Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Imus, Offense and The All Mighty Dollar

I've listened to Don Imus many times over the years and the truth be told have often enjoyed his program.   It felt more adult than Howard Stern, and there was a brutal honesty to it that I found refreshing in the all too frequently prepackaged world of media.  But, there was also an undercurrent that often left me feeling uneasy: A certain meanness to it.   When Imus opened his mouth and made the now famous (and incredibly stupid, racist and misogynist) remarks at the expense of the Rutgers women's basketball team, I was not surprised.

Like so many before him, his mouth cost him his job.

I don't know if Don Imus is a racist.  My gut tells me no, at least not in the way that most of us think of someone being a racist.  More likely, Imus is a reflection of the majority of the population.  We are by nature a species that figures out our world by making discreet judgements through our perceived experiences.  We are also a social species that shares our perceptions with one another.  And these days it's to a voyeuristic extreme.

The problem is that sometimes we get it wrong.

The consequences too often are hurtful stereotypes.  Sometimes they come out through humour and I have heard far too many educated people, including people whom I greatly admire, make a joke at the expense of a group that was different from their own.  In my heart of hearts, I believe that this is what Don Imus was doing. It's easy when you don't belong to a group not to understand how the words and all their underlying history hurt.

Sadly, this incident is endemic of a larger problem.

While I am a staunch supporter of freedom of speech and first amendment rights, I think we have to acknowledge that the expression of these rights have outcomes that do not always serve our societal interests well.   The most far reaching perhaps, seems to be a radical shift in what is defined as normal.  What twenty years ago would have been considered outrageous and unacceptable, by today's standards is often pedestrian.

The result that I have most noticed is a breakdown of civility and basic manners.

If you don't believe me, think about how many times you've watched someone change lanes without signaling, had them complain when you didn't respond to their e-mail within a couple of hours, or worse yet, overheard the most private of cell phone conversations in of all places, the bathroom.

When we're willing to discuss anything, anywhere, are Imus' comments really so surprising?

The question is what are we going to do about it?  Are we ready and willing to shed some of the avarice's of our no holds barred society?  Are we willing to turn off the e-mail?  How about the cell phone?  Or reality TV?  Do we dare go gently into that goodnight?

The answer as CBS and NBC so showed us is, yes.  But only if the advertisers pull out.

Until then, expect very little to really change.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,

We have a suggestion for your next article. How about something like, "stop looking for people to blame when bad things happen." Like the blaming of the VT administration over the shootings.

Chris and Tim

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, John, you are so right. As always. I reckon we haven't seen the last of the I-man, but meanwhile, I feel bad for the people connected with his show who were taken down by his mouth.

8:55 PM  

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