Have you heard about Imus saying racist things? If you haven't, you haven't been paying attention. Here's my opinion: Don Imus is a racist, misogynist, entitled middle aged white male. His voice is grating, his takes predictable and for some reason I've never understood, people like listening to him. To me, he's a relic of the halcyon days when men came home to a martini, their dogs brought them the paper and their kids put on their slippers. Ah, the good old days when women and blacks, and little people generally, knew their places. Don Imus says naughty things that used to be considered conventional wisdom. He used to be shocking, not for the content, but because he was bold enough to say what people were thinking. Now he's shocking because most people don't agree with what he's saying, but find it interesting that he' ll still say it. Imus shares audio space with many other outrageous talk show hosts.
Have you ever listened to Howard Stern? When I was in New York, he was all the rage. The guys from Long Island loved him, man, and so I decided to figure out what I was missing. The most politically-correct, smelly, progressive socialist friend I've ever had loved Howard. "He's a comic genius, Melissa. You have to hear him to understand him." So I listened. I got it. He's the young, frustrated white male's guilty pleasure. Thumbing his nose at what is good and decent and politically correct, Stern dares people to define boundaries. He says the dirty words a politically correct guy can't say. He does to women and minorities what a politically correct white guy can't do. He's an auditory catharsis.
Have you listened to Michael Savage? Extreme rhetoric, history lessons and incoherent free associations make for schizophrenic radio. His narcisstic rants, his perpetual kvetching about impending cultural doom remind me of the weird guy with the placard running around the town square yelling,"The end is near! The end is near!" They are always right--the end will come eventually. Sprinkled through his apocolyptic analysis are doses of Bush bashing, gay bashing, progressive bashing, bash, bash, bash.
Have you listened to/watched Rosie O'Donnell? Misinformed, shrill, brash and bold, she authoritatively spouts invective and everyone listens. In New York, they applaud. She makes ching-chong jokes, she calls out "Christianists" and equates them to Islamists offending most of America, and she rolls on her merry way.
Is America to the point where the envelope pushers are to be silenced? Some say that Imus' problem was his direct critique of specific players. I read Marcus Mabry's point of view describing this episode:
Frankly, I don’t care if Imus is a racist. Racists and racism are a part of life. What is significant is that Imus’s brand of offensive racist, sexist and homophobic humor has been accepted by the mainstream for years. Imus did not trot out his harshest caricatures when establishment journalists were on, engaging them instead in playful—sometimes playfully abusive—banter and substantive discussion about foreign policy, politics or social issues. What the denouement of the Imus controversy will show is whether the standard of acceptable speech has changed.Where, except for by entertainers, has the standard of acceptable speech not changed? Anything said by these shock jocks, save Rosie, would garner immediate disapproval and/or firing in the real world. No one dares utter the unspeakables--not just words, but ideas, theories, or science. America is good and thoroughly politically correct.
For those intent on saving the public's baby ears from offensive everything: Who gets to decide the "standard for acceptable speech"? You?
I've listened to Howard Stern and been alternatively horrified and amused. He is sly and cunning in his speech. Underneath, he's angry. Aren't all the shock jocks/comedians angry? Isn't that part of it? Humor is revealing the tragedy of humanity and laughing at it. What guy in his teens and twenties isn't obsessed about sex and kinda pathetic because of it? Ultimately, in Stern's case he's making fun of himself and men in general. But that's not to excuse his degrading excess. He is still playing "Butt Bongo" after all. Pathetic. Gross. Juvenile. And he's free to do it. And I'm free to listen. Or not. I choose "not."
My overarching concern is for a culture that values correctness over freeness. The same people who will defend to the death pornography and the right to produce it, will condemn a shock jock's speech and demand censorship. But the argument is the same: people are free to change the channel.
Would the people up in arms about Imus' racist comment demand that a serious, misogynist Islamic leader spouting female subordination and death to classic Western values be fired? Somehow I doubt it. That's why Rosie can get away with what she is saying, but Imus or Stern can't get away with what they say. The irony is at least there is a chance that Imus and Stern are being satirical. Rosie is deadly serious. And I haven't seen evidence that Islamists are conversant with any types of humor--humor requires at least some self-awareness.
Those intent on silencing voices, even nasty voices, worry me. Who are they to decide what is or is not acceptable? Why should one group be allowed to decide what's okay? The problem with censoring speech is that invariably only certain offensive speech gets filtered because what's offensive to one isn't to another.
As for those who go on Imus' show or Stern's show, I wonder and have always wondered, what the hell they were thinking. You're either bound to look like an idiot or you're associated with Butt Bongo. Who wants that? Well, lots of people, evidently, and it does say something about them. We are known by the company we keep.
We are also known by the radio we listen to, I guess. Or, are we just trying to stay informed and balanced? I listen to NPR, the 80's station, the pop station, Laura Ingrahm (when I have a chance), and bits and pieces of Rush, Savage (I'm tired of Sean Hannity) and financial guys here and there. And when my kids and husband force me, I listen to the Christian music station. I figure I'm smart enough to sort it all out and other Americans are too.