Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Yes, Imus is dumb, racist, and sexist, so fuck him.

After all the hub-bub recently over the Imus incident, I've gotta weigh in on this. Basically, what Imus said was clearly both racist and sexist. He picked on a bunch of college girls from places all over the country whose team managed--against all odds--to get to the championship game of the NCAA tournament. They lost a bunch of games early in their season, but they somehow managed to pull it all together when it counted most. What they did was pretty fuckin' awesome (women's basketball or not).

And then Imus calls them a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's."

And he does it in an environment that is this: a tiny radio station studio full of a bunch of other old white guys who fear him.

I freely admit that I let loose the occasional rip on minorities / retards / women / midgets / paraplegics / vegans / goats / anyone-who's-different-from-me, but then again, I don't have a radio show listened to by a shitload of people that is broadcast on the public airwaves. As the video Notorious LJT played demonstrates, we're all "a little bit racist," but we don't all have the same forum in which to display it that Don Imus has. I don't for a second get upset if someone makes a Polish joke (I'm Polish), but you have to know who you're with, where you are, and whether something that you're about to say is appropriate for that environment.

There's nothing wrong with making a non-P.C. comment or joke, but there's a line, and that line is determined by the circumstances. For example, when Comedy Central shows the Roast of William Shatner or Pamela Anderson or Hugh Hefner, Captain Kirk, Pam and Hef know full well that it's gonna be no-holds-barred in terms of hearing Spock-fucking jokes, Tommy Lee's dick jokes, and Viagra jokes; they agreed to be roasted, after all. They also know that: 1. It's all in good fun--to be roasted is to be honored; and 2. They will have a chance to speak at the end, where they have the chance to respond and make jokes at everyone else's expense, and they will have the last word.

I also fully agree with Danny G that society cannot function without the freedom to say whatever you want. But that freedom also makes you responsible for what you say. If you are too dumb to realize that what you're saying is gonna piss someone off, then you're probably not gonna understand when someone does in fact get pissed off. Don Imus knows that he is pissing people off when he says what he says; it's what he's been doing for years, as have many other "shock jocks" on radio.

As American society has evolved since the '60's civil rights movement (which I've only read about and seen Forrest Gump) into the heyday of "multiculturalism" and "diversity" that blossomed in the '90s (which I experienced directly growing up in Teaneck), I really think people now feel some sort of entitlement to be "offended." This is the idea that if someone does something that you either disagree with or are particularly sensitive about, then that person owes you an apology. That is bullshit. I could think of a million things that I'm "offended" by--assholes who don't wait for me to get off the train before they push their way on, pretentious broadcasters who explain basic elements of baseball as though they're the first to think of it (Joe Buck), people who talk on their cell phones in an elevator--but it doesn't mean that that person is out to get you.

I absolutely think that in order to "offend" someone, you must actively be trying to do that. Who hasn't ever said something that has upset someone else? It happens every fucking day. The difference is if the person is trying to offend you. If I say something to you or around you or even in distant earshot of you that pisses you off, you--as the listener--must take into account whether or not I was saying it to piss you off. If I was, then yes, by all means, get offended! That would be the whole point, right? But if not, and this is generally the case, I'm just saying something about something regarding how I feel, or something, just like we all do all the time. If it's something you're particularly sensitive about, you've gotta either let it go or tell me that it bothers you. Please don't assume I said it to attack your delicate vulnerabilities. You cannot be offended unless someone is offending you. To "offend" someone requires a direct intention. You can get pissed off because someone's being a dickhead, but being "offended" is different--it is the result of someone deliberately trying to get a rise out of you.

This Imus thing, though, is different. This is about a guy who not only doesn't care about people's sensitivities, 1. He definitely intends to get under people's skin by saying outrageous things (he was one of the original "shock jocks"); 2. He has a history of either making directly racist comments (that's a TimesSelect link, sorry!) or condoning it when people with him make racist comments (like when one of his cohorts compared a black guy climbing the Empire State Building to King Kong--ask LJT for further info); and 3. He makes a living off it.

To me, the real issue of this Imus thing is that a 66-year-old white guy who thinks he's invincible totally belittled a group of young--mostly black--women who just achieved something tremendous, something no one thought they would be able to do. Imus belittling people is nothing new, but he chose to do it by calling them "nappy-headed ho's." Does Imus even know what "nappy-headed" means? Or where the term "ho" comes from? It doesn't matter. To be blunt, he may as well have called them "nigger whores." He knew enough not to say that, but he seems to have figured that by softening it up a bit, who's gonna make a fuss?

Go back to your ranch, Donny boy. As you have made perfectly clear, the world has passed you by.


Hasdai said...

"I freely admit that I let loose the occasional rip on minorities / retards / women / midgets / paraplegics / vegans / goats / anyone-who's-different-from-me, but then again, I don't have a radio show listened to by a shitload of people that is broadcast on the public airwaves."

I suppose this is precisely the point I am struggling with. Why should the audience, or its size, matter? Why is Imus' comment less ethical, because said to many people, than the slurs you or I would bandy about amongst ourselves? I don't think it's fear of doing something unethical that stops us from uttering these things to more people, but the fear of social sanction. We're prepared to say "I know this is wrong but..." and then say it. Clearly we don't feel it's all that wrong. We just don't want to be perceived as racist/homophobic/sexist/assholes.

So I'm not sure it makes sense to admonish Imus for failing to be more "responsible." Does it somehow make it ethical to utter something that would be offensive as long as those who would clearly be offended by it aren't present? Isn't that hypocrisy?

I don't have a definite answer. I'm just asking.

Danny G said...

I think the answer, in part, lies in this sentence, "We just don't want to be perceived as racist/homophobic/sexist/assholes."

Perception is reality in this case and most of the people who jumped on the Imus-bashing bandwagon (and not without good reason) were people who weren't otherwise fans/listeners of the show.

It's why South Park can get away with lampooning everyone and no one takes offense (except Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise, etc.) but others can't. If people think there's even a chance you might actually be a racist, you can't get away with saying things perceived by others as racist.

When I worked in immigrant rights, the most outrageous anti-immigrant shit came out of the mouths of the attorneys I worked with. But I knew, and they knew that I knew, that they were kidding, that htey really valued immigrants, otherwise they wouldn't be working there.

But if I heard that same stuff on the street, or said by someone who may be hiding truly anti-immigrant feelings, it would almost certainly register as offensive to me.

The speaker's the thing, I think, not the size of the audience (although how framiliar the audience is with the speaker does seem to be somewhat of a deciding factor, in terms of what's offensive and what isn't.)

Open Bar said...

Yeah, I agree with a bunch of what Danny says, but my main point about all this is that circumstances play the largest role here. You're not a hypocrite for being willing to say one thing to one person but not to another. You're also not a hypocrite by saying fuck-shit-ass-cunt while drunk at a bar, but not in church on Easter Sunday.

Where you are and who you're with absolutely affects how you behave, which changes from group to group and location to location. It's not hypocritical. It's life.

Hasdai said...

It seems to me a problematic standard. Essentially you seem to be saying that it's ok for you or me to say these things because you're not a racist but that if someone else says it who you suspect is racist you would admonish them for it. What would be the basis for your suspicion? What would you have to go on other than people's words? If someone who had never met the Teaneck crew encountered its banter, don't you think they would suspect that you were racist, sexist and homophobic and be duly offended? (This isn't merely a hypothetical - various people of my acquaintance have felt exactly this way - they didn't get it and couldn't hang, but there it is.)The same goes for South Park, which certainly has been in trouble in the past for its perceived racism/sexism/general offensiveness.

As for hypocrisy, you most certainly are a hypocrite if you're willing to say one thing in private and another to the multitude. By definition. It may perhaps be more ethical to be a hypocrite than not in some circumstances - I'm not sure how long society could survive without hypocrisy. But it's still hypocrisy.

And so the question remains whether Imus was ethically bound to watch what he said for fear that - because there was a chance his banter might be overheard by someone who would be offended - someone might be offended. That strikes me as an unreasonable demand not only because that standard would make Howard Stern and South Park very dull entertainment, but because Imus was on the air with the expectation that he would be uncouth and offensive - a "shock jock." He was more in the bar than he was at Church, and that's where he was paid to be. Plenty of people liked what he had to say. And those who didn't weren't under any obligation to listen to him.

I'm not suggesting that what Imus did was wise. It wasn't - that much is clear. I'm just not certain that what he did was deserving of ethical censure.