The Incomplete Anti-Imus Lobby
I write these words in the wake of the news that MSNBC has dropped Don Imus from its lineup. I fully expect that by the time you read these words, CBS Radio will have fired him as well.
The raging media controversy over the stupid racial insult Imus threw at the Rutgers women's basketball team - "nappy-headed hos" - has led the usual cast of professional victims, like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP, to deplore the racist underbelly of the broader American culture.
But where were these people when the subject was gangsta rap? With these arrogant and profane multi-millionaires routinely insulting and deriding people, especially black women, with language one hundred-fold more offensive than anything that ever came out of the I-Man's mouth?
Have the NAACP and other prominent minority groups marched with pickets outside BET or MTV for running raunchy rap videos full of N-words and "ho" references? Did they protest when the song "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" won the Academy Award? Its derogatory lyrics included the N-word and the word "ho."
To be sure, there have been some leaders in the black community, like the late C. Delores Tucker, and more recently, Bill Cosby and Richmond, Virginia, mayor Douglas Wilder, who have campaigned mightily against this cultural self-destruction, but their appeals have been met by sneers and jeers from Hollywood, which honored "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" with an Oscar.
Lobbyists for the NAACP and other groups have been equally silent over the shocking volume of racial material disguised as "comedy" on advertiser-supported basic cable TV. In the last two years, the Parents Television Council has counted more than 140 uses of the N-word on cable. Where were the campaigns to get those performers or executives canned?
This count includes the March 7 edition of Comedy Central's "South Park," kicking off its eleventh season with its usual shock-joke routine. The network would not risk mocking Muhammad for fear of violence, but the March 7 show used the N-word 42 times in a half-hour. One of the main character's parents guessed the N-word on a "Wheel of Fortune" puzzle, and so the whole town of South Park repeatedly mocks him as "the [N-word] Guy."
In between the constant N-words, Comedy Central showed an advertisement for a new comedy show called "Halfway Home," about ex-cons in a halfway house. A white man under assault from people throwing water balloons looks at a black woman with a balloon and yells about his wet sweater vest: "This is cashmere, you fat whore."
Clearly, those alleged equal-opportunity insulters at Viacom are not as afraid of the NAACP as they are of the Muslims - because the NAACP doesn't care. Their last leader, Bruce Gordon, now a board member at CBS Corporation, demanded Imus be gone: "We should have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to what I see as irresponsible, racist behavior." Try to find any news account of Mr. Zero Tolerance campaigning against harsh rap music while he headed the NAACP.
Those who demanded that Don Imus be fired should really try to explain how Comedy Central is merely using a humor context in its aggravated use of hurtful insults, and is thereby innocent and untouched.
For its part, "South Park" tried to have it both ways. After exploiting the controversy of using the N-word 42 times in the episode, the program concludes with one of the leading white children on the show stupidly suggesting he'll never understand how the N-word hurts when it's used.
Bizarrely, people who want the N-word abolished actually turned around and praised "South Park" for its 42-N-word episode. On CNN, Kovon and Jill Flowers, who co-founded the organization Abolish the "N" Word, proclaimed that in this case, using the slur constantly was appropriate. "This show, in its own comedic way, is helping to educate people about the power of this word and how it feels to have hate language directed at you."
But the people who enjoy "South Park" and watched this episode weren't focusing on any grand moral lesson. They enjoyed the typical "South Park" plotline that the sensitivity police - people who argue for civility and against coarse language - should be the ones ridiculed. The central laugh for most was the cartoon Jesse Jackson demanding an apology that included kissing his bare buttocks, captured by a photographer. But try finding Jesse Jackson or his Rainbow-PUSH organization picketing Comedy Central for that episode.
If the NAACP and other groups don't want to look like very arbitrary and selective protesters of racial insensitivity, they could reconsider their support - through their silence - of the cable industry's status quo. If their goal is a culture that honors and inspires blacks, they have a lot more territory than the Don Imus show to condemn.