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Sunset for Imus
Pin-Headed Lynching

Muzzled, for now

No question: calling anyone a “ho” is an insult. In the context in which Imus used it (eight of the ten members of Rutgers’s Scarlet Knights are black), it’s a racist insult, the bigotry wrapped in misogyny — if also reflective of the vulgarity of discourse that’s been steadily restoring misogyny to a casually acceptable attitude in American society: Violence on women, verbal, physical, psychological, and of course sexual, is an entertainment, a status symbol among boys, a testosterone statement among men. To call a woman a ho is a perversion of cool assertiveness in a society that’s lost its cool, a culture too immersed in the glamours of violence at home and off-shore subjugation to know the difference anymore when even six-year-old black girls are treated like felons for having a tantrum in class. And yet the only thing more repugnant than Don Imus calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s” is the self-righteous lynching his CEOs, black leaders and much of the shout-show industry's compulsive bigots are aiming at him.

This isn’t a radio host who’s spent the last thirty years on the air debasing the level of discourse in the country, capitalizing on shock and schlock and vibrating lesbians. This isn’t one of those hyper-ideological shout-show hosts who, like Limbaugh or Hannity or O’Reilly or any of their zoological twins, could not exist without an unrelenting undercurrent of hate and denigration for anything and anyone that doesn’t toe their line. What the O’Reillys and Limbaughs of the airwaves have perfected is the (no, never say art) the sly of deceit, the pretension of morality, of upstanding righteousness, all the while insulting and dehumanizing whatever their thought policing considers unacceptable. They’re the perverted priests of the age, sermonizing to the crowds from their Sunday pulpits (which happen to be daily and nightly pulpits) while raping their victims beneath the altar. Those are the abusers of the airwaves, rhetorical rapists who go about their filth daily, hourly, happily and to the delight of audiences in millions, who repay them with admiration and best-sellerdom. (I’m referring to Rutgers’s athletic director, Robert Mulcahy, who said that Imus and his producer “abused the unique privilege they have of speaking to the country over the airways, and assassinated the character of 10 exceptionally talented and hard working young women.”)

What hypocrisies, what shame. It gets worse with the CEOs’ involvement: “Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word,” NBC said, as if NBC’s past relationship with Imus, made richer by the hundreds of millions of dollars in thirty years, counted for absolutely nothing. He’s been booted off the air for two weeks in punishment, on television and on radio, CBS deigning not even to issue a statement about his temporary, and possibly permanent, firing. It gets still worse with the involvement of Al Sharpton, who’d burnished a nobler image in the last few years. He’s back to his shrill and opportunistic worst, calling for Imus’s firing and gathering momentum by the herd, as such things will. Americans love a good hate-fest. The Imus scandal is a live reality show: He’s the latest guy to be booted off the island.

Why defend him so much? Defend him, yes, not the words he said about the Rutgers team, because his thirty years’ work must count for something against the thirty years’ war of hate that the majority of his shout-show colleagues revel in. Imus’s show isn’t to everyone’s tastes (what is?), but it’s one of the rare places where politicians and cultural forces of all stripes could convene, argue, debate, explain. It isn’t an ideological place so much as a place where all ideologies have free reign, under Imus’s O’Rourke-like disposition. I don’t personally like the show that much (I left radio a decade and a half ago when it became an extension of that other vast wasteland), but I appreciate its existence. I appreciate even more a radio show’s ability to have put together a history of air time measured in the billions of words. And now he’s to be undone by a three? Let him apologize. Let him go through the pathetic show of contrition that this Handmaid’s Tale culture demands, let him do the tour of the other shows all the way up to that miasmic Olympus known as Oprah. But before firing him, take a good look around. Imus is the cream of the crap, the best there is in the worst of media, the saving grace, if there is one, in this sewer-vat of discourse that the shout-show industry has become.

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