Friday, April 13, 2007

More On Imus

Read that aloud. Heh. I hope that this is my last post on Imus, because the way the public debate seems to work on these issues is by confusing what was initially a quite clear understanding into ladlefuls of the "he-said-she-said" soup. This is not how the debate should work, of course, but too often this is exactly how it works.

Here is an example of the types of additions which cast no further light on the issue: I've heard that we shouldn't punish Imus for one bad quip, that doing so is politically correct and nazilike. But then I've heard that we shouldn't punish Imus NOW because he has been passing the same turds for decades without being punished. See how the conclusion is the same even though the initial setups were opposite?

Then there is the "Bobby did it, too!" appeal of all children, and in this case it states that if some black rappers do it we shouldn't punish Imus and Imus wasn't really racist because the same things are said within the black community. For this argument to work at all, the sexism in Imus's comments must be ignored, which means that we must assume that black men can call black women hos if they so wish. - Though I must admit that the "Bobby did it, too!" argument is also being used by those who defend the misogynistic language of rap music. I don't really care who invented the word "ho". I just want it not used in a misogynistic sense now. And pleasepleaseplease, can we have more black women opining on all this in the media?

Add to all this the attempts to turn the debate into one about misogyny in rap and hip-hop. Now, talking about misogyny in those musical genres and in popular music in general is important and deserves the kind of attention this Imus debacle has had. But not as a substitute for talking about what Imus did. And it isn't the case that people have been giving rappers a free pass on their misogyny. The topic just hasn't excited the star pundits enough to be noticed. This makes me think that those who push the rap discussion right now are doing it to exonerate Imus.

I don't want to do that. Imus has been at this for a very long time, as this article about a mid-1990s post by the late Lars-Erik Nelson shows, and he has still been feted by the inside circle:

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) came to the Senate floor with
a look of sad concern on his face. He was deeply troubled, he said, at the vulgar, morally repugnant content of the new TV season. "We are lowering the standards of what is acceptable in our society and we are sending a message to our children," he said. He denounced an "acceptance of rude language, foul imagery and gross behavior in the entertainment mainstream."

Then, warning parents who might be watching on C-SPAN to move their little children away from the TV sets, Lieberman cited a few of the outrages: On ABC's "Wilde Again," a character asks to be called "Daddy's little whore." Another ABC program showed an upraised middle finger. CBS' "Bless This House" used the phrase "little hooters" in reference to a girl's breasts. "Profoundly disturbing," Lieberman intoned. "Sophomoric."

Funny thing: The previous morning, Lieberman had been a guest, as is his regular custom, on the Don Imus radio show on WFAN, a program that seems to get the bulk of its yuks from penis references.

If you have never heard the Imus show, listen in. It is a cross between an endless infomercial and a bunch of 8-year-olds telling doo-doo jokes into a tape recorder. It is rescued only by increasingly rare moments of inspired, hilarious brilliance.

Tune in any morning and you'll hear Imus or one of his sidekicks joking about having "lipstick on the dipstick" and much worse. This is nationwide morning radio.

He's been dancing (or tottering) on the edge, and his supporters have been applauding his brilliance. Only this time he chose go a little too close to the edge and fell over. It's not kosher, even in today's fundamentalist America, to call young women playing college basketball nappy-haired hos, when these young women did nothing to hurt Imus, had no political power and were in general acting out the accepted version of the American dream. This is pretty much the consensus, and we should not forget it.

Now step back a little, and ask what it is that we are not really debating in this great Imus-debacle. We are not debating the context (watch the video on the site) in which Imus's comment came. It started with him making fun of the idea that women could play basketball at all, and it continued with essentially rating the fuckability of the two teams in the championship match. It then turned into the "nappy-haired hos" statement.

This context seems to me to consist of first ridiculing women's athletic abilities, then their right to be seen as anything but sexual objects for men like Imus, and then putting the black women into their even lower place as nothing but frightening whores.

Now, this is not how Imus spoke, of course. He spoke in code. But the reason he expected his audience to appreciate the code is that he believed them to agree with him on all those matters. It is this that should be the talking point in the debates, much more than whether certain things can be said or not and by whom.
Added later: Did Keith Olbermann ever give Imus the Worst Person award, by the way?