17 April 2007

The Fuss (about Imus) & Hush (about corporate censorship)

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.

9 comments:

Dave said...

As you know I've done a couple of posts about this. The one I've thought of doing, but haven't, is a more legalistic approach to what you've just written.

Where I'm maybe going in my thinking is less legalistic and more, I'm not sure where. What bothers me about my take on the flap is my implicit acceptance of corporate censorship. What bothers me about your post, and it doesn't bother me, I'm just trying to figure out what I think, is your lack of comment on the fact that someone, be it Corporate America, government, better, community and family, has to recognize what media desintization is doing to us.

Damon said...

You know what is more scary to me than corporate censorship? Self-censorship as a result of peer pressure/popular opinion.

You KNOW we are in for problems when it gets to the point where we are afraid to even state our OWN views due to the backlash we know will come.

Take post 9/11 for example. No doubt there were a lot of Americans that were very concerned and afraid of where we were heading as a nation...but due to self-censorship, they did not speak up.

On the flip side, take current times. Perhaps there are plenty of folks who have strong pro-Bush and/or pro-Iraq war opinions, but due to the massive tide of anger, hatred and disgust those people are afraid to come out.

Either situation is quite despicable.

Life Hiker said...

It seems to me that there was a happy medium on this, something much less draconian than the capital punishment experienced by Imus.

No doubt in my mind, he screwed up big with a thoughtless comment that was big-time offensive.

The initial reaction of his bosses was a two-week suspension and a public apology. If Imus wanted to add a personal meeting with, and apology to, the team, that would have been a nice touch. Then on with the talk.

But those rabble-rousers, Sharpton, Jackson & Co., who have giant skeletons in their closets, would have nothing of it. Death to Imus, they cried, and Imus died. CBS washed its hands in public.

My hope is that Imus, who I don't much appreciate, goes on to a long and lucrative career on satellite where he can have the last laugh every day.

Ron Davison said...

How did we ever clarify our thoughts in the days before comments?
Dave,
I agree that becoming de-sensitized is a risk - but the way to counter it is through education and counter-information and options, not limiting the options.

Damon,
An interesting variant on self-censorship is the matter of who has the microphone. The mainstream media determines whose views get expressed. I agree with you. Before the invasion, they didn't give voice to opposition to the war; now, outside of quotes from Bush, they rarely defend the continued occupation.

LH,
It was a form of execution. I don't even listen to Imus but wouldn't it make more sense - and make it more interesting - if the solution were to rotate the rebuttal to Imus among guys like Jackson and Sharpton, giving them five minutes at the end of each show to rebut. More voices, not less.

ThomasLB said...

Part of the problem, too, is that even though we have a lot of channels to choose from, the actual number of content providers is relatively small. Old white men in grey suits sit around conference tables and decide what we will get to hear, and what we won't.

Ron Davison said...

Thomas,
speaking as an old white guy, I happen to know that it really is best that we decide on people's entertainment and news options.
Actually, I wonder if the Long Tail dynamics (unlimited channels and even the esoteric finding a market) won't change this - resulting in media throwing more stuff out into the ether to let the market determine what gets continued and what gets stopped.

David said...

I thought we (I'm in agreement with you on this) were doing well and then I learned that John Kerry sides with us. Well, today anyway.

Ron Davison said...

David,
John Kerry has been trying to be like me for years now. It's starting to be embarrassing.

David said...

Sadly enough B. Obama weighed in on this issue equating Imus's comments with what happened Monday. He said the Imus comments were "verbal violence." "We need to do something about this." Very disappointing.