Friday, April 13, 2007

Don Imus: beleaguered asshole

I've been following the Don Imus debacle with what I'll call amused disinterest. I had never heard Don Imus's voice before; now all I've heard has been him saying, "you mean nappy-haired hos" about a hundred times. The thing I can't figure out is that people are surprised by this. "Whoa! A shock-jock said something insensitive?!? The horror!" And I'm also surprised at his response. I'm not familiar with Mr. Imus's style, but I would've expected any self-respecting radiohead to have responded with something that sounded like, "Oops, sorry. Now get over it." Because what he said really wasn't that offensive. And I heard Al Sharpton call Imus a "cracker", which nobody even mentioned. Racism is all about intent, not vocabulary -- thus, a black guy can use the word nigger with impunity, but it's off-limits for white speakers. By the standard of intent, Sharpton saying cracker is no better than Imus's nappy-haired hos. Maybe it's worse; I suspect Mr. Sharpton specifically chose the word to offend, and to take advantage of the double standard of racial language. (I'm about to sound really politically incorrect, so if you're bothered by that, tune out now. Here goes:) I think Imus's problem is that he offended a powerful, non-marginalized minority. I suspect that he could've said something really offensive about, say, Latvians or Tamils, and few eyebrows would've been raised. But there's a huge PR machine waiting to jump in anytime someone says something that might be of offense to African-Americans. I suspect that pretty much nobody would've even noticed Imus's quick comment, had The Machine not raised such an unholy stink about it. A segment of black leadership in America has to jump on this sort of thing whenever it happens; their power is based on a battle against marginalization (as evidence, do we ever hear from the leaders of the German-American community?), so they need to reinforce the message of marginalization wherever they can find it, as a means of reinforcing their power base.

My second thought on the Imus trauma is that it's got to be a little difficult to be in his position. He spends twenty hours a week talking in public. Can you imagine stringing together four daily hours of conversation that wouldn't offend anyone anywhere? I think the ethos of the "shock jock" might have evolved in direct response to this dire need to not offend people. If you've got to spend four hours a day talking on the radio, you have to acknowledge that you're eventually going to offend someone. So you accept that as part of your milieu, and don't bother to stress about the possibility.

I also don't think I would particularly want to live in a country where everyone had to constantly self-censor everything they said or wrote, for fear of offending someone somewhere. People just need to develop thicker skins and freak out less when someone says something they don't agree with or which they find offensive. People need a stronger "Get The Hell Over It" reflex.

My favorite take on the Imus adventure comes from Jason Whitlock; I found it in the Kansas City Star. Check it out.

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