Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Not in Mourning over Imus in the Morning
I first listened to Don Imus in the spring of 1988. I was living in New Jersey and listening to a lot of New York Mets games on WFAN out of New York. One night, I fell asleep with the radio still on. The next morning, I awakened to the dulcet tones of Imus and his crew of misfits. Even 19 years ago, he sounded like a grouchy old man. He was obnoxious, rude, and rarely had a good thing to say about anyone or anything. When I finally put a face to the voice, I thought he certainly looked the part. He was 47 at the time.
I've caught Imus' shtick off and on (mostly off) ever since. In a way, he’s aged well, but I suspect this has more to do with the fact that the human face can only look so wrinkled and weather-beaten. I think he reached the visibility limits with respect to “mileage” quite a few years ago.
His program certainly became more political, but it was still largely the a.m. (both in terms of time and frequency) ramblings of an unrepetentant curmudgeon. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the MSNBC simulcast of his show. This is mainly the principle of the thing. I refuse to watch a “television program” that is, essentially, a bunch of cameras rolling while a radio program is being broadcast. Anyway, the point is that I’m pretty familiar with “Imus in the Morning”.
I was a little bit surprised when I heard that he’d made racially disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.
I was more surprised when I learned that he’d been suspended for two weeks by both MSNBC and CBS Radio. I think their response was “appropriate” by definition. He’s their employee, and, in matters like this, they make the rules. I just thought that Imus had enough clout to avoid a suspension.
I have not been at all surprised by the tone and tenor of the ongoing debate over all of this.
I knew that I would soon be subjected to water cooler debates over why it’s “o.k.” for an African-American entertainer to make derogatory statements about black women, while a white male gets into trouble for doing the same thing. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m going to hear calls for his head from people who I’ve heard make statements that make Imus’ look mild by comparison.
Look, context is everything. If comedian Chris Rock walks into P.J. Carney’s in New York City and tells the joke about an Irish seven-course meal's being a six-pack and a boiled potato, I would expect some of the patrons to respond differently than they would if comedian Denis Leary did the same thing. By the same token, yes, Tom Joyner might have been able to make the “nappy-headed ho’s” comment without sparking much, if any, controversy. What is usually ignored is the fact that no one should really be making statements like this in the first place!
"Double standards" always have existed when it comes to things like this, and they always will. One’s racial and ethnic identity can, absent evidence to the contrary, enable one to get the benefit of the doubt in terms of intent when it comes to making certain statements. It can work the other way, as well. This is also true in terms of other aspects of our “identities”, as well. I can call a sibling an idiot as often as I like. That being said, I will probably not take too kindly to such a label being applied to him or her by someone outside of the family. I tell more New Jersey jokes than most people, but that doesn’t mean I’ll appreciate it if someone from, say, Ohio starts talking about the “Garbage State”.
Imus’ remarks were stupid and insensitive. Guess what, he has a 30-year history of making stupid and insensitive comments in an attempt at being funny. I don’t listen to him much anymore, but I actually hope he keeps his job. Like the famous W.C. Fields quote regarding prejudice, Imus seems to hate everyone pretty much equally. He's also raised a lot of money for some very good causes. From a personal standpoint, I know that if he does get fired over this, the water cooler conversations will only get worse.
Come what may, though, I know that Imus will come out looking no more careworn than he did before the whole firestorm erupted.