Sunday, April 15, 2007

Anybody Sick Of The Imus Conversation?

For days on my cable TV I have heard inane platitudes about how the firing of Don Imus for making racist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team will be a "teachable moment" that will usher in a national discourse about race and gender.


As Harry Shearer said on Countdown Friday night (I'm paraphrasing):

Have we finished having the national dialogue about race and class after Katrina yet?

If Katrina couldn't change how this country deals with race and class issues, the Imus firing sure as hell isn't going to change how we deal with race and gender issues.

Nonetheless, since the morning shows and the papers are rife with the "Imus conversation," let me engage in the conversation myself one last time.

Let me be blunt in my critique: As I noted in this post here, Imus and crew engaged in a conversation that was racist, misogynistic, homophobic and offensive.

Imus and crew have been engaging in racist, misogynistic, homophobic humiliation humor for 30+ years.

For anybody at General Electric, NBC, CBS or Viacom to make believe that they were "shocked, shocked" that Imus and crew were engaging in racist, misogynistic, homphobic humiliation humor on the air is hypocritical.

For any of the sponsors like General Motors, Dow Jones, Proctor & Gamble, Sprint and Staples to make believe that they were "shocked, shocked" that Imus and crew were engaging in racist, misogynistic, homphobic humiliation humor on the air is hypocritical.

For any of the members of the Washington/New York elite like Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Tom Oliphant, Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Frank Rich, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Evan Thomas, Jon Meacham, Jonathan Alter, Jeff Greenfield, Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Dodd, John Kerry and many others who appeared on the program to make believe that they were "shocked, shocked" that Imus and crew were engaging in racist, misogynistic, homophobic humiliation humor is hypocritical.

But the hypocrisy doesn't stop with the people who had worked with and/or made money off of Imus.

As I noted in this post here, for the president of BET to criticize Imus and crew for calling the Rutgers women's basketball teams a racist/misogynistic slur while programming his network with hundreds of hours of racist/misogynistic shows a week smacks of hypocrisy.

For Jesse Jackson to demand Imus' job for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team a racist/misogynistic slur after calling New York "Hymietown" all those years ago smacks of hypocrisy.

For Al Sharpton to demand Imus' job for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team a racist/misogynistic slur after helping to destroy a white police officer's life and reputation during the Tawana Brawley case all those years ago smacks of hypocrisy.

There is hypocrisy all around this Imus story

I myself am a hypocrite.

I first listened to Imus back on the old AM station WNBC back in 1980 when I was 12. In those days, Imus was a simple shock jock engaging in racist, misogynistic, humiliation humor. There was no political discussion, no social satire - just the usual shock-jock penis and Amos & Andy-type jokes.

I stopped listening about the time I was 14.

I came back to listening to the Imus in the Morning program after Don Imus got sober in 1988 and shifted his program to politics. I would listen to it off and on during the mid-1990's. Although I found the "comedy" portions of the program rather silly (and sometimes offensive) , I liked the interviews with politicians and journalists. Imus was a very good interviewer (better than any of the "real" TV talking heads with interview programs like Tim Russert or Jim Lehrer, actually, because Imus rarely accepted "talking points responses" or platitudes from his guests) and where else could you hear people like Frank Rich, Anna Quindlen et al. talk about this issues of the day (this was during my pre-cable days)?

That said, I knew Imus and crew were engaging in racist, misogynistic, homophobic humor and often found myself turning the program off when they would engage in particularly offensive stuff.

By 1998 I had moved on from the Imus program and began to listen regularly to NPR's Morning Edition program. I became a devoted Morning Edition listener and remained so until NPR fired host Bob Edwards a few years ago. At just about the same time, NPR added National Review writer Jonah "Loves the Iraq war, doesn't want to fight it" Goldberg to the program and I wrote NPR a letter saying I had had enough with the changes in direction and would no longer listen to network. I haven't listened to NPR since.

I have never found a suitable replacement to Morning Edition to listen to in the morning. I have tried to listen to CNN's morning program ("Inanity in the Morning" I believe it is called), but it is mostly silly and I find myself wanting to pull an Elvis and shoot the TV most mornings. I have tried to listen to C-Span's Washington Journal, but the callers are freaking crazy and I also want to shoot my TV most mornings. I have tried to listen to Imus, but the "comedy" portions of the program also make me want to shoot the TV most mornings.

The ironic thing is, of all the programming that I have listened to the last few years, when Imus was playing it straight and interviewing a serious guest about serious issues, his program was the least inane, least offensive of all the programs I have listened to since the Bob Edwards' Morning Edition years. As Sam Tanenhaus, biographer of Whittaker Chambers noted in the NY Times today, Imus was a professional, well-informed interviewer:

On the one occasion when I was invited into the studio for a full-fledged interview, Mr. Imus diffidently showed off the rare first editions of literary classics arranged in his office and modestly accepted my praise of the accomplished photographs he had taken.

The interview itself was a surprisingly sober affair of the C-Span variety: a direct, matter-of-fact, carefully paced tour through Chambers’s life. Mr. Imus had thoroughly mastered the material; he told me he was an admirer of the “Booknotes” interviews Brian Lamb was then doing on C-Span. A few minutes into the session I realized the only expectation of cheap laughs had been my own: the humorous “material” I’d worked up, but mercifully was spared from testing out.

Mr Tanenhaus goes on to note that after his appearances on the "Imus in the Morning" program, his book sold at least 10,000 additional copies than it probably would have and he began to receive

letters and phone calls from readers, not the presumed yahoos we’ve been hearing about in recent days, but civil and courteous people from all walks of life — students, retirees, history buffs and, in some instances, professional authors — who also were part of Mr. Imus’s following.

The "Imus in the Morning" program was both high-brow intellectual fare and low-brow adolescent humor coupled with racist, misogynistic, homophobic humiliation humor. It was a paradox. Imus himself is a contradictory mix of cruel curmudgeon and generous benefactor - he has raised millions of dollars for autism, cancer and SIDS research and wounded war veterans. He runs a ranch for kids with cancer. He has put a positive face on alcohol and drug addiction (Imus was so badly addicted to booze and cocaine that he called in sick to work over 100 times one year in the late 70's...he has been clean and sober since 1988.) He has also said some incredibly cruel, mean-spirited things to and about people and brought colleagues to tears on air. Take the Contessa Brewer controversy:

DON Imus didn’t like being called “a cantankerous old fool” by MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer on PAGE SIX. Brewer, a former news reader on Imus’ show, also said the I-man doesn’t know how to relate to “beautiful women.” “With that fat ass she’s got, she wouldn’t be one of ‘em,” Imus said on the air Friday. “That skank has to spend three hours with makeup in the morning … Who’s she kidding? . . . Plus, she’s dumber than dirt … Oh, my God, what a pig. But I was willing to cut her some slack and not say anything, you know, until - in fact, I didn’t say anything . . . That’s why they have those big double-doors there at MSNBC, you know, so they can get her fat ass in makeup.” An MSNBC spokesman said: “Contessa Brewer is a valued and respected employee. While Don Imus’ humor is often brilliant and provocative, we believe that this morning’s comments about Contessa went over the line. We have expressed our displeasure to Don.”

All of these contradictions within the man himself as well as the various hypocrisies of his listeners, his guests, his corporate enablers, and his detractors and critics have made the Imus scandal a very uneasy story to use for a national discussion on race and gender.

Americans tend to want to engage in discussions in which the two sides are divided between black and white with no gray in between (forgive the color metaphor...perhaps that's another national conversation we can have about language?). Platitudes become the order of the day and meaningful dialogue gives way to self-aggrandizing back-slapping and meaningless cliche.

As such, Imus has been demonized as a racist thug akin to Goebbels (a little too harsh a criticism, I think), the Rutgers women's basketball team have been lauded as"the best this generation has to offer" (they have handled the controversy with grace and dignity, but how come they have to be "the best this generation has to offer?" Why can't they simply be people who handled the controversy with grace and dignity?) and many of us who have listened to Imus or appeared on his show over the years have turned on him only after the scandal turned into a Bonfire of the Vanities moment (and then made believe we have been "shocked, shocked" or "revulsed" to find that Imus and crew have been engaging in racist, misogynistic, homophobic humiliation humor.)

I will say one more thing about this Imus "firestorm." We will learn nothing from it despite the efforts of the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC et al. to say this a "teachable moment" that will help us change the coarseness of the culture and make the country a little less racist, misogynistic, homophobic and mean.

TV and radio people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Nancy Grace, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, et al. will continue to broadcast hate and anger while huge media and commercial conglomerations will make millions off of them.

BET will continue to program racist, misogynistic videos and rappers will continue to use racist, misogynistic, homophobic language in their music while huge media and commercial conglomerations will make millions off of them.

Nothing will change because there is too much money to be made off business as usual.

Nothing will change because there is an audience for racism, misogyny, homophobia and humiliation.

Nothing will change because we are ALL hypocrites and while Imus is long gone (and it's best that he is), you can bet the tone that his program took toward young African American women is not. Nor is the meanness and humiliation he and his crew regularly engaged in.

Ultimately, this "Imus firestorm" will in the end be all sound and fury signifying nothing. I think what has bothered me about it from almost the beginning is this media narrative that somehow we will all learn something about ourselves and start to change the way the nation goes about race and gender issues.

If the deaths of Katrina victims - largely poor and black - in such a horrible fashion on national television nearly two years could not change the conditions and dialogue about race and class in this country, the "Imus firestorm" will not change anything about race or gender either.

So let's stop making believe like it will, okay?

I'm not so pessimistic. I think the Imus controversy has opened up discussion. As for people being "shocked," you're right that the Imus guests and sponsors who claimed to be shocked are disingenuous. But the people like me who never listened to Imus and didn't know how bad he was (nor did I know anything about O'Reilly, Coulter etc before the internet) were shocked. I had had no idea. It's people like us who will take the initiative for the dialogue and discussion. Of course Imus' hardcore racist fans aren't going to be a part of that dialogue. But what people like me have is money and political involvement and media savvy. So it is possible for us to make a difference.

As for Katrina, I disagree that the disaster had no effect on public consciousness. On the contrary, I think it was the last nail in the coffin for Bush's popularity. I think what people took away from Katrina was the total incompetence and racism of the Bush regime. Katrina was a natural disaster not a pop culture phenomenon so I don't think ordinary people were responsible for it and that's why they don't feel guilty and didn't take it as a catalyst for a discussion about racism in society at large.
rbe, Thank You for not only the most intelligent ananysis I've heard, but the most intelligent analysis possible.

Have you considered, though, the possibility that Imus was thrown to the wolves not because he stepped on some black female toes, but some toes that are white, male and very powerful. Last fall, Imus' wife and her organization braced Joe Barton (R-TX) to stop holding up a bill to fund autism research. He gave his word (or so Imus said), but as soon as the votes were counted and his House seat safe, Barton reneged, saying it warranted further study. Imus whupped him like a red-headed step-child for a week or more for his perfidity. I can't remember whether Barton finally had to cave or not, but I can imagine that his backside stings to this day from the incident. It would not be beneath him and his friends to unleash the dogs when Imus blundered.

Barton, should the stench from his direction not have reached New York, is one of the staunchest of the Republicon (so spelled intentionally) hard-liners, and an advocate of repealing the 20th Century.
What you say about Katrina and Bush is quite true, Elizabeth. On the race or class issue, I don't see much of a change though. I would have hoped after all those awful scenes from New Orleans that we would have had that national discussion about the permanent underclass of poor people (many of whom are black.)

kicksiron, thanks for the kind words. I heard Imus go after Barton and I am a little familiar with the story. I'm not sure Barton was the reason why Imus was thrown to the wolves. It seems more likely to me that Imus had numerous enemies of all races, ethnicities, gender and backgrounds who wanted him gone. Imus pissed a lot of people off and insulted almost as many. I think that, coupled w/ the horrendous remark he made about the Rutgers women, did him in.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?