Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday Is Recycling Day

At this rate, ESPN's going to run out of people soon.

Hot on the heels of the decision to continue on without the services of both Steve Phillips and the psychotic little troll he inexplicably chose to put his penis in, production assistant Brooke Hundley, ESPN managers have announced that they're suspending Bob Griese for a really stupid crack made on-air over the weekend. In case you haven't heard because you have, you know, a life, the former star Miami Dolphins QB was calling a college game last Saturday when, during a promo for the network's upcoming NASCAR coverage, he joked that driver Juan Pablo Montoya wouldn't be racing because he was "out having a taco."

For the record, Montoya isn't Mexican -- he's Colombian. Which means it would've made more sense to say that he'd be out because he was "getting busted for trafficking coke and killing a federal judge and his family with a MAC-10."

By that last comment, you can probably tell where I come down on this whole thing: Really, when did we become an entire nation of hyper-sensitive, well, pussies?

Within minutes of the offhand on-air gaffe, Griese apologized -- twice. As expected, these apologies sounded sincere but couldn't be, simply by virtue of the fact that they were almost certainly the product of a stern talking-to off-camera by ESPN executive producers. The question, though, is, did Griese need to apologize at all? Was what he said really all that earth-shatteringly awful? He's a sportscaster doing locker room-style banter and it was obvious he didn't mean anything hurtful by his silly little crack. But after getting Griese to essentially grovel on national television, the suits at ESPN have decided that he still hasn't been taught enough of a lesson (which of course is merely a smokescreen; the reality is that they have to prove to a handful of potential angry protesters and a few jittery sponsors that the network takes "racist" comments seriously) and so they chose to bench him.

In a terrific bit of meta-broadcasting, radio hosts Opie and Anthony picked apart this supposed scandal yesterday on their show -- and used the opportunity to expose contrition-as-theater for what it is 99% of the time. They did it by replaying their own very serious-sounding public apology for a comedy bit that got them suspended for a month back in 2007 -- a rant by an on-air regular that targeted Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush and the Queen of England, among others. What was fascinating about their dissection of the uproar over the Griese comment and their own brush with America's perpetually-aggrieved usual suspects was the level of refreshing honesty on display: O & A admitted flat-out that they were forced to apologize under the threat of losing their jobs; they came right out and said that they weren't, in fact, sorry and didn't mean one fucking word of what they were told to say on-air -- what was written for them by someone else.

This morning, I'm resurrecting the piece I wrote in the wake of Opie and Anthony's infamous "Homeless Charlie" bit -- but more than that, I'm pulling excerpts from several columns focusing on what's been a regular overarching subject around these parts: Our rush to be offended, our over-sensitivity to anything that flusters our delicate sensibilities, and the reaction that some among us have come to not just expect but demand in the wake of being offended.

Of course the pieces in question represent the times I talked seriously about this topic. It doesn't include all the tasteless mockery I myself have gleefully heaped in every direction.

"The Clean Air Act" (Originally Posted, 5.14.07)

One of the most unintentionally hysterical movie lines in history comes courtesy of that classic Tom Cruise vehicle Top Gun. Not only does the film stand as irrefutable proof that Cruise is not, in fact, gayer than Carson Kressley blowing himself, it also gave us this little gem of Hollywood screenwriting brilliance:

As Tom Cruise's character prepares to fly his hard, phallic F-14 within spitting distance of the skyward-jutting, phallic control tower, he's warned by his radar-man "Goose" -- played by Anthony Edwards -- that his actions are unauthorized and therefore a bad idea.

"Uh, you can't do that, Maverick," says Goose.

Right -- because if you do, they'll, uh well, change your name to something that doesn't suggest an impetuous willingness to ignore orders.

This is what I think of whenever I hear the following words come out of a news anchor's mouth or see them splashed across a front page: "Shock Jock (fill-in name) is in big trouble today for (fill-in something offensive said or done on-air)."

Obviously, this particular brand of disengenuous outrage has received plenty of attention lately thanks to the whole Don Imus fiasco; in fact, Imus himself is now fighting for the money remaining in his canceled CBS contract by asserting that his bosses indeed knew exactly what they were in for when they put him on the air in the first place.

They don't call them Shock Jocks because they have issues with static electricity.

Which brings us to Opie and Anthony.

When I made the decision to leave New York City about four years ago (this is my second tour-of-duty in Gotham) one of the features of life here that I knew I'd miss the most was the Opie & Anthony show. At that time, it was on WNEW FM and was a staple of my weekday afternoon. It was rude, offensive, juvenile -- and the funniest goddamned thing on the air. When O & A were finally banished by a torch wielding mob for staging an on-air stunt in which a couple had sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral -- which was hilarious by the way -- I figured they'd remain radioactive for at least a good five years.

Then they turned up on XM Satellite Radio, and I rejoiced; the gloves were off.

Since then, Opie & Anthony have actually managed to steer clear of any real controversy. Their show remains funny, and at times surprisingly insightful. They've even managed to get a watered-down version of it simulcasted on terrestrial radio.

But it was only a matter of time.

Now, once again, the usual suspects are screaming for the heads of O & A.

The offense this time: why, nothing less than suborning the rape of our own beloved Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice (cue the gasps).

Basically, during their show last Thursday, a guy known as Homeless Charlie went on a minute-long rant about how he'd "love to fuck that bitch," (that would be Condi), how he also wanted to do the same to Laura Bush, and how the Queen of England shouldn't have been allowed into the U.S. because she has a horse-face and was on the losing side of the Revolutionary War to begin with.

It was admittedly only funny for its audacity in skewering such sacred authority figures; I'm always a fan of that. Needless to say, though, you could've counted the seconds before the mushroom cloud of bullshit outrage appeared on the horizon. By Thursday afternoon, the line of perpetually aggrieved stretched around the block, ready to once again grab a collective torch and demand mob justice. Al Sharpton -- who, it should be noted, was also one of the targets of Homeless Charlie's venom -- decried the remarks as ugly and hurtful, but stopped short of again demanding the outright censorship of a nationally-broadcasted radio show; the cynical might point out that in this case, while Opie & Anthony are white -- traditionally, Sharpton's favorite punching bags -- Charlie himself is black, and therefore in possession of a genetic get-out-of-jail-free card as far as Big Al is concerned.

Those who truly do spout arguably dangerous and occasionally outright false invective over the airwaves were also happy to assume the laughable position of moral authority and join in the pile-on. Vaudevillian buffoons like Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz did somersaults of logic in an attempt to have it both ways, blaming the rise of such "garbage" on the time-honored boogeyman of leftist moral-relativism while at the same time wrapping their own on-air race-baiting and fear-mongering in the comfortable cloak of the American flag -- the argument against such nonsense, all but bulletproof: Opie & Anthony do comedy, Beck and Boortz don't, at least not intentionally.

For anyone who wondered quietly if the unnecessary firing of Don Imus and the surreal pandemonium which led to it would eventually create a dangerous chilling effect across our airwaves, wonder no more; your worst fears have been realized. Those who successfully silenced a powerful voice in broadcasting -- dumb, but powerful -- have been emboldened by their victory. Now, like a kid with a new toy, the ones for whom even the slightest offense is unacceptable -- regardless of the context -- have declared themselves rulers of America's on-air sandbox.

What you find funny isn't important; if it offends someone, it simply cannot stand, for the good of everyone.

Even if you've chosen to pay for the privilege of hearing adult language and, occasionally, juvenile comedy -- as those subjected to the offending Opie & Anthony bit had -- it doesn't matter.

If someone, anyone, is offended by it, it has to go.

Within the past couple of days, CBS Radio -- in keeping with its proud tradition of willfully allowing its spine to go flaccid at even the slightest hint of pressure -- announced its decision to cancel The Dog House, with JV and Elvis. The reason: the show's hosts staged a prank phone call to a Chinese restaurant which infuriated the Asian-American community.

Jeanette Wang of the Organization of Chinese-Americans is already calling it a "victory... for all." I have a feeling that most of JV and Elvis's listeners don't feel that way.

Whether or not they, or Opie & Anthony, can genuinely be called "mavericks," I'm not quite sure. But I know that the world would be a very boring, and in this case very frightening place, if everyone followed the rules.

From "Insolent Jest" (Originally Published, 10.30.08)

By now, regular readers of this site have probably figured out that I'm not very easy to offend. Sure, ignorance and stupidity piss me off to no end, but generally the kind of thing that will cause one group of people or another to demand blood, or at the very least an immediate public apology, will barely get a reaction out of me (and if it does, that reaction will usually be to laugh my ass off not only at the offending behavior itself but at those overly sensitive enough to take it so goddamned seriously). Don't get me wrong: Despite what you read here, I don't wander through my day wondering whose buttons I can push next. I may say some pretty obnoxious things from time to time, but rarely is any of it offered with malice or the intention of riling someone up just for the fun of it. That said, I'm a very firm believer that almost anything can be a legitimate target for a little ribbing -- myself included. What makes mocking or satirizing ostensibly untouchable cultural institutions like God, the church, political figures, and even, yes, Oprah so much fun is that they are held as sacrosanct by so many -- and that makes them, in a word, oppressive. There's a visceral thrill to be had going against the grain once in a while and defying the tyranny of political correctness. But more than that, it's necessary. Unassailable ideals and social mores are dangerous, and while holding something above criticism or ridicule, no matter the context or intent, may seem like the ultimate form of respect -- in fact, it's nothing more than the product of fear or idolatry. Just ask the editors of a Danish newspaper that dared to publish comic images of the Prophet Muhammed a couple of years back.

Which brings us to Denis Leary.

...Whether or not Denis Leary hates homosexuals I can't say for sure. I do know, however, that simply using the word "fag" doesn't automatically make someone a homophobe any more than simply using the word "nigger," irrespective of context, automatically makes someone a racist. I get that it's sometimes tough to tell a person's intent simply by his or her language -- and that the knee-jerk inclination might be to make broadstroke declarations banning anything that anyone may find offensive -- but that's when it's best to consider the source. Denis Leary, once again, is a comedian. He's made an entire career out of being an asshole; he even recorded a song in the early 90s proclaiming as much. Only a moron -- or, more likely, someone looking for something to be pissed about -- would pick up a book written by Leary and expect not to have his or her magnanimity challenged. Leary's stuff isn't designed to be everyone's cup of tea, but neither is it supposed to change the world. If you really think a book called Why We Suck should be filed under the self-help section at the bookstore, you need to have your head examined. It's meant to be funny. It's a fucking joke.

From "Occupational Hazard" (Originally Published, 1.10.08)

In case you haven't heard, The Golf Channel (Motto: "You're Fucking Kidding, Right? THE GOLF CHANNEL?") announced last night that it's suspending its lead anchor, Kelly Tilghman, for two weeks. The punishment comes in the wake of an offhand comment Tilghman made on the air last Friday night while casually bantering with analyst Nick Faldo. The two were talking about how Tiger Woods must seem unbeatable to young players on the circuit; Faldo joked that nothing could stop Tiger short of up-and-coming golfers physically "ganging up on him," at which point Tilghman chuckled "lynch him in the back alley."

I have no doubt that the second Kelly Tilghman said this, she regretted it and wished she could get a Mulligan -- mostly because she in no way meant it to sound the way she realized it could be taken (and of course has been taken by at least one demagogic jackass whom I'll get to in a minute).

The management of The Golf Channel, in justifying its reprimand called Tilghman's words "hurtful and grossly inappropriate."

Except that, once again -- she didn't fucking mean anything by it. It was a thoroughly innocuous comment made sinister only by the intractably cursed connotation we've bestowed upon a single word. Not that a person's true intentions are ever allowed to be taken into account in cases like these, but how insane is it that Kelly Tilghman is now having to apologize up and down -- she's forced to publicly prostrate herself at the feet of the aggrieved few who should have no say whatsoever in this matter anyway -- all because she accidentally blurted out some supposed linguistic pariah?

Turns out Tilghman is good friends with Tiger Woods and has been for some time. She apologized to him -- and guess how he responded?

The way you'd expect someone with Tiger's grace, class and good goddamned sense to respond.

His spokesperson said this:

"Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly. Regardless of the choice of words used we know unequivocally that there was no ill-intent in her comments. This story is a non-issue in our eyes."

Needless to say, the fact that the only person who has a right to feel insulted by any of this doesn't feel at all insulted isn't stopping at least one other guy from voicing his substantial and ridiculous ire.

Care to guess who I'm talking about?

I won't even bother spelling it out for you. I'm just going to dispense with the decorum once and for all and issue a heartfelt plea:

Please, please, please -- would Al Sharpton just crawl into a bathtub somewhere and drag in a toaster-oven?

From "Jock Bitch: The Ongoing Saga of Don Imus" (Originally Published, 4.13.07)

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 his wife and himself. 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.

From "The Nth Degree" (Originally Published, 11.21.06)

Allow me to begin by simply coming right to the point:


You obviously wouldn't be able to tell from where you are, but after typing that word I put my laptop aside, got up from the couch and walked to the refrigerator to pour myself a glass of iced-tea before returning to my computer a minute or so later. What's important about this isn't what happened during the short interval -- it's what didn't happen. The world didn't explode. Lives weren't lost. Hordes of people didn't pour out onto 125th street, or the corner of Florence and Normandie, or MLK boulevards all across the land to engage in weeping and gnashing of teeth at the assured knowledge that they would immediately be returned to a life of indentured servitude. The universe, as far as I know, didn't collapse in on itself, sucking reality -- or at the very least, a substantial portion of the population -- into a giant black hole of nothingness.

The reason of course is simple: Despite whatever heft, whatever power to destroy or dehumanize, that we've unwisely granted a single word -- any word -- in the end it is still just a word, and nothing more.

Except that in the most advanced and preeminent culture to ever exist upon this Earth, in the early days of the 21st century, it isn't just a word. On the contrary, the word "nigger" holds an unparalleled level of ascendancy in our society. There's no better testament to the truth of this statement than the fact that otherwise educated, intelligent people -- the type who normally would rather step on a live land mine than be taken for an idiot -- will gladly allow themselves to be reduced to spouting the vernacular of a four-year-old to avoid speaking it.

No matter the alternative's power to offend and instigate, is there anything -- anything -- more painfully ridiculous than a grown man or woman saying, "The N-word?" It's an absurd verbal tip-toe that not only proves that there is apparently no safe context in which the actual word can be uttered, but also that there exists an unspoken implication that those whom one would expect to be angered by the use of such a word are so stupid that they can't discern between the desire to dehumanize and subjugate and the need to openly discuss, and therefore should be protected from hearing the word altogether -- for the good of everyone. This latter possibility -- an indictment of an entire culture, whether out of condescension or outright fear -- is infinitely more offensive than the utterance of any one word.

From "On the Offensive" (Originally Published, 10.15.06)

By preaching the gospel of diversity -- by insisting that every person's every little hang-up be respected and that no one ever be made to feel the least bit uncomfortable -- we create a completely homogenous workplace which is actually devoid of any real diversity. True tolerance of the uniqueness of each culture and personality would allow for the occasional insensitive act or rude comment. That's not what we're after, though -- not these days. Instead, corporations are attempting to stave off ludicrous lawsuits by opportunistic employees and in doing so are catering to the culture of victimization which now holds us all hostage.


Stephen said...

I kinda want tacos for lunch now...thanks.

suz said...

I find people like Imus offensive; so I don't listen to him! Simple. I'm a strong proponent of Free Speech. If you find a radio show, book, tv show, movie, newspaper, magazine, etc. offensive - walk away. Someone will always be offended by something, but better to walk away then reduce our right of free speech. It's easy to take it away - pretty much impossible to give it back. I like your writing!

Christine said...

After a while, you start to run out of ways to say, "lighten the fuck up already."

Yes, prejudice in all its various forms (racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, etc.) is legitimately offensive, but that doesn't mean that every comment based on a stereotype automatically gives you the right to cry foul and call for someone's head on a pike. I certainly wouldn't care if a comment about me involved coal mines and copious amounts of vodka anymore than I would think twice about joking that you were out shopping for another gold chain to go with your new track suit. It's not offensive because... well, because seriously, *who cares*?

And yes, it gets tricky. Words in of themselves are just that. Words also have power. There is, however, a very clear line that can be drawn between the two, and anyone who always lives on one side or the other needs to pull their head out of the sand or their ass, depending on their personal predilection.

drater said...

Chez, I enjoy your site because by and large you mock people for what they do. Griese, on the other hand, mocked Montoya for his nationality and heritage, which he has no control over. There's a reason locker room humor is confined to the locker room, anyone who brings it into the broadcast booth is asking to get canned.

Suz, Griese has every right to say whatever he wants, but ESPN has no obligation to pay him six or seven figures to make bigoted remarks that offend a significant portion of their viewers. If he were being prosecuted this would be a free speech issue, but he's not. It's a business decision.

hascimh said...

People should be judged more on their deeds, not the words they speak (not to be confused with one's "Word")

Moral outrage is the easiest & cheapest thing in the world.