Thursday, April 12, 2007

"I'd Like to Have a Racist, but Newsworthy, Word with You"

the title is these guys talking, not me of course

First off, wow. I think we should change our name from the Dissentators to the (Mothman) Prohpets, because this blog never ceases to write different things that synch up in a significant way. First, no sooner do I include Imus in one of my posts (which builds upon previous Dissentary about the use of language and offensive language / political correctness, than he becomes the talk of the town for offending the entire nation with his choice of words! Upon realizing this, I decide to write this post, about Imus and his language and the topic in general, continuing the language discussion, and no sooner do I think of that then I see Brooklyn's post about the top five uses of the word "jive" in movies. Brilliant. Now Brooklyn is en route so just incase he missed it, and for others of you who also have lives and haven't seen the footage of Imus apologizing to Al Sharpton, I will recount basically what I remember of part of the conversation. I don't remember the exact transcript but it went something like this:

Imus (trying to explain himself and apparently not getting anywhere): "I can't get anywhere with you people." (I know!!! Classic!!!!)
Al Sharpton: "What do you mean 'you people'?"
Imus: "You, and the other woman we're talking to."
Woman: "No, that's not what you meant."
Imus: "Oh no, don't try to say that, that's jive."

Jive!!!! How rediculous is it that Imus said that!!! Just refer to Trading Places, Aeroplane, or Tenenbaums (the other two movies use jive a verb so it doesn't really apply) and it looks like this comment is right up there with his other racist comments.

This brings us back to the subject of language, a subject that I don't want this post to be about, but it is worth a mention. I mean Imus I guess probably is racist but he is a professionally trained voice man and smart enough to know that he's not supposed to appear racist on his radio show. Even Kramer at the Laugh Factory, at least according to him, was trying to make a joke (by the way isn't it ironic that the place that produced one of the most horrifying things captured on film and then shown to the entire nation was called the "Laugh Factory"?). Okay well Kramer trying to make a joke is a bit of a stretch, but we can agree that before Imus and Kramer took to the stage/airwaves they probably weren't planning on saying anything racist, but the fact may be that society is changing (I would say, on the whole, for the better, although of course there are pros and cons to political correctness) faster than these old guys can keep up with. I mean these are pretty old guys and the majority of our society (or maybe just the intellectuals?) has left them in the dust, whether in terms of actual racism or comments that (even if the person speaking doesn't initially realize it) can be interpreted as racism. I mean we've all heard and many of us have told stories about how our adorable european-descendent grandparents made racist comments, but we don't get that mad at them, because they came from differnet times. Imus might be as old as some of our grandparents but he gets out more than most of them, plus there's that whole "he's talking to hundreds of millions of people and not just to our family at Thanks giving (btw - Thanksgiving: racist or hijacked by the PC police?) dinner" part, so we're going to bear down on Imus, and softsoap our grandparents. Howard Stern said that Imus should have just said "fuck you, it's a joke."

Anyway though, putting the PC language discussion aside for a moment, I also want to get everyone's opinions on what the hell exactly is going on in our country and in our society, and what exactly is the deal with our morality. One could sum up the last couple of months with the following: White southern boys at a renowned institution of higher learning accused of raping a black stripper, the biggest thing to hit the entertainment world is a comedy about a racist and dim-witted Kazakhstani (played by a Jewish Englishman) going to America and filming his conversations with other (some of which are also, apparently, racist and dim-witted) Americans played by themsleves, then one of the stars of maybe the best comedy series ever (although he was the Ringo Starr of Seinfeld) goes on a racist explosion at an LA Comedy club, and then one of the most famous morning radio hosts (is famous morning radio host an oxy moron?) comes under scrutiny for making racist comments. Now three of these things were pretty unanimously disgusting while one of them, not as much, so right there is another interesting topic of discussion, especially since, aside from the Duke story, everyone involved was an entertainer (well I guess you could say that the stripper was too and maybe even the star athletes), so right there is an example of the fact that there is a line which Sasha Baron Cohen I guess stepped right up to but didn't go over, while those other guys, well, they crossed the fuck out of it.

But I said I wanted to talk about our society and our culture and our morals, which is why I have the philosophers up there. I can't really decide what I think about the fact that the news is teeming with these isolated incidents concerning Kramer and Imus and the Duke Lacrosse players. If you go to Drudge Report (btw another topic for bloggery is whether Drudge is part of the problem or the solution to the (in my opinion extremely depressing and infuriating) problem of the conflation of news with entertainment) right now it is a bit rediculous: Imus, the Duke case, Imus talking about the Duke case, and then the 2008 presidential candidates talking about Imus (this is too far, no? I really don't know if the Imus thing is useful information to keep the public informed and aid in the discourse that shapes our culture and our society, but surely the 2008 candidates talking about Imus - two degrees of Imus if you will - is just three darts (by three darts I mean: too much (see Ace Ventura 2)).

So what I want to discuss is whether this a good thing or a bad thing, that this is our news. I mean we have injustice and racism every day and everywhere, that goes unnoticed and unremarked upon by the media, but when it involves celbrities / rich people the media can't stop talking about it.

Starbucks has started writing me messages when I buy coffee from them, and one of said messages presently comes to mind (don't worry it's not racist):

The Way I See It: #192
Many people lack a spiritual believe system and fill that void with obcessions about celebrities. The celebrities are raised to the rank of gods, and these earthly gods will always fail the expectations the masses set for them. The cycle runs thusly: adoration turns to obcession, obcession turns to disappointment, and from disappointment is just a short emotional jump to contempt.

Now when I first read that I thought to myself: why are you talking about celebrities? All of this can be said about religion, and about God (also a topic for another day on the blog). But now I finally see that it can also be said about celebrities! Of course we don't expect anything fancy from celebrities, we just expect them to be as cool in real life as they are when they're on stage or screen. This is where the disappointment sets in. For example: Michael Richards - definitely not as cool as Kramer. For our celebrities and also for talk show people like Imus I guess we just expect them not to be evil. Maybe part of the reason we are so angry and hurt when it turns out that our celebrities are evil or screwed up, is because we learn that we are better than them, and how the fuck did they get to be celebrities and us not? This can break down into two parts, one of which is our failure, and the other part is the failure of our society: wherein horrible people are able to achieve immense fame and fortune. Well, this and the whole "they are saying these things to hundreds of millions of people as opposed to just your family at Thanksgiving dinner" thing.

So does this explain our reaction? Does this explain, and does it justify, these isolated incidents, exactly the same as so many that happen constantly except that they're celebrities, getting media coverage ad nauseum?

Maybe the explanation is that we are making an example of these people. Oh sorry, let me rephrase that. Maybe we are making an example of Imus and Kramer and of the Duke parties (the parties to the lawsuit, not the keg parties, although, sure, them too). We aren't going to solve all of the millions of isolated incidents, but there are some that we will make known to all (lots of people are going to find out anyway but we will make sure everyone finds out) and then we are going to tell and retell the events and hear what everyone (political leaders and other celebrities and entertainers alike) has to say about it, and then we are going to watch what happens to the perpetrators, in order to demonstrate how we as a society feel about this behavior, and what we as a society deem fit as a response, and if necessary, a punishment.

Is this desirable? One one hand we are bringing social problems to everyone's attention, maybe the only way we could get everyone to pay attention and consider these issues is using celebrities? On the other hand, it glamorizes legitimate concerns of our normal everyday lives, and maybe even takes the focus off of them. Are there better ways to deal with social problems like racism than constant coverage of Imus-gate? If you answered yes to that last question, then couldn't all of the time and energy spent talking about the Duke case and Kramer and Imus be better spent on other endeavors, both in terms of what stories the media is covering and Matt Drudge is posting on his site, and in terms of what we are discussing in conversation and on our blogs?

Is this what we want? Are we happy with how these scandals come up, command national focus, play out, and then die out when another weird incident comes up (anyone heard anything about Kramer lately?)?

If something seems wrong, or strange, who do we blame? Do we blame ourselves for engaging in these discussions about Imus and Kramer that we complain about, and not doing anything to change things? Do we blame the media for rolling around in toxic goo with entertainment and fusing together to form the radioactive seven headed beast that it has become? Is it just us, the blogging intellectuals, who are disgusted with this phenomena, and do most news-watchers think that the news is just fine? If not, why does the news keep doing this? Have they to live up to their responsibilities to society? Or am I being too pessimistic, and do stories like the Kramer and Imus cases serve society in some beneficial way?

Dissentators, mount up.

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