Tuesday, April 10, 2007


A lot of people dig Imus. I’m not one of them.

Good friends of mine enjoy him, some even told me years ago that he reminded them of me back then.

I tried listening to him, and still sometimes turn on MSNBC in the morning looking for news and get him doing his thing and watch for a few minutes, which is all it takes for me to be completely bored by it.

I don’t find him as inane or as much of a waste of time as I find Howard Stern. And lots of my friends dig Stern. They find him pretty funny. I never did.

Imus seems to be aiming slightly higher in terms of processing information.

I know I know they’re just there to entertain. But I don’t find them entertaining either.

At least they’re not as pretentious or hypocritical as Limbaugh, whose famous dismissal of drug addicts as getting what they deserve, in terms of inordinately long sentences for minor offences, didn’t seem to apply in his own busted-for-drugs case. Etcetera.

But frankly, I find most of these talk radio guys boring. Maybe I’m just too impatient. Though I can sit through Bill Maher’s show on HBO—“Real Time”—even though I’m not crazy about him either. But at least I respect his attempt to inform his audiences and to create the grounds for some lively discussion and debate.

His show sometimes surprises me with who actually has a grasp of the facts and is articulate about them. Ben Affleck, who doesn’t come across in his acting or celebrity-hood as the smartest guy, has proven himself well-informed and almost eloquent on Maher’s show, and the other night D. L. Hughly did too, as others have who I didn’t expect to be so in command of the facts, not only of our present situation but of history as well.

And I can sit through John Stewart’s “Daily Show” most nights, though it seems to have lost a lot of steam since the first season, when we were discovering so many of the talented comedians playing newsmen who have since left the show for starring careers of their own, like Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell.

But to get back to Imus and hypocrisy, this latest dustup seems a little hypocritical to me.

The one news show I saw with tape of what he said, made it clear he was responding to the usual frat boy put down humor that turns me off those kind of shows (David Letterman’s another example of that kind of comedy that just doesn’t make me laugh much). One of Imus’s entourage goaded him into some put down of the Rutgers women’s basketball team and he jumped on it with both flat feet by pushing it further with his “nappy headed hos” remark.

Sexist and racist. Yeah.

But then, how many comics can you name who use those words, and others like them, in their acts, starting with the Kings of Comedy who laid a lot of the groundwork for the misuse of “the N word” (once again I refer you to that YouTube riff that I first saw on Coolbirth yesterday) let alone “ho’s” and “nappy heads” etc.

Okay so white people aren’t allowed to do that because it has a different connotation coming from them. Us.

But I have a little white boy who sometimes watches one of the seemingly hundreds of MTV channels with shows like “Yo’ Mama” that showcases putdown humor that goes much further than anything Imus said, and even though it’s usually coming from African-Americans, sometimes it’s Hispanics and “whites” as well. And the more insulting the putdown, the better chance they have of getting the “cash money” prize.

How’s my little boy supposed to know when that’s inappropriate for him if the TV is showing him hip teenagers (his idols and role models at his age) using that language to make people laugh and to win money and get on TV etc.?

I know racism still exists, and so does sexism. But in my lifetime the vindictiveness of those human tendencies, and the legal basis of them, and the societal support of them, has diminished almost to the point of non-existence.

What I mean is, the kind of sexism and racism you could get away with when I was a kid, and most people subscribed to, doesn’t exist today. I was in the forefront of young people in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s who had a lot to do with that accomplishment, and as I have said before, it is an insult to the memories of those who suffered and even died to bring about the changes that have occurred, to pretend Al Sharpton et. al. are fighting against the same forces that people were back then, or even earlier.

Yes black men still get pulled over more than white men, or at least I accept that as true. And women still don’t make as much as men in comparable positions, which I also accept as true.

But a lot of my bosses on various jobs have been women and/or “blacks” making a lot more money than me. And I have been pulled over by black cops who treated me pretty rough even though I’m an old gray-haired white guy.

It is also true that young white men are dropping out of high school and not going to college in greater and greater numbers, in many places now equal to or even greater than the drop out rate among black males.

Yes, there is a disproportionate number of black men in prison in this country. As there is a disproportionate number of Hispanics and poor white males dying and being wounded in the Iraq War.

As there are more women in college than men now, and more suicides and mass murderers among young white males who seem to have as much trouble finding “white role models” (Bush anyone?) as it used to be said, and sometimes ignorantly still is, for young black males to find “black role models” other than pimps and drug dealers and the usual suspects (as if there hadn’t been and still is a black Supreme Court Justice, or on TV and in movies often a black boss, police chief, president even, etc.).

In fact, there are plenty of role models on TV and in movies and the media in general for every different identity there is in this country, except maybe the “handicapped.”

And yes there are still individuals suffering from racism and sexism. But compared to the past…

There’s no comparison. In fact, the Rutgers women’s basketball team wouldn’t have even been on the radar of a radio talk show guy back then, if they even existed.

But if it’s not allowed for white people to use the same terms many blacks do in public, because of the history of racism in this country, then how do we deal with the new history that has been created since the 1970s?

In recent decades, especially since the 1980s, more African-Americans are killed by black people than by whites. In fact, more white people are killed by black people than vice versa. So how do we turn that into humor that still is sensitive to black sensibilities?

And who gets to decide what is offensive and what isn’t? Snoop Dog? Ice T?

I once worked as an actor on a TV show Ice T was starring in and producing. I had a small scene with him and was dressed in a suit with my gray hair cut short and business-like. I was obviously playing “the man.” While waiting for the camera set up, or whatever technical thing was keeping me standing around next to a table Ice T was sitting at on a set dressed to look like a fancy restaurant, Ice T turned to me and ordered me to go get something for him.

Normally I try to behave like many more important people on sets than I usually was who were kind to me, like Jimmy Smitts on “L. A. Law” and “NYPD Blue” the times I worked with him. He went and got me something to drink once without my even saying anything, because I was stuck between the camera and some other equipment while the technical people were fussing with something and he figured I could use a drink. I try to keep him as my model in these situations.

But Ice T was so regally imperative in his order, as if I was one of his entourage, who he was equally ordering around, and all of whom were obeying him like he was the pharaoh and they were his slaves, I said something like “You’re confusing me with one of your lackeys son, that ain’t my job,” and just kept standing there.

He turned to look directly at me, for the first time, by the way, even though I’d been on the set for hours. I looked back at him, eyeball to eyeball. We held that for a while, then he turned to one of his assistants and got them to do whatever it was he wanted.

He treated me with respect for the rest of the shoot, but I had them take my name off the credits and never listed it on my resume. I just didn’t like the experience. I’ve worked with a lot of prima donnas and stars who thought they were somehow deserving of adoration or at least obedience, but no one who seemed as insensitive to those around him as Ice T on that set.

In his defense, he was in the first wave of his Hollywood fame and power, and a lot of people, even me during my brief experience of a lesser version of that, have been known to get so egocentric we forget to be human to others. Hell, I’ve been known to do it even without anyone giving me any fame or power.

And I have heard from others that Ice T can be very gracious and generous and so on. I don’t meant to indict him as the premiere example of that kind of star self-centeredness, he’s just the one I had my worst experience with.

All I mean to say is, I think it’s hypocritical to hold old white guys like Imus, or me, to standards that non-old white guys are allowed to trample all over.

Either “nigger” is a no-no, or it isn’t. Either “ho” is a no-no or it isn’t. I’ve thrown people out of my house for saying less offensive things, and back in the day, I got shot at and had knives held to my throat and beat up and things I won’t even mention for standing up for non-whites and women and gays and etc. Only to watch, years later, as a lot of those categories of people now say and do the very things I was risking my life to stop others from saying and doing because it was so painful for so many.

I don’t say “ho” or “nigger” or any of the other words that seemed to cause so much damage to people’s heart and souls and to the country’s humanity in my boyhood and youth. But I laughed my ass off when Lennie Bruce used those kinds of terms to make audiences laugh and at the same time enlighten them about the misuses of such terms.

Or when Richard Pryor and others first used them in their acts to highlight their humor. When Pryor changed his mind about all that, in truth, his act became less funny.

And my kids and friends make fun of me sometimes for being so righteous about racism and then making jokes at the expense of the French or English etc. And I am known for having a foul mouth and for swearing and cursing too much. Something that I know offends a lot of more sensitive ears than mine. I’ve worked hard to stop all that and yet keep slipping back into it, especially when excited or angry.

So I am no model of anything here. I just want to shine a light on what I see as the hypocrisy of an entire society right now, where words and gestures coming from one type of individual can be construed as offensive, but coming from another can be seen as simply humorous or benign. That sounds a lot like the distinctions made in the old days between what Southern white racists could get away with compared to what Southern blacks couldn’t. Reversing that inequality just maintains inequality.

If Imus has to be fired and never work as a talk radio guy again, it won’t bother me a bit because I don’t listen to the guy. But to be fair, if that’s what’s being called for by some folks who are offended by his “humorous” comments in this instance, than MTV’s “Yo Momma” must be equally protested against and stricken from the airwaves, along with most rap, comedy, a lot of movies and TV shows, et fucking cetera.


Evorgleb said...

Wow, the Imus thing is just crazy. I personally have mixed feelings about it. If any of you care to read it, one of our writers over at Highbrid Nation worked with Imus over at WFAN for several years and recently chimed in on the whole situation. He also reveals some details that the media is failing to report on in regards to the suspension

Anonymous said...

What you say is very true.
I don't believe that this is a black issue though. Just because black people are upset, doesn't mean that you can't be upset too.

We are all victimized not by IMUS's comments but by the abuse of our public sqaure by the corporations that value profit over constructive public discourse.

The public needs to place a check on our 4th estate. We don't have any control over the images that we are bombarded with and our youth need to be protected.

Don't just blame rappers and MTV, you can see clear examples across the board were even average people are willing to humiliate themselves and be exploited for the hopes of public exposure. American IDOL, Who wants to Marry a Millionaire, Flavor of Love.

Our artist and entertainers are no different from other average everyday red blooded Americans in this regard.

This is exploitation but by whom?

We need to stop blaming the willingly exploited, be they black or white.

It seems that many American's will sell their soul for fame and money.

Is it appropriate for corporations to exploit the worst in us for profit.

It appears that we are destroying ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered.