Thursday, April 12, 2007

More on Imus

Well, MSNBC dropped Imus and CBS Radio says they're keeping him on. Maybe his income will drop from 10 million a year down to only 8 million or so. That'll teach him.

The blog world isn't as fixated on Imus as cable news shows are, but we're still talking about it.

Ed Brayton compares Imus to rap singers.
However, there are two other aspects of the situation that have gotten a lot of attention. One is that it is hypocritical of some people to criticize Imus for using a phrase like that while praising rappers who call women the same thing and worse in virtually every rap song. Dead on accurate. And it's been disappointing to me to see even some otherwise intelligent people not grasping this idea.

Ed thinks he's getting it right, but he's not. Song lyrics are basically a form of fiction. References in song lyrics aren't to individual people, they are references to fictional people, to things that are in the mind, not flesh and blood. Imus might have used the same words that some gangsta-rap singers use, but there's a big difference in that Imus directed his words at specific, identifiable, individual people. That makes it very different.

I agree with him in the other part of his complaint.
The other aspect is the inevitable spectacle of watching Imus prostrate himself before, of all people, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Of all people, we're going to listen to Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson about saying racially insensitive things? We're going to have to say penance to a shabby race pimp like Al "Please don't bring up Tawana Brawley" Sharpton? It's long since past time that we stopped paying attention to these men. There are serious civil rights leaders who deserve our respect and whose counsel we should keep in situation like this; Jackson and Sharpton are not among them.

Alec Baldwin actually makes what I think is a somewhat rational observation,
Imus is an entertainer. He is not Tim Russert. In order to appeal to a crowd that is a notch or two above Hannity's, however, he must combine a bit of Russert to his persona. He must walk a line between informed, reliable broadcaster and witty madman. Jon Stewart walks that line effectively, or one similar to it. Letterman walks it better than anyone. Intelligent, yet free. Sometimes even loopy, but always in a controlled way.

Imus said something that sounded racist without really being a racist. His only crime was that he didn't walk that line very carefully. And that's his job. Don't fire Imus because he's racially insensitive. His employers should have let his audience decide that. But, perhaps, fire him because his talent is diminishing. Imus was once one of the smartest guys in radio. Maybe he's just another radio host now. Like when the Jayson Blair scandal made people realize that the New York Times had, basically, become just another newspaper. Imus isn't a bad guy. He's just not the old Imus anymore. He's no longer that guy who always keeps that line in the corner of his eye.

Ann Althouse seems to think that Imus is holding too many racist thoughts in his head.

Now, Imus wasn't drunk, but he was doing ad lib comedy. How can you do that but to let go of the inhibitions that allow ordinary people to function in social situations? He's got to take that risk to give a comic performance. But what comes out must in some way be in there. He's funny -- when he is -- because he's got a mix of interesting things in his head, some of which are the bad and unkind thoughts that may make us laugh because they are things that we hold in too.

Okay, so maybe Imus is racist, maybe not. I really don't think that even matters. Apparently neither does Ann.

We are all flawed, and we do need our comedians. We should talk back and express outrage about some things, but when is the censuring too much? How long must a man abase himself and apologize? How much do we want to see a man grovel?

I'm starting to get sick of the cable news talking heads going on and on about how this is an opportunity to have a public dialogue about race relations in this country. Nonsense. This Imus stuff pretty much ensures we won't have such a dialogue. You can't have a dialogue when one side of the conversation is constrained in a way where their number one concern is not saying something that might offend somebody.

If we really want to have a dialogue we need to start ignoring some of the thin-skinned twits that yell for firing everyone that offends somebody.

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