I had a surreal moment in Osaka. Standing in a department store, I was watching a number of demure and modestly dressed Japanese women paw through sweaters and blouses. I was carefully watching them for some reaction, any expression indicating that they understood the lyrics playing in the store. "Where are my bitches? Where are my ho's?" asked the rapper on the store's sound system to an audience that seemed completely unconcerned about his loss. Apparently, someone had simply thought it hip to play this music, the latest fad to sweep over from the States. The result was, for me, like a moment in a hidden camera skit.
I don't pretend to understand the misogyny in rap. It's obvious that Imus didn't either -his attempt to be cool by borrowing from its vocabulary failing as spectacularly as if he'd tried break dancing. But I also don’t understand how his atonal attempt at humor became a cause to be fired. Pity the poor fool tied to the tracks when the American self-righteous train has worked up a good head of steam.
I quite dislike this notion of someone sanctimoniously deciding what audiences can hear. Whether the censorship comes from the government or heads of corporations, it is censorship. Comedy is dangerous. Duds and offensive comments are an inescapable part of comedy. Can you imagine if everyone weighed his or her words as carefully as a politician running for audience? We’d lose an entire generation to drugs, a desperate attempt to escape the monotony of monotone.
I don’t like the race to politically correct speech. Some topics can’t be discussed in measured tones. I have yet to find a polite way to express my outrage at our former boy cheerleader’s obvious and egregious policies, for instance. It is not for the big institutions or moral police to decide which topics deserve language that might offend most. Imus’ audience has a right to listen to the man, even if it offends people in power.
One day the church or government or corporation legitimately spares the congregation from something 98% of them agree is egregious. The congregation applauds. Then, the next day, it protects them from disconcerting messages that point out that the church, state, or corporation is abusing its power over the congregation. If the dominant institution is censoring the message, the dominant institution is never called on its excesses, it mission, its power. Whoever controls the message to the people controls the people.
Historically, people find themselves imprisoned after fierce battles. The next generation may awake in chains, lulled to sleep by the measured and boring tones of a media designed to assure its audience that everything is fine and there is no cause for outrage.
But the truth is, there are worse things than outrageous comments. There are, in fact, some events that can be described no other way. It doesn’t end outrage if we censor outrageous comments – it simply ends our ability to discuss it.