Friday, April 13, 2007

Morals of the Imus Story Messed With, So It Goes

I don't think anyone is really crying over losing Don Imus on the radio. Come on, if you are, you're addicted to the rants and ramblings of an old fart. More than any other aspect of American culture, talk radio and especially "shock jocks" have turned this country away from public civility toward raw and rancorous diatribe, more discord than dialog.

Imus had his day, lots of them, years' worth, and he could pull in the big names. He was somehow a shock jock accepted by the moving and shaking elite. The Belt Way Players all gladly yucked it up on his show.

Al Sharpton, a sometimes hero of mine, got some of it right and some of it wrong. He said, "It was about the misuse of the airwaves." Well, not exactly. It may have been a misuse of Imus' role on the airwaves, according to the protocol of his employers and advertisers, but the bottom line is: the public, far beyond Imus' usual audience, didn't like it. They detested it and didn't back down.

Sharpton said, "We cannot afford a precedent established that the airwaves can be used to commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism. But there will be no champagne bottle popping by those of us involved in this. This is not about gloating." Well, maybe not champagne, Al, but no gloating?On his own radio show, after Imus called some white people "old crackers," Sharpton was right to ask Imus not to insult his own race on Sharpton's show. Good one. But the problem is that we now have a culture in which denigrating one's own race is commonly used not only for hurt and for humor but for idle banter as well. It's an age-old form of tribalism that's impossible to outlaw, much less eradicate.

Sharpton went on to say he wants to show the media and the public that it is not necessary to "be misogynist and racist to be creative or to be commercial in this country." No, not necessary, but it sure has made a lot of fortunes for musicians who are especially racist and misogynist, almost all of whom are black. So lots of work to do there, reverend.

In retrospect, the Imus story just shows that anyone wanting a soap box badly enough will step into some pretty tawdry territory and that such soap boxes are VERY popular, but that such off-color tirades -- especially at athletes, held sacred in this society -- have become increasingly tiresome to the mainstream. Speaking of which, former Imus guest James Carville said, "All the elements were there. You had some dry brush, gasoline, high winds, no rain and low humidity and before you know it, man, it was a wildfire."

Look at Imus now. He looks like he's ready to begin his next career as Ebeneezer Scrooge or a Dickensian apparition, The Ghost of Shock Jocks Past. Haunting really, visually a man exuding some sort of 19th century bile. He makes Mel Gibson look contrite, but then Mel Gibson IS an actor. Dom Imus isn't an actor. He's just an old cuss.


Early on, it seemed to me that the main story here was about political correctness -- and the fear of employers and advertisers to associate themselves with a crank, no matter how colorful -- or off color (or, as in this case, about color). But now, after we've witnessed the distraught feelings and urgent defense of the women at Rutgers, players and staff alike, maybe some good really will come of this.

More civility is essential to making this a better nation.


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