I'm a radio guy, and I've spent a good portion of my life studying broadcasters. Even back when I was a bleeding-heart liberal, I admired Rush Limbaugh's ability to command a microphone. I developed an appreciation Art Bell's talent for creating a late-night atmosphere, even though I think he's a kook. Even the execrable Howard Stern, as un-entertaining as I find him, has real broadcasting talent (underused though it may be).
But I've tried for years to figure out Don Imus' success, to no avail. He's a mushmouth. He says almost nothing; his cast of characters do most of the speaking while "the I-Man" merely grunts and mutters. He un-ironcally uses a "quack-quack" duck sound effect that sounds like something out of 1950's radio. I've never understood how this guy has been able to put together a nearly 40-year radio career at the pinnacle of the business.
That said, this latest controversy is utterly mystifying to me, to say the least. In case you've somehow missed it (although even Ted Kaczynski, were he free, would know about it by now), Imus is teetering on the edge of career ruin for comments he made about the Rutgers women basketball team. Today, a member of CBS's board of directors even said, "His remarks are so significant that I believe that the right outcome is for him to be terminated."
Wow. When I first heard the furor (in which his comments were described as "explosive," "racially charged," and "hateful"), I wondered what Imus must've said that had everyone so revved up. Did he make some kind of joke about slavery? Did he advocate lynching? Whatever it was, it had to be awful, judging by the fact that it was endlessly and heatedly being talked about on every program from Sean Hannity to ESPN Radio. And then I found out: he referred to the team as "nappy headed hos" during an on-air conversation.
This is the entirety of the earth-shattering exchange:
IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos ...Was it stupid or insensitive? I dunno. Kind of, I guess (though no more than anything else the guy's said in the last 40 years). If anything, it sounded lame to me, like making jokes about rich people named Biff and Buffy at the country club or something. I mean, forget hateful; how tired and uncreative is this exchange? (Incidentally, to be fair, we ought to ask where Imus got this phrase to begin with, since it's not as if he coined it himself. If we were to investigate that question, I think we would find that he actually picked up the phrase from the black community itself. This is not exactly lingo that was popularized by Bull Connor or the Klan. Who's to blame if there's confusion about what can and cannot be repeated?)
BERNARD MCGURK (Producer): Some hardcore hos.
IMUS: That's some nappy headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
But what I (and probably Imus himself) find confusing is that what Imus said probably wasn't even the tenth most offensive thing said that hour on morning radio in this country. The outrage seems purely arbitrary and manufactured, and I suspect it is. Whenever the time clock hits a certain point, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have to generate some anger in order to maintain their position as co-emperors of black America.
Not surprisingly, after a week of gasoline being poured on the fire, the Rutgers basketball team finally became persuaded that, yes, they have been mortally wounded and scarred by the comments and may never fully recover. (Said Rutgers' coach: "We have all been physically, mentally and emotionally spent--so hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus." All of this anguish over an addled old DJ uttering the phrase "nappy-headed hos.") How predictable was that? How shocking would it have been if one of these ladies had instead spoken up at the press conference and said, "Well, as a woman I wasn't too thrilled about it because nobody likes to be made to sound unattractive. But other than that, it just sounded like a guy spouting off because he didn't have anything better to say on some stupid radio show, and I just don't see it as that big a deal." And how empowering would it have been for whoever said it?
But instead, of course, everyone immediately went into deeply aggrieved mode, handing grizzled old Don Imus the power to ruin their lives with an offhand comment. Imus foolishly decided to subject himself to the death-by-ten-thousand-cuts of endless apologies, sit-downs, confrontations, sensitivity orientations, and excuses. I'll bet that the guy has no idea what hit him. He's thinking, "I've been saying this same stupid stuff for years--what happened all of a sudden?"
What he doesn't understand (but Ann Coulter does, despite her pantywaist critics even on the conservative side) is that apologies and explanations don't satisfy the perennially aggrieved because political correctness is about power. It's an attempt to dominate through the use of force. When someone like Imus or Michael Richards submits to the process, it's like blood in the shark tank. Ironically, the more Imus apologizes, the more wildly out of perspective the denunciations get. Far from satisfying the rage, it actually stirs it further. Indeed, the remarks actually were made early last week on Imus' program; only since his first abject apology on Friday did the story go nuclear. On the other hand, when someone like Coulter doesn't submit to this process and instead brushes it off with a dismissive wave, the aggrieved eventually get tired and move on to try to exert their power on a weaker target.
Is Imus an unfunny fossil? There's no doubt about it. Will this end his career? Who cares? Is he a racist? Maybe he is, maybe he isn't (though it would be pure idiocy to believe one could make such a judgement based on an incidental use of the well-worn rap phrase "nappy-headed hos"). But anyone who thinks this is the most degrading thing to happen to the African-American community even this week has never watched ten minutes of rap videos on BET. Anyone who thinks this is the most shocking thing said on talk radio this week has never listened to ten minutes of talk radio. And anyone who thinks this is about anything more than Sharpton and Jackson consolodating more power is ten chips short of a nacho platter.
Related Tags: Don Imus, Rutgers