I suspect most of us recall the rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Like much of what we’re force fed as children, Americans abandon the message in favor of political and social control. Other lessons are equally false, such as “all people are created equal” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or even “all good things come to those who wait”. American history literally overflows with adages we inflict on undeveloped brains to foster the illusion of a perfect country. It’s easier on the heart than the truth, but it’s misinformation, nonetheless.
Words have received a lot of media attention in the last few years. We’re so sensitive about certain words now that many of us refuse to utter the word, even in private situations, instead using “the N word” or “the F word”, as if there are invisible children in the room. Janet’s exposed nipple (which was actually covered, as you can see here) resulted in a national uproar, followed by the FCC raising fines from $32,500 to $325,000. They took advantage of the false rage that America spewed about the incident. Since then, punishment and censorship have skyrocketed. Piggy backing on those circumstances is this idea of morality, defined for the most part by the religious community and it’s passive aggressive partners, conservative Americans.
Don Imus is the latest target, following Kramer, Coulter, Hillary, Biden, etc., to be called to task for saying something offensive. His comment in reference to the female players at Rutgers has put him center stage for the next parade of disingenuous, false and pious moral propaganda, put forth not just by conservative Americans, but by what seems to be most of the country’s citizens. It also resulted in his termination. HERE is what he said. Insensitive and stupid? Absolutely. But is it more than that?
It’s hypocritical to put Imus through such a public flogging when words far more offensive than his are blasted from the damaged speakers of vehicles sharing their hip hop with the public at large. That’s just one of the ironies in all this. There are unending examples of American speech that may offend someone. It’s insane that Americans get teary over America while at the same time refuse to accept that living in a society with free speech means that we will all be offended not once, but over and over in the course of our citizenship. It’s one of the sacrifices you make to live in a free country, and we ought to be standing behind the right of free speech, not working together to control words and expressions.
There’s a much deeper influence at work here than the offensiveness of words. Americans have historically focused on image rather than substance. The reality is that many issues seem unmovable to us. Things like our government’s total ineptitude in getting anything substantial accomplished, like the prejudice and bigotry that runs rampant through our cities, like the war in Iraq, like the financial struggle of many Americans to simply hang on to their lives. We feel helpless so we focus on what we can within a unified support system. Look at how many Americans rushed in during the Terry Schaivo case, shouting that her husband was trying to kill her and that laws needed to be changed to protect people. Having been through a similar situation myself it was clear how wrong all of those people were, even before the fact that it was absolutely no one else’s business.
Watching Lou Dobbs discuss the Imus controversy, I lost so much of the respect I’d gained for him. I listened to him assert that America needs to agree on a common code of decency in our language, which means only one thing, censorship and the stripping of free speech. Every guest on his show said basically the same thing, with Lou and others stating how they came close to tears listening to the women of the team at Rutgers speak. I guarantee you every one of those women has heard much worse things come from others mouths. Still, they managed to achieve success in both studies and sports. To pretend that these women could be crushed by those few words Imus said is to ignore who they are and what they’ve accomplished. For any of us to assert that words can shatter an otherwise stable person is to foster that result, to encourage frailty. The real beast here is the media and a mass of complicit and hysterical Americans. Remember more of those clichés from childhood, such as “don’t let it get to you” or “take the high road", “turn the other cheek”… ?
Look at the controversy when Ann Coulter said faggot recently. Even the Advocate has begun to adopt the practice of using “the F word” instead of the word. For gay people to place emphasis on a word we’ve heard millions of times and have probably used ourselves is pure hypocrisy. Even if you’re offended by that word and never use it, trust me, you’re going to hear it at some point. Are we so fragile that we feel the need to ban words out of existence so we can leave the house every day?
One guest on the Dobbs show made a point of saying that so many people keep these kinds of feelings under wraps, so at least with Imus vocalizing it, he is revealed for who he is. There’s a good point there, although she reaches incorrect conclusions. Imus’s comments don’t necessarily reveal anything about his feelings toward black people, any more than the words of any hip hop singer reveals their core beliefs. But I’d much rather hear Bush or Limbaugh spewing hatefully specific words like faggot than listen to day after day of manufactured reality and total lies which are merely manipulations to control the opinion of the American public.
Al Sharpton plays a major role in this controversy, stating that the two week suspension of Imus, which came very quickly after the incident, and before his termination, was “too little, too late”. Recently I’d come to have a slightly different opinion of Sharpton, as he seemed much more rational than he has in the past. Seems he’s slipping back to his old ways, when he was at the false center of such things as the Tawana Brawley case. He pretty much wants Imus shipped off to another planet for what he said. Imus went on Sharpton’s radio show and while being read the riot act by both Sharpton and a caller, Imus said "I can’t get anywhere with you people", and was immediately jumped on by both Sharpton and the caller with “What do you mean, you people?” to which Imus responds to Sharpton, “You and this woman.” He could have easily been referring to the entire country that had sprung up against him, but Sharpton and the caller automatically assumed it was a racist remark. That small moment gives insight into how eager some black Americans are to fight.
This same group of black Americans have perfected this "uproar of offense". Today, it’s not enough to apologize, a person has to enter rehab or have their careers destroyed if they say something offensive. It’s disturbing to watch people who as a group have been abused for centuries by prejudiced and ignorant white people, pick up the microphone to insist others be condemned and sentenced at their will. Equal civil rights does not erase freedom of speech, in fact, it widens it’s scope. This was a stupid comment, not legislation.
We all need to grow up and realize that words are no more than that. It should not be unassociated Americans to demand someone be removed from their job because they don’t like what they said. Of course, the right to protest is just as sacred as free speech. But do we want to live in an America where the public at large, which haven’t proven themselves to be very bright in the first place (can you say George Bush?) decides what you or I can say and do? It only goes downhill from there, and very, very quickly.
Millions of FOX watching Americans joined Bill O’Reilly in boycotts against certain businesses, media outlets for the most part. If you visit Bill’s website and check out his Hall Of Shame , you’ll see he provides no explanation for the boycotts, other than he feels they distribute “false information”. A new list concerns child predators, and he states that those listed are “soft on child predators”. That means nothing without a detailed examination of those businesses, and guess what, Bill doesn’t provide it. He could put any business on that list and millions of FOX zombies would support it. And let me say, I watch O’Reilly on a pretty regular basis and I haven’t heard any truth come out of his mouth, so who’s really peddling “false information”?
Perhaps it’s our helplessness in this ever growing corrupt government sponsored corporate controlled country that makes us act out in ways such as this. We’ve always had a tribe mentality in this country, eagerly joining any mass opinion in order to feel a sense of belonging, even more so, a sense of exemption from big brother. If you can’t beat the egomaniacal and money hungry piranhas running America, maybe it’s better to join them. Sure, you’ll be part of the doing in of millions of others, but hey, at least you’ll get a membership card.
Let me pose an alternative situation. Let’s say Imus made his comments in reference to black female singers, or to black female comedians, or black female scientists, or black female executives. Would the reaction have been the same, if indeed there would have been any reaction at all? Or is the fact that these women are athletes, in the unbelievably obsessive universe of American sports, that’s really playing a much bigger part here? Sports might as well be a religious institution in America, it’s treated with that much reverence. Even more so, religion is losing a lot of ground in this country, while sports gets bigger and broader. America has an unhealthy worship of athletes.
What about when Bill O’Reilly called Mexicans "wetbacks" on the air on his show? Or when Limbaugh made his comments about Michael J Fox ? Or a multitude of words that have come from the mouth of Howard Stern? Or almost every word that resonates from FOX ? I could list thousands of nasty or ignorant comments made over the airwaves by just as many people. The KKK is still alive and well in America, as well as neo-nazis. We’re waging a war on a country that never attacked us. The list of obscenities and inequities put forth at the hand of Americans is literally endless. And this comment by Don Imus is what we choose to focus on? Imus being fired isn’t what I have a problem with. That is certainly their right. But I think a valid question would be why fire a man now who has made numerous offensive remarks over the years with no real consequence?
Alec Baldwin comes to thoughtful conclusions in his column on the web. Another blog hits the nail on the head, pointing out it’s insane to believe Imus was literally calling these women prostitutes. In a culture where the word “ho” pretty definitively can refer to any woman at all, the assumption is ludicrous. A reading of this blog discusses forgiveness, which is almost always absent from those black Americans who so aggressively attack those they choose to condemn on the basis of racism.
Imus didn’t do anything violent, like rape anyone, and ironically, neither did the white boys at Duke, since they were declared innocent of all charges. It was finally admitted to a public that already knew if they paid any attention, that this case was totally mishandled. Part of the blame lies with the black Americans who were instantly and aggressively eager to judge and pass sentence, despite the obvious flaws in the case. Check out these two videos, both moderated by Michelle Malkin, the first on the topic of hip hop lyrics and the second an interview with the leader of the New Black Panthers, who stepped in the moment the Duke men were accused and has publicly condemned them ever since. The Duke case interview takes place after the announcement of innocence, and Shabazz, leader of the Panthers, still says defiantly that the men are guilty. If you know the case at all you know how completely false it was. I never agree with Malkin, but she’s right on this one.
Much of the conversation going on after Imus’s firing purports that this incident opens the eyes to the racism in America, and can be a tool to start making changes to our society. Amazing. Anyone who thinks that the censorship of words is the way to address racism doesn’t understand either issue. Think about this. It’s 2007 and gay Americans, all evidence on our side, still don’t have equal civil rights in this country. In over 30 states you can fire someone for being gay. But a stupid comment that didn’t do any real damage was enough to galvanize a swift campaign to end a man’s career. Is it because it’s racial? What about calling someone a “fat, dirty blonde ho” or a “ignorant and liberal ho”? What about “retard” or “bastard”? What categories are we going to choose to unconditionally support?
Let’s be clear about this. So many people are saying in their condemnation of Imus that people don’t have the right to spew words that are hurtful to others. What? In America we absolutely have that right, and all of us have likely exercised it throughout our lives, from the schoolyard to the highways to public spaces. How is it that people can confuse “shouldn’t” with “can’t”? Of course we shouldn’t say hurtful things to each other, but that’s far and away from stating that we can’t say them. Not recognizing that line is evidence of an incredibly dangerous lack of insight.
None of it makes sense to me. I waited, watching more and more of the coverage, hoping to see someone, anyone, stand up and oppose the outrage. A little of that came by after Imus’s firing, but by and large, Americans shouted out in agreement that what Imus did was so reprehensible it simply could not be tolerated. As a gay person, who’s been called names his entire life, and continues to be called names on national television and radio on a daily basis in America, I assumed we all had thicker skins by now.
One black American said on the Anderson Cooper show, one of the very few with an opposing voice, “The President of the United States could say something nasty about me today and television and I’d still wake up tomorrow a happy person.” That’s the right thing to say, the mature thing to say and the forward thinking thing to say. Why didn’t anyone else say it? Why didn’t anyone stand up and say just what our mother’s taught us when we were children, that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? You don’t make things better by condemning and possibly legislating “hurtful” words.
We all know where censorship leads, and it’s not the America we were promised.