juice? I was so immersed in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize that I had MSNBC on rather than my usual local morning news show.

Now I must digress at this point and add that I was much groggier than usual … no actually, to be more accurate, I was a catatonic, zombie-like mess. In addition to learning that my beloved son was gay 3 days earlier, I was also going through treatment for a recurrence of cancer and between that and learning my son was gay, I had gotten NO sleep the previous three days. To say that I was barely functioning is a major understatement. During that time just getting out of bed was a major triumph for me.

So with the “noise” of the television in the background, I started my assembly line of sandwiches, mindful of each kid’s “food idiosyncrasies” (no “chunks” in one kid’s jelly, honey and bananas instead of jelly for another, and quantity over quality for the last). It wasn’t until I’d securely saran wrapped the last sandwich that I actually became aware of what was coming out of the television behind me.

I think it might have been the word “faggot” followed by boisterous laughter that clued me in that I didn’t have my usual “Good Morning Arizona” show on that morning. Shocked, I turned around to see this group of crotchety old white guys sitting around microphones looking more like cantankerous old frat boys in cowboy hats and goofy costumes than radio personalities on a major cable news network. But one thing is for sure, they were having a good ole time engaging in a contest to see who could say the most disgusting and shocking thing. In the course of about 3 minutes, I don’t think there was any minority group that escaped being the punch line of these bigots’ jokes. I stood there in stunned disbelief, my stomach churning, and my face feeling like it was on fire. I truly could not believe what was coming out of their mouths and the amazingly good time they seemed to be having at the expense of anybody and everybody. That was when I realized just what minorities have always faced. That was when I realize what my son would now experience for the rest of his life as well. The tears I had worked so hard to hold back started falling with a vengeance as I quickly turned the TV off and raced to the bathroom to collect myself before getting the kids up for school.

So you’d think I’d be overjoyed that Don Imus has been fired. But I’m not. As much as I loathed what I heard that morning and as much as it hurt to hear those pathetic old coots targeting my son among so many others with their moronic, degrading, and bigoted humor, I cannot say that removing this man from the airwaves was a better solution than the one I ultimately employed that morning.

Firing Don Imus doesn't extinguish bigotry and hate. I wish it did. Unfortunately there is a market for what Mr. Imus peddled. Why else did his show not only survive but thrive for years? Mr. Imus may be gone, but someone else will pick up where he left off. And they'll have the benefit of knowing that it's ok to spew hate and bigotry as long as they don't target America's current Cinderella story because that is stepping over the line and that will get you fired. No, I think all that was really accomplished by firing Mr. Imus was bolstering the same kind of censorship that so many of the extremists on the religious right would like to see. For them, a channel changer is not enough. They are not content to just change the channel or turn the TV off, they have to make sure no one even has a choice. Don Imus may have lost his job, but I fear we may have lost much more.

Where others stand:

Radical Russ over at Pam’s House Blend:

This is not censorship. This is a society starting to grow up. For most of our history, we've been a straight old rich white Anglo-Saxon Protestant corporate male dominated society. Now that's changing. White people are becoming a plurality rather than a majority. Women have risen to a heartbeat and a pacemaker away from the presidency. Gay people are out and proud and faaaabulous. People with disabilities demanded ramps and primo parking spots. Native Americans are raking in reparations one slot pull at a time. There are Muslims and Wiccans and Sikhs all clamoring for respect and recognition. Everywhere you look there are Asian people, Latino people, Eastern European people, every one of the Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors of Humanity.

So suddenly, Rip Van Imus wakes up in the New World. "Gee, why are you people so upset? I never heard y'all so upset before!" No, it's more like you never heard them before, period. They've been quite upset about you and plenty of others for a while now.


Don Imus has all the free speech he wants. What he doesn't have now is Paid Speech.

Kathy over at Shakesville:

I am very disappointed at the overwhelmingly celebratory response on the left to the news that MSNBC and CBS both fired Don Imus for calling the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.


This is a victory for equality and justice? A radio shock jock who was hired to… uh, shock listeners with outrageous comments losing his job for doing just that?

My apologies to those who think it’s some huge victory for women in general and African-American women in particular that “nappy-headed hos” is now not merely an insulting and demeaning way to refer to black women, but also a grave threat to women’s mental health and physical safety. I’m very glad that this point of view did not hold sway back when Dan Aykroyd was opening Saturday Night Live’s Point-Counterpoint parody with “Jane, you ignorant slut!” I would have missed one of my favorite rolling-on-the-floor-laughing memories.

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

I know some of you are under the grand delusion that this is the greatest thing for civil rights and the African-American community since OJ was acquitted, but it really is no victory for anyone involved. For those of you who are too dim to figure this out, here is what happened:

A grumpy, surly, and flawed man, but not the total monster that some are now trying to make him out to be (he really didn’t shoot MLK, DU readers), who had a history of making borderline and overtly racist or sexist statements for dozens of years made another offensive statement that in past years would never have raised even an eyebrow. His only flaw this time was his target- a bunch of young women who really did not deserve to be smeared, and whom he has apologized repeatedly to and I believe honestly feels bad for insulting. Otherwise it was business as usual at Imus in the Morning.

The girls have been turned into victims, blowing the insult completely and totally out of proportion, and have been taught a hideous lesson- that being a victim is a good thing. My sisters, had they been called a ho by anyone, would have flipped them the bird and then gone back to work. Instead, we are regaled with tales that the girls have been scarred for life or their careers have been hampered. Lunacy, in other words.

David Carr of the New York Times Media and Advertising section:

For a few days, it seemed as if Don Imus would somehow pull out of the death spiral. After all, once he came under fire, Mr. Imus said he was sorry for the racial insult, said he was sorry again and then began a week of penance, raising money on his own show for sick children and turning up at various other microphones to renew his apology.

But even as he went through the ritual of public mortification, his backers began to see what he did not: the drumbeat was not going to stop. The controversy metastasized and by Monday, the media began to lock and load. Mr. Imus, who had shrugged off the initial criticism last week, was fighting for survival.

“All the elements were there,” said James Carville, the political consultant who has appeared on the show and has seen a few stories blow up in his time. “You had some dry brush, gasoline, high winds, no rain and low humidity and before you know it, man, it was a wildfire.”

The toxicity of Mr. Imus’s remark, the innocence of his targets, and his refusal to put down the shovel — he dug himself deeper just about every time he opened his mouth — made last night’s decision by CBS to end his show seem almost inevitable. Disparate media imperatives were at work, but they converged and whipsawed into a self-sustaining frenzy.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see how it's a bad thing that for once, racism has consequences. Serious ones. Not just "media slap on the wrist"; not just "he called me a racist! Oh shame on me!". But someone lost their job for this. And I do think that that sends a message that you can't just get away with this anymore. As for censorship in the media etc: the one truth that won't go away is that, in our society, the media is a business first and foremost. If a controversy will make more money than it costs, it's a good thing and they'll milk it for what it's worth. (Be it accepting racism, or refusing to air gay content). No matter what responsibility we want to assign the media, the first, and sometimes only responsibility that they will accept for themselves is TO themselves financially.