Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus and the Rest of Us

I am not now, and never have been, a fan of one of the original radio "shock jocks," Don Imus. But I have heard his show once, and I did pay attention to the media storm over his racial/gender slurs and his subsequent firing by CBS. I listened to a snippet of his radio show where he not once, but at least twice, made rather lengthly remarks about how the women of the Rutgers team were ugly, unlike the Tennessee women, who looked good. He followed that up with the "looks like a lot of nappy-headed hos out there" remark...and my mouth fell open in dismay. Nappy headed? Hos?

In my opinion, he deserved to be fired for this unbelievable stupidity, if nothing else. But I soon began thinking about how ironic it is that Imus gets canned for such language while at the same time, rappers who use such epithets, and much worse, win Grammy awards.
I used to work in Milwaukee and spent a fair amount of time driving in the city. Almost every warm day I could hear rap music booming from someones car, music which demeaned every woman, and specifically every black woman. Many times I sat at stop lights and listened to language that graphically insulted a woman who sat in the car (usually in the passenger seat) . I find this inexplicable. However, it is not different than the white girls I used to see sporting Motley Crue or some similar heavy-metal band's T-shirt and I'd wonder, "Girl, do you listen to the insults they are singing about you? Their songs say you are good for banging, and not much else." Once, I actually said that to a girl about 14 with a sad face and lots of eye makeup. Of course, she looked at me as if I was nuts.

This article is excellent, I think, in how it discusses this issue. I am glad that Mr. and Mrs. Imus went to talk with the team, that the coach's pastor was involved, that the coach and the girls are working through this with truely admirable graciousness and "class."

A couple of snippets from the article follow.

“We all know where the real battleground is,” wrote Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. “We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show.”

We have to begin working on a response to the larger problem,” said the Rev. DeForest Soaries Jr., who as pastor of the Rutgers coach helped mediate the Imus imbroglio...the culture that “has produced language that has denigrated women.”

The larger issue was alluded to by CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves when he announced Imus’ firing: “The effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society ... has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.”

Some defenders of rap music and hip-hop culture, such as the pioneering mogul Russell Simmons, deny any connection between Imus and hip-hop. They describe rap lyrics as reflections of the violent, drug-plagued, hopeless environments that many rappers come from. Instead of criticizing rappers, defenders say, critics should improve their reality. “Comparing Don Imus’ language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mind-set that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” Simmons said in a statement Friday... The superstar rapper Snoop Dogg [said] “(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports,” he told MTV.com. “We’re talking about hos that’s in the ’hood that ain’t doing ---- that’s trying to get a n---- for his money.” [Speaking of offensive words being offensive no matter whose mouth they are in...but that's another post.]

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the loudest critics calling for Imus’ termination, indicated that entertainment is the next battleground. “We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women,” he said after Imus’ firing. “We must deal with the fact that ho and the b-word are words that are wrong from anybody’s lips. It would be wrong if we stopped here and acted like Imus was the only problem. There are others that need to get this same message.”

I find myself agreeing with Al Sharpton. (Will wonders never cease?) I might have been slightly tempted to think that we really don't need to worry much about this and that Imus' comments were just weird, however I was astounded to learn that (as of this moment) about 67% the respondents to a CBS survey (at the article) believe that he should not have been fired, or that it was "not that big a deal." Excuse me. It IS a big deal to call college women whores.

I read this, elsewhere, "He's a shock jock. He was doing exactly what he gets paid for, so why should he be fired?" Interesting point. Why are "shock jocks" like Imus, and much worse, heard in the first place? What does that say about our culture? But does Snoop Dogg have a point? Does art imitate culture or does culture imitate art, or both? What role does the church play?

The issue neither began, nor should end, with the firing of Don Imus.

10 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

Good post!

I like your new blog look, too.

Kris Halseth said...

I just have to defend Metalica here. They were one of the few heavy metal bands that did not have songs degrading women. Just as an FYI
Kris

Singing Owl said...

Who am I thinking of?

(Blushing)...started with an M, did it not?

Okay, call it a senior moment and help me out. :-) Or maybe it will come to be in the middle of the night.

Singing Owl said...

Okay, to be fair I changed the post. But now I am going to try to picture the shirt (and remember the song) all night long! Eek!

Singing Owl said...

(Blushing)...started with an M, did it not?

I'VE GOT IT! I meant Motley Crue. Thanks, Kris, for straightening your ol' mom out. LOL! Changing the post now.

P.S. an after-thought said...

My son used to buy some of that music and I would say How can you pay money to have that degrading stuff go into your ears? And when some rap TV show would come on the TV, I would ask them not to have it on. It didn't matter what the words were because the body language was degrading to me as a viewer. Really, mostly I couldn't understand the words.

Re: Imus, well, his chortling over the words sounded even more offensive than the words to my ears.

There should be a place for "art" that isn't beautiful but shows the world for what it is. But is something art when it is only to make money?

Singing Owl said...

Right on, P.S.!

Jeni said...

Thanks for a really great post! True as you wrote that some interviewee had said Imus is/was a "shock jock" and was only doing what is expected of a shock jock but wouldn't it also be a "Shock" if the jocks spoke respectfully of others regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sex? Wouldn't it be nice too if, one could drive on a nice warm and sunny day, with your car windows down and not be assaulted by the loud beat of various types of music -not just rap - arriving well before the vehicle too? (That's an old argument I've had for years with my son, his vehicles, stereo systems that were almost always worth more than the car, and his music playing!) But I digress.
Bottom line is this was a very good post and one that I wish more people could and would read too.

Mother Laura said...

Oh, well said, and thank you for taking the issue beyond Don Imus. I was so impressed with how the players and coach handled the situation, and used it as my sermon illustration on Sunday. Glad that he has been called to accountability, and praying that he learns from it--but how sad to hear that so many people still don't get the need to respect all women, including those forced (literally or economically) into the degrading life of sex work.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I too am wondering when the rappers and the like will get their due. It seems a huge double standard is at play once again. Imus got what he deserved and that should be where the line is drawn whether it's "art", "comedy" or "commentary".

One other note, I do disagree with CBS' CEO's comments about why they fired Imus. It was easy to take the high road in the public statement, but that didn't come until after many of their sponsors started pulling out. I think it's less about morals and much more about the love of $$$.