Thursday, April 12, 2007

Brief for the defense of Mr. Imus... sort of

Warning: There is language in this post that you may (and should) consider offensive.

This is Don Imus. Somehow during recent presidential election cycles he acquired some sort of national prominence because he interviewed candidates on his morning radio program. I was vaguely aware of Mr. Imus and understood that his radio show was heard in New York. I have since read that he had been syndicated on a number of radio stations in different markets, although not in Chicago. In addition, until yesterday, Mr. Imus' program was also simulcast on the MSNBC cable television network.

He's lost that TV gig now because of some amazingly racist, stupid comments regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team, a team that played, and lost to Tennessee in the recent NCAA Women's Championship game. Late this afternoon, CBS announced it had fired Imus, too.

Mr. Imus realized the enormity of his blunder -- which was apparently a spectacularly poor attempt at humor -- shortly after he first made the remarks. His multiple apologies were not accepted. Instead, notables such as the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton agitated for his firing.

You won't have to search far on the Internet for detailed accounts of prior instances in which the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton have used offensive language. But the fact the Mr. Imus' critics have themselves on occasion fallen short of the standard to which they would hold Mr. Imus does not provide Mr. Imus with any defense, nor does it excuse Mr. Imus on this occasion.

Mr. Imus referred to the women athletes on the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."

I am uncertain if there is a standard way of rendering the plural of the slang word "ho," but I am entirely certain of the derivation of the word: It comes from the word "whore." This is not a nice word.

It is, however, a word in altogether too common usage. See, for example, U.S. v. Murphy, 406 F.3d 857, 859, n. 1 (7th Cir. 2005):
The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies.”
The meaning of this ugly word "ho" has been apparently been expanded, in some circles, to include women generally -- or at least to women who may not have saved themselves for marriage. (See the various definitions of "ho" in the Urban Dictionary if you require confirmation -- but, be advised, a visit to that site can quickly become unpleasant and disturbing.) Nevertheless, even if "ho" could be translated as meaning all women, it still could not be considered as anything other than hostile and misogynist.

News accounts of the Imus controversy have made it clear that the entire comment was offensive, not just the word "ho." But I recall the hit song from the late 1970's, "I Wish," by Stevie Wonder: "Looking back on when I/Was a little, nappy-headed boy/And my only worry/Was for Christmas what would be my toy...." That's not an expression I would feel comfortable using -- but I don't know that it falls within the same category as "ho" -- and I recall no particular controversy arising from Stevie Wonder's use of the term.

The bottom line here is that Mr. Imus' comments are stupid, certainly, and uncalled for, and not funny.

But given the low standards of modern day society, are they so far out of line that it should have cost the man his job?

To evaluate that, I went to the Billboard Singles Charts. From there, I did a quick "lyrics" search on some of today's current hits.

For those of you who remember when Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes" was censored, please take a tranquilizer before proceeding....

Here are some of the lyrics to today's No. 5 hit, "This is Why I'm Hot," a little ditty by a very humble young man by the name of Mims:

This is why I’m hot, I don’t gotta rap
I could sell a mill, sayin’ nothing on the track
I represent New York, I got it on my back
Niggaz say that we lost it, so I’ma bring it back
I love the Dirty Dirty, cause niggaz show me love
The ladies start to bounce as soon as I hit the club
But in the Midwest, they love to take it slow
So when I hit that shit, I watch ’em (get it on the flo’)
And if you need it hyphy, I’ll take it to the Bay
’Frisco to Sac-Town, they do it everyday
Compton to Hollywood, soon as I hit LA
I’m in the low-low, I do it the Cali way....

Even I understand that it might be unfair to look at one 'song' and generalize from there. So, I looked up the lyrics to the current number one song. "Give It to Me" is a collaborative effort by an entity referred to as "Timbaland Featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake." Mr. Timberlake was once prominent in a "boy band" known as 'N Sync and was more recently famous for exposing Janet Jackson's pasty during a recent Super Bowl. The following lyric, however, is part of Ms. Furtado's contribution to the recording:

I'm the type of girl that'll look you dead in the eye (eye)
I'm real as they come if you don't know why im fly-y-y-y-y
seen ya try to switch it up but girl you ain't got to
I'm the wonderwoman let me go get my ropes
I'm a supermodel and mummy, si mummy
amnesty international got bankrupt (im on top, on lock)
you love my ass and my abs and the video called promiscuous
my style is miticulous-s-s-s-s

Who says that love songs have gone out of fashion? At least the "n-word" is not used.

We could go down the entire hit parade, but it would only reinforce the conclusion that you have already reached, namely, that the reputations of Messrs. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne et al. will not be diminished by any song likely to become popular in the immediate future.

We come, at last then, to my feeble defense of Mr. Imus: Why is it that he is singled out for his crude and insensitive remarks when crude and insensitive are apparently the twin pillars of modern popular culture? Are words like the ugly words that Mr. Imus used only wrong when they are spewed by a scary-looking, over-age white guy with hair that would embarrass even Donald Trump -- but OK if they are used in a rap 'song'? Why?

I do not condone Mr. Imus' remarks -- but the words he used in his feeble attempt at humor are apparently not beneath current contemporary standards.

I wonder, indeed, if anything is.

If firing Mr. Imus were the beginning of a trend to clean up the filth which passes for modern 'culture' I might say hooray. But will the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now move on to challenge the gangsta rappers and their corporate purveyors? Can I look forward to publishing lyrics from Top 10 songs on my blog in future without a "warning" label? Will our kids be inspired by the firing of Mr. Imus to delete from their iPods all the 'rhymes' with undeleted expletives celebrating drugs, crime and loveless sex?


Then perhaps Mr. Imus was unfairly singled out.

The defense rests.


Dave said...

I'd like to see the reply brief. Imus should have hired you early in the week.

Where fibers meet mud said...

I agree with you 100%. I have no clue as to why the lyrics of todays songs are popular when all they are is smut. I watch Imus - I know he is an equal opportunity abuser and with that said I very seldom if ever took any comment he made with much seriousness.

My wonder is this: Have the Rutgers team listened to the lyrics of the songs you pasted up there? Are they offended by them too? I surely am offended.

Cheeze O'Pete....

Hilda said...

If you look on my blog you'll see that I am ambivalent about this issue. I don't only see this as a an example of racisim I also see it as an example of sexism. Basically, IMO, Imus is a jerk and public repudiation against him has been a long time coming.

I think the main reason there is such an uproar over Imus' comments now versus the idiocies he's said in the past is the targets. In the past he has spewed his vitirol against public figures such as politicians and journalists. In this case he attacked an exemplary group of young women, achievers not only in sports but academically as well. They did absolutely nothing to warrant what Imus said.

The issue about this sort of language in rap and hip hop music is vexing to me as well.

I understand the concept of "taking back" the "N" word and "owning" it. I think it was a well-intentioned idea that back-fired. I think it has caused more harm than good.

Now as to Imus' suspension and ultimate termination - I am, as I wrote, ambivalent. On the one hand I'm glad he got his comeuppance, as I said, I think he was due. But on the other hand, I am disturbed by media conglomerates silencing someone because they disagree or are embarrassed by what was said. That leaves us staring down the proverbial slippery slope.

Was he unfairly singled out? I don't think so - Michael Richards, Mel Gibson and Isaiah Washington have recently been, IMO justifiably, criticized strongly for slurs against Blacks, Jews and homosexuals respectively.

There were calls for Washington's termination from "Gray's Anatomy" but ultimately he entered "rehab" and apparently the issue was resolved. Unfortunately for Imus, major advertisors pulled their ads from his shows.

Should advertisors not have the right to disassociate themsleves from someone with whose behavior they take issue? Likewise, do the networks not have the right - or the responsibioity - to protect their business?

As I said on my blog - this is not a simple issue.

landgirl said...

Well, Cur, I appreciate your well-reasoned argument, but today I am feeling more like the Red Queen than a QC, so I think the only solution is to have no one say anything at all until it has first been vetted by me, and if I don't like it, Then "Off with their heads," to prevent any second attempts.

Anonymous said...

It's 'easy target' syndrome.

He deserved to go, but as you say there's plenty more to choose from.

Nappy must mean something else in the states, here it means 'diaper' so the insult is a little lost on me.

Patti said...

I certainly don't condone what Mr. Imus said, but he has been saying all kinds of stuff on his radio and TV shows forever. Since the early 70s.
That's where the moniker "shock jock" originated. If you don't like it, change the station.
I start to worry a bit about future witch hunts by Messrs. Jackson and Sharpton, neither of whom are paragons of virtue, for sure.

The broadcast execs had to make a business decision after all the major advertisers pulled out.

It's all about the money and keeping the stockholders happy.

Mother Jones RN said...

I'm with you on this one, Counsellor. Imus should have his mouth washed out with soap, but so should everyone else that uses that kind of language. I remember when Bill Cosby told the Black community about his feelings concerning the state of Black youth in America. Many Black leaders went nuts, and admonished Mr. Cosby for his statements. What are these leaders saying? Is it OK for rappers and gang bangers to use fowl language because they are Black? Seriously, I'm trying to figure out the message.


MommasWorld said...

******Warning this contains extream vulgarity*****

I have heard Imus on the radio since I was too young to drive. There were times my mother would elbow dad letting him know it was time to change the station when Imus got out of hand.

Imus along with "Grease Man" are fired on a nearly regular basis for their "Shock Jock" radio style. When I hear either of them have been fired it doesn't upset me. I know they will soon be back on the air.

I do have to say one of Grease Man's comments were way over the top of any I have heard from anyone else. He was fired for the comment but on the air the next week. What was this comment? It was years ago but it was so horrid I still remember. It was on Martin Luther King's Birthday. "Lets kill four more so we can have the whole week off."

Anonymous said...

By now you've probably seen Chris's post on this; but just in case...
There's also a point here that I myself would have missed had Chris not highlighted it: If the very same remark had been made by a black man; there would have been no furor. The ladies of the Rutgers team *should* feel insulted, no matter WHO said that, but I'm betting every last nickel I have that if the same remark had been made on a radio or tv show hosted by an African-American, no one would have noticed, or even if they had, the host would not have been fired.