Imusgate, Day 1: The Twilight Zone
For the first time in a very long time, I have absolutely no idea where to begin.
I realize that for someone who spends roughly fifteen hours each day hunched over one computer or another, cranking out word upon word, this may seem like somewhat of a cop-out; unfortunately, if that's the case, so be it. The fact is that for all my occasional sound and fury -- either on the virtual pages of this little experiment of mine or in the rants which my wonderfully patient wife is sometimes subjected to -- it's truly rare that I find myself so outraged that I'm rendered practically speechless. I can count on one hand the stories during my fifteen year career in television news that have thoroughly subverted my capacity to adequately articulate my anger.
I almost never want to put my fucking fist through a wall.
The ridiculous ongoing melodrama over, and laughable overreaction to, an irrelevant old man's use of the words "nappy-headed hos" makes me want to -- over and over again.
If there has been a larger, more prominent non-issue to capture the attention of the media and subsequently be force-fed to the American public, I'm completely unaware of it.
Before I go any further, let me take an unusual step -- one which should give you some kind of idea just how serious and indignant I am in regards to this "controversy." I'm going to say something that I've said only once before since beginning Deus Ex Malcontent and using it to voice my admittedly inconsequential opinions: If you disagree with what I'm about to say -- fuck you. Save your contrarian comment and your polemicist defiance; I don't want to hear it. There are caveats and subtexts and derivatives and offshoots of this whole row which are certainly worth debating, but the basic arguments that I'm about to make, as far as I'm concerned, are bulletproof; don't even waste your breath claiming otherwise.
Among those arguments: that this miasma represents the widest gap in the history of modern media saturation between the size and importance of an event -- and the size of the reaction that followed it; that the Draconian measures demanded by the professional victims claiming to have been severely injured by a washed up shock-jock's very stupid joke -- the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world -- are nothing short of chilling, and represent a dangerous threat to freedom of speech and expression; that the reverent deification of the Rutgers Women's Basketball team and its "dignified reaction" is both unjustified and just plain bizarre; that the selective demonization of one radio show host while failing to direct that same level of persecution at radio hosts who are not only racist and sexist, but who outright lie, is utterly unfair; and that, likewise, the failure to confront hip-hop artists who make entire careers and truckloads of money out of debasing women and setting civil rights advances back decades by acting like modern day minstrels renders this entire controversy moot.
Tonight, NBC has made the decision to fire Don Imus.
God fucking help anyone who dares to fight me on this.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Imusgate, Day 2: Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ
Let me make one thing clear-as-vodka right off the bat: I can't stand Don Imus.
This isn't simply some pedestrian attempt at reverse-psychology; I think Imus is a worthless hack. The suits at NBC never should've signed him in the first place -- not because he occasionally makes racist or misogynistic comments, but because those comments, plus all the ones in between, are unfunny, devoid of insight and just plain goddamned stupid. While I respect Imus as a trailblazer in talk radio, he hasn't been culturally relevent since he gave up booze and blow back in the mid-80s. That said, I don't give a damm whether I or any one else loves him, hates him or is utterly indifferent to him; I'd still defend his right to say what he did.
Years ago, I did a nightside talk radio show in Miami. It won't surprise you to know that I was in trouble constantly for saying and doing things on-air which caused the station's managers to do some rather exceptional impressions of the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Toons cartoons. The situation became so laughable at one point that I actually broke into the executive board files on the air and proceeded to read the number of times that the board felt it necessary to address "The Chez Situation." I remained on the air because someone somewhere out in radioland thought that the antics of myself and my crew were entertaining. There were no doubt those who felt that we should all be hung off the top of a building by our feet as well, but thankfully, those same station managers who were driven so mad by us also remembered one hugely important fact: why we were on the air to begin with. We were doing exactly what they expected from us.
My point is that for any radio or television executive to put Imus on the air, then react with horror to the things he says -- particularly after a career that's lasted forty fucking years -- is not only patently dishonest, but also assumes a level of naivete from the rest of us that's nothing short of insulting.
Likewise, to work in a business which quite frankly owes its very existence to the protection provided by the first amendment, then turn around and at best abandon someone in your employ who proves that that freedom comes at a price -- namely, you have to learn to live with people who say things you don't particularly like -- is the tawdriest of offenses. To, at worst, throw that same person to the angry mob which refuses to live with such people -- is out and out reprehensible.
Last night, Steve Capus, the President of NBC, said that he had made the decision to drop MSNBC's simulcast of Imus's morning radio show not because of outside pressure being exerted by the aforementioned angry mob, but because he had taken a poll within the NBC organization itself and found the concensus to be that Imus had to go.
Guess what Steve -- though I won't argue that those on your payroll serve at your pleasure to a certain extent, you're indebted not to Imus himself but to the right of expression which allows not only for his voice to be heard but for the voices of everyone and every show on your network that together make you and your shareholders a goddamned fortune. Here was your chance to repay that debt, and you blew it. You took the easy way out -- and that makes you a pussy.
Capus should've realized that he was allowing himself and his network to be the test case -- the first in the string of dominoes to fall. The reality -- unspoken by some; shouted from the rooftops by others -- is that once the cascade reaches its inevitable conclusion, what you see and hear will be subject to the various caprices of those who've been willing to complain loudly enough.
Speaking of which...
Imusgate, Day 2 (cont.): Rage Against the "Obscene"
I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone -- I honestly do.
Every day I turn on my television expecting the American news media to return to doing something important -- like maybe talking to the families of U.S. soldiers who've already pulled three tours in Iraq and are now being told that they'll have to serve another fifteen months; this, as their Commander-in-Chief tries to pick a fight with yet another Middle-Eastern country while also trying to pass off the mess we're already in to someone else -- a "War Czar."
Instead I see the angry, apoplectic faces of the "Reverends" Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton behaving as if the world has literally stopped because an elderly man poked fun at a women's basketball team using a term that's almost as antiquated as he is. The last time anyone said "nappy-headed hos," most of the country was still trying to figure out why kids as far south as Florida were insisting on wearing plaid-flannel shirts, knit hats and combat boots. (It also goes without saying that the last time such a comment was made, it was a black man making it -- but more on that later.)
Over the past few days, I've watched Jackson, Sharpton and their offensive ilk using their own brand of foul language -- terms which I consider to be absolutely chilling. I've heard Sharpton say that although he can "forgive" Imus, the radio host still "must serve the penalty;" which leaves me to wonder why forgiveness is Sharpton's to grant (as he was never more than tangentially involved in this nonsense to begin with -- until he of course, on cue, injected himself into the center of it), and why the penalty is Sharpton's to decide (as, the last time I checked, he holds no real position of authority). I've likewise heard Jackson state, with a face that was frighteningly devoid of even the slightest hint of irony, that America is finally learning that there is some language which simply won't be tolerated anymore (the first person to create a black armband with a picture of Jackson's face on it deserves a prize of some sort). To my knowledge, the only forbidden statement is that which is either false or incites violence -- and no, violent opposition from those offended doesn't count. I have no doubt that Jackson believes that Imus's comment was a form of "verbal terrorism," literally adding insult to injury after centuries of persecution -- but if that's how low we're going to set the bar for such language, we're all in very deep shit.
I've decried many times on this site the underhanded impotence of the ubiquitous bullshit apology which seems to follow every act that someone takes offense to these days. I have to say though that after watching Imus grovel pathetically for days and days I've come to believe that from the first day that someone spoke up and said that he or she was hurt by what he said, his penitence has been genuine. In fact, not only has Imus offered a verbal mea culpa, he's the first I've ever seen to lay out a concrete plan for change -- both for himself and his show. Rather than pulling the time-honored trick of running off to rehab, Imus faced his accusers head-on, listened to their concerns and practically offered a powerpoint presentation on the steps he would take to affect change.
Needless to say, that wasn't good enough. Watching someone laid out in prostrate submission won't satisfy the growing beast that needs to be fed fresh meat.
Today, Reverend Al and his congregation of loyal disciples from the First Church of the Perpetually Victimized are converging on the CBS radio studios in Midtown Manhattan -- their goal is to literally strip Don Imus of his legacy in radio; to crush his dignity outright. Imus has lost one job and the respect of millions, but that's not enough for Sharpton. Imus has given his pound of flesh and then some, but Sharpton -- in his infinite, divinely-willed authority -- has decided that he must give more. He's decided that the "community" is owed it.
The reality of course couldn't be further from the truth; Imus doesn't owe the community a fucking thing. He may owe the Rutgers Women's Basketball team an apology, and even that's up for debate -- he does not, however, have a responsibility to abase himself at the feet of an endless line of people who were never the target of his ridicule in the first place, but rather chose to take offense through solidarity, post hoc.
Incidentally, tell me that I can't understand because I'm a white man and I'll hit you. That's crap -- and a cop-out. Forfeiting logic and reason in favor of the rage that comes from unfettered passion is never a good idea (and yes, I understand the irony of my making such a statement right now) -- however, when someone's livelihoood is on the line and the mob mentality will only serve to make matters worse, it's unforgivable.
This morning, Jesse Jackson cited the fallout from the now-infamous Michael Richards incident as proof that things are getting better. He said, practically in iambic pentameter, that the Laugh Factory's recent edict banning not only the use of the word "nigger" but offensive language in general was a step in the right direction for securing respectful civil rights for all. Needless to say, nothing could be further removed from reality. I wrote at the time that there's nothing more dangerous than putting the power to censor in the hands of those who would claim offense, simply because someone will always be offended by something (The Nth Degree/11.21.06). A world in which I'm forced to ask for permission or approval from Jesse Jackson -- or anyone else for that matter -- before I speak, is a world in which I'd rather not live. What Jackson wants is the forfeiture of one right in favor of another -- and it's crap. He and Sharpton want an America purified of language which they believe to be insulting and oppressive, and somehow they believe that there is an objective standard for such language.
I didn't find Imus's comment particularly offensive or incendiary -- though I admit to not being the target of it. I also didn't find it to be the least bit funny -- but I'm betting that some people did. Who determines that they don't have the right to find it funny -- or that I don't have the right to be indifferent to it? Who decides what's acceptable and what's unacceptable language -- which jokes are funny and which ones are without social merit?
At the moment, it would seem like the people who have cast themselves as deserving of the job are the same ones who never made amends for their own past transgressions (Hymie Town? Tawana Brawley?), who derive their power and authority from the very divisiveness they claim to decry, and who can rarely be counted on to express so much as an indignant thought when a group other than their own comes under attack by the intolerant.
This last fact should provide all the evidence needed to prove that the overall motivation of people like Sharpton and Jackson isn't justice or morality, but rather the subornation of an adherence to their own personal agenda.
If by some chance you'd like more more proof, consider this: no matter your opinion of Imus, it's an absolute fact that he spends a substantial portion of his time, both on-air and off, raising money to help children with cancer, through an initiative founded and maintained by he and his wife. He has also, in the past, raised funds for U.S. troops overseas as well as raising awareness of the inadequacy of the V.A. hospital system. The point is that there are not only people out there who find Imus entertaining -- there are people who legitimately benefit from his presence on the air. These people have neither been consulted nor even considered by the torch-wielding mob now stationed at the gates of Imus's hilltop home -- that's because, to this particular mob, the good that Imus does for these people simply isn't as valid as the good to be achieved by removing him for making a completely insignificant comment. If you'll forgive such blatantly instigative language, they're essentially saying that the needs of kids with cancer aren't as important as the hurt feelings of a bunch of female basketball players -- that Don Imus, in fact, does more harm than good.
That's not simply unjust -- it's immoral.
But what about those poor, broken women -- the ones who've endured such injurious humiliation and demoralization at the oppressive hands of the taskmaster, Don Imus?
I'm speaking of course of the Rutgers Women's Basketball team and its steadfast coach, C. Vivian Stringer. Truly, over the past several days, the dignity and courage that these fine women have displayed in the face of overwhelming adversity has given us all a new definition of the word "heroic."
What a bunch of fucking horseshit.
They've just wrapped up their requisite appearance on Oprah -- this should be good.
(Update: This afternoon, CBS fired Don Imus, ending the radio show he had hosted for 35 years.)
Imusgate, Day 3: Sticks and Stones and Stupid
Yesterday, in a rare break from the inexplicable round-the-clock coverage of Imusgate, one of the cable news channels featured an absolutely frightening report on how badly overtaxed our military is right now. By the time the reporter piece and featured guest were done, the general impression you were left with was that at the present rate, our all-volunteer military machine runs the risk of grinding to a halt within the next year or so. The solution of course: reinstating some form of the draft. This sounded chilling until I remembered what I had just watched a few minutes earlier -- the Rutgers Women's basketball team being fawned over for their supposed strength and courage by none other than her Royal Thighness Oprah -- and that's when I was struck with one hell of a realization.
Jesus Christ, if these girls are really the strongest and most courageous our next generation has to offer -- if that's how fucking low the bar is -- not only is this country thoroughly ass-fucked should they ever be the ones charged with defending us in combat, we won't even be ABLE to draft them. A draft would be impossible because every single kid would refuse until either the military jails were full or our government thought the better of it -- whichever happened to come first.
Don't get me wrong; what Imus said was cruel and certainly insulting in all sorts of ways -- but for God's sake, they were just words. These courageous, powerful women can take a physical and mental beating on the basketball court day after day -- but a half-senile old guy calls them a name and they suddenly need a can of Bactine and their woobie. Forgive me for being so blunt, but if we're willing to attach words like strength, dignity and honor to a group of young women who can manage to tough their way through an insult emptying only one box of Kleenex, we've come a very long way from 9/11 -- a time when such terms were earned by those who paid for them with their lives. Has the bar really dropped so far, so fast?
Late last night, Anderson Cooper stood outside the mansion of New Jersey governor John Corzine -- his face cast solemnly downward; his voice a melodramatic hush. Behind him, you would've thought Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin had risen from the dead and were coming together to finally iron out that whole peace thing once and for all. But no, what was actually going on behind those closed doors was a different kind of summit altogether. As the big red BREAKING NEWS banner screamed -- there, at that very moment, Imus was attempting to shrug off the fact that his forty-year career had just gone belly-up long enough to meet with those who were truly suffering -- those whose lives he'd utterly devastated with his cold, callous comment. Since no cameras were allowed into the Camp David treaty room, Cooper could only speculate what was going on behind closed doors.
It was journalism as theater-of-the-absurd.
Once again, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
When the meeting finally ended and reports surfaced of what had happened over the last three hours -- let me repeat that just so that it can truly sink in: three hours -- what was already comically ludicrous became even moreso. Cooper declared that during Imus's audience with the aggrieved "tears were shed," and the women whose grace and fortitude had already been lauded as the standard to which every American should strive asked their tormentor over and over again, "Why us? Why us?"
Once again, all I could do was shake my head -- my eyes wide with utter confusion. I felt like I was watching Japanese TV. MXC wasn't as weird as this shit.
Denis Leary did a bit years ago about our nation's obsession with psycho-babble self-help -- he said, "Life sucks -- get a helmet." I still use that phrase a lot and found myself wanting to shout it at the goddamned TV as Coop informed me that the Rutgers Girls had decided to "consider" accepting Imus's apology. I just kept thinking, Girls, if this is the worst fucking thing to happen to you in your lifetime, you're really lucky. You kids are SO not ready to go out into the real world; you're gonna be eaten alive.
And then came their coach, their rock -- C. Vivian Stringer. Her take on the whole thing? Well she was just proud how her girls had behaved during the entire ordeal; it showed the strength of their character. Once again, let me repeat that -- her team being called a stupid name by an old guy qualified as an "ordeal."
With all the emphasis being placed on the importance of language and the power of words during this whole thing, I'm not sure we're actually applying that import with any sense of balance. We're more than willing to claim that a phrase as ridiculous as "nappy-headed hos" carries far more heft than it might seem at first glance -- therefore elevating this entire controversy to the mania we've all been subjected to over the past few days -- but no one seems to appreciate the harm done by reducing the weight of a word like "ordeal." The news media of course may be partially, if not fully to blame, for this phenomenon; its addiction to hyping even the most inconsequential distress -- inflating it into a "tragedy" or "disaster" -- has rendered many of our words powerless. Language which once carried the impact of a body blow has been neutered; we've applied it to the mundane for so long that we've actually run out of words to describe the truly spectacular.
Being called a name is not a fucking "ordeal."
Words directed at you don't make you bleed. They don't put you in the hospital. They have only the power you choose to give them.
If these young women had wanted to prove how truly strong, brave, proud and dignified they were (in addition to how wise), they would've taken Imus's comment in stride, accepted his apology and forgotten about it the next fucking day.
That's what the rest of us do -- the weak, undignified and well-acquainted with the fact that life holds a hell of a lot worse "ordeals" than being insulted.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Posted by Chez at 5:20 PM