Sunday, April 15, 2007

The next step, rethought

In an earlier post, I suggested that the Don Imus affair might provide the impetus for a re-examination of the way in which black women have been regarded in the media. In this, I was hardly alone, nor even the first to express the idea.

Others saw a broader issue: the way in which we talk about each other in general. Is there a difference between Don Imus' stupid remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team and the homophobia of Russ Limbaugh, the xenophobia of Glenn Beck or the ravings of Ann Coulter? No, no, and no, except that Imus got his comeuppance for his maundering.

On further thought, I suspect that I was mistaken in viewing the Imus contretemps as the start of a national discussion about how we talk about one another. It now seems that this incident is part of a revulsion at incivility that started--as usual--among "ordinary" Americans before the media noticed. Its most clear expression to date was not have Imus's demise, but the November 2006 election. Voters there turned their backs not only on Bush's policy in Iraq, but on a political style that assumes a monopoly on truth and good.

So Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter and their ilk will continue their smirking bigotry but they, like Don Imus and George W. Bush, are part of the past.

The same, I suspect, is true of those rap and hip-hop artists I wrote about--although being totally ignorant of what passes for music these days, I can speak from a vantage point of absolutely no authority.

For someone who does speak with authority, take a look at Russ Mitchell's CBS interview with Maya Angelou, who takes on the rap and hip-hop artists I spoke of in my earlier post. She is magnificent.


Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed that TONE has jettisoned his civil liberties credentials to run with the politically correct crowd. It used to be a tenet of civil libertarians that the remdy for bad speech was good speech. Not anymore. As Nat Hentoff titled his book, "Free Speech for Me, but not for Thee," the remedy for words we don't want to hear is to deprive the speaker of his platform.

Am I the only who did not hear (and I did listen) disrespect for the Rutgers women's basketball team in Imus' comment? Irreverence, to be sure, but in the same way a talk show host might welcome a Samuel L. Jackson or a Wesley Snipes as a "bad motherfucker." Imus seemed to be saying, this is a scrappy bunch of players you wouldn't want to mess with, albeit in gangsta rap fashion. Most basketball teams would take this as kind of a compliment; nobody would mistake it for a comment on their sex lives.

I didn't have to listen to Imus in the morning; now I'm stuck listening to Al Sharpton in the evening as he elbows his way onto the news. We all have our empty, disrespectful blowhards, why can't we choose the one we want to listen to?

And, TONE, please swear by the ghost of Lenny Bruce that you will never again justify censorship by reference to "incivility."

The Old New Englander said...

There are certain norms in public discourse in any society. In ours, the norms have too often deteriorated to the point where the discourse almost disappears and all we are left with is screeching.

The fact is, words do matter. We may teach our children that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," but that is a lie. Words hurt, often more than sticks and stones. And words arouse passions: love, anger, disgust, hate, even self-hate.

It's one thing to say that Don Imus or Snoop Dog or Ann Coulter are free to spew garbage; it's quite another to say that they should be paid fortunes and provided with a loud megaphone to do so. If I owned a broadcasting network or a recording company, none of those people would get any work or money from me. And I am more likely to support companies that don't employ such people than companies that do. It's my free choice, just as it is the companies'.

This is most emphatically NOT censorship. Censorship is enacted in law. I've never called for censorship and I trust that I never shall.

Raising the level of public discourse does not mean silencing voices; it means convincing participants that a level of civility works to the advantage of all of us.