I thought we were finished wiping up after Don Imus this week, but the ongoing reverberations in the media and in our comments for all our coverage are still too strong to ignore — Don Imus and the Rutgers Nappy Headed Hos and Race and the American Humor Line and The Lesson of Don Imus: Red is Thicker than Green and Creating Consequential Context: A Semiotic Moral Correction for Don Imus — and while some of our regular commenters have fallen off into the darkness, their voices have been replaced with new commenters offering counter-advocacy and fascinating arguments.


We also have some other issues we need to address in your commentary
for feedback and introspection, but we’ll kick off today’s coverage
where we left off yesterday: A scholarly examination of editorial
cartoons that have now leeched beyond Imus alone and make connections
where none were construed before in politics and mainstream popular
culture.
POLITICS

SHARPTON AND JACKSON

POP CULTURE

PORTRAITURE

All
these cartoons speak in grand Semiotics and common cultural touchstones
without needing to voice a single word.
Here are some residual arguments I have heard on the news that are
still staining our national consciousness because of The Imus Mess and
we should examine these matters and confront them.

1. Don Imus should have been kept on the air because he can “do good” as we watch him change.

Don
Imus should not be an agent of change or inspiration by being allowed
to modify his racist views on the air in real time. There are better
vessels for understanding and caring that can be proactively used for
untainted goodness than letting Imus keep his job in the hope he would
become a better person before our eyes. Some changes require privacy.

2. There are reports that some people are calling for the deaths of the Rutgers women’s basketball team and Al Sharpton.

This
is the most disturbing argument I’ve seen. Flinging down “Death
Threats” to the team and Sharpton cannot be tolerated. Why are those
threats given voice in the major mainstream media when those kinds of
deadly threats only encourage those who are mentally offset from
reality? Why let anyone even wonder on the matter of those ugly
thoughts they might not consider on their own? Yesterday, Mrs. Imus
asked the fans of her husband to stop sending in Hate Mail to the team.
Today, we learned the Hate Mail included death threats.

3. The Major Media blinked. They were influenced
by radicals and got scared and ran away and Imus was only fired because
he lost advertising revenue. “Real Americans” aren’t bothered by what
Imus said because it has become part of our culture.

The marketplace did speak and the voices were heard in the removal of
advertising dollars from the Imus show. That’s how a democracy is
supposed to work, right? Companies and people vote their interest with
their wallets and the free market responds.
We are, however, left with an alarming disconnect between what happened
to Imus and what did not happen to Rush Limbaugh for calling Barack Obama and Halle Berry “Halfrican Americans” and what has not happened to Ann Coulter:

In a speech last year before the Conservative Political
Action Conference, Ms. Coulter used the word “raghead.” This is a
dual-use slur, applied to both Arabs and Muslims, but she was talking
about an Iranian, so presumably she was focusing on the religious
dimension (consistent with her post-9/11 advice that we “invade their
countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”) The
word raghead — whose only function is to denigrate — seems as
legitimately offensive to Muslims as Mr. Imus’s utterance was to
blacks.

The difference is that Ms. Coulter didn’t apologize.
Brace yourself for the seismic damage done to her career. The leaders
of CPAC reassessed their relationship with her and … invited her back
to speak this year, an occasion she used to trot out the word “faggot.”
And Ms. Coulter continued to be interviewed respectfully on CNN and
(again and again) on Fox News — treatment that presumably wouldn’t be
accorded a pundit who used the “n-word” without apology.

Why is there a disconnect between Imus and Limbaugh/Coulter and their ilk?
Will we stand against political hate speech as we have this week against Racial and Gender hate speech?
Harvey Fierstein,
a Gay man in America, wonders aloud about the disparity between the
attack on Imus and the non-attack against those in the mainstream
political arena who bash Gays:

For the past two decades political correctness has been
derided as a surrender to thin-skinned, humorless, uptight
oversensitive sissies. Well, you anti-politically correct people have
won the battle, and we’re all now feasting on the spoils of your
victory. During the last few months alone we’ve had a few comedians
spout racism, a basketball coach put forth anti-Semitism and several
high-profile spoutings of anti-gay epithets….
Face it, if a Pentagon general, his salary paid with my tax dollars,
can label homosexual acts as “immoral” without a call for his
dismissal, who are the moral high and mighty kidding?
Our nation, historically bursting with generosity toward strangers,
remains remarkably unkind toward its own.

Just under our gleaming
patina of inclusiveness, we harbor corroding guts. America, I tell you
that it doesn’t matter how many times you brush your teeth. If your
insides are rotting your breath will stink. So, how do you people
choose which hate to embrace, which to forgive with a wink and a week
in rehab, and which to protest? Where’s my copy of that rule book?…
The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then
cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice
tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you
witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to
rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently.

Don Imus is finished.
The rest of us are not.
We must work together to to curry understanding where ignorance breeds
hatred and distrust and then constantly work to redefine our goals, our
dreams and the things we openly choose to cherish.
We begin to do that by standing up against crassness and hatred
expressed in speech and in behavior wherever and whenever it tries to
rise up from the depths to taint us all in the actions of an ignoble
few.

28 Comments

  1. Hi arin!
    I can’t believe the story is still marching forward. I guess there’s a lot of repressed guild and hatred still to be expelled in the process. In a year we’ll remember because it will be revisited on the anniversary of the slur — but six months from now… it’ll probably be a distant memory.

  2. I hope things will get nicer. I don’t even care if it’s fake. You be nice to get along, right? You don’t have to like everyone but you don’t have to be loud about it either.

  3. He’s right, Anne, and his editorial mentions how he’s a wary observer in the stands watching someone else get wrongly hit for once — and while he finds no divine pleasure in the experience — it does sober him to the realities of what it really means to be a minority American.

  4. We have a long way to go to accepting everybody for who they are even if we may not understand/like it. Different means bad. Different should mean good. Diversity is in us all. Let’s celebrate it and not make fun of it.

  5. Hi David,
    There has been a parallel examination of the effects that the treatment of women by the music industry has had that might come to the attention of the mainstream media now that Imus has been punished for degrading talented young women.
    Vanderbilt Professor T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting writes about the subject of America’s treatment of women in her book, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women.
    From Nashville Scene:

    And yet, for all her admiration, Sharpley-Whiting is appalled by the gross sexism of today’s rappers. Somewhere on the road from the eloquent angst of rap pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to the mindless party beats of Crime Mob, hip-hop’s image of women became utterly demeaning.
    The voluptuous video ho, strutting, gyrating, offering herself as a commodity, is the female face of hip-hop today, although “face” may be the wrong anatomical term.
    There was a time when strong, pro-woman female rappers had real currency in the hip-hop world, but one look at the play list for Nashville’s hip-hop station 101.1 The Beat reveals that commercially successful women rappers are pretty scarce now. And performers like Lil’ Kim only put a feminine spin on the same crass notions of sex and beauty found in the men’s recordings.

  6. You make a great argument, Chris, that it is time to move on from the narrow Imus issue and take on greater intra-culture discrimination in the Black community against their own women.
    I hope Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will rise to that moment and condemn those Racist songs and demand that the White Power mainstream media remove those artists from the public face.
    I also like it that Obama is also on the case:

    FLORENCE, S.C. – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) on Friday questioned the way some rappers talk about women in songs, saying the lyrics are similar to the derogatory language used by embattled radio host Don Imus.
    They are “degrading their sisters. That doesn’t inspire me,” Obama said of some hip-hop artists when a man in a crowd of about 1,000 questioned him. The Illinois senator was responding to a question of what inspired him, and said God and civil rights activists.
    Earlier this week, Obama criticized Imus, who was fired Thursday for labeling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”
    “I do think we’ve seen a coarsening of the culture,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press after the town hall meeting. As a constitutional lawyer, Obama said he was a free speech advocate.
    “But just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should say something,” he said. “And I think that we have not talked enough about the harmful images and messages that are sent.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070414/ap_on_el_pr/on_the2008_trail_38

  7. SOMETHING’S ROTTEN IN THE URBAN CORE
    I loved the Fierstein piece, particularly the quote:
    Our nation, historically bursting with generosity toward strangers, remains
    remarkably unkind toward its own. Just under our patina of inclusiveness,
    we harbor corroding guts.
    This goes straight to the mark on why you founded Urban Semiotic, to address “…rougher matters rotting the urban core.”
    Hatred, racism, sexism, bigotry– these are all rotting the urban core. But Fierstein dishes up a tall order:
    Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate,
    but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your
    own.
    It’s those last three words, “including your own,” that makes this such a difficult task.
    There exists predudice in us all, and we must constantly strive to be aware of it, and guard against it rearing its ugly head. I believe that “complacency” is our worst enemy. “Complacency” is rotting the urban core.
    It was “complacency” that was Imus’ downfall. He failed to modify his style over the years, keeping with the same ole tired and bigoted insults he had used in the past, and that had made him famous. He became complacent. This same agenda had always worked before, with no real opposition. So he kept on “keeping on.” Never mind his guest list grew to include high profile politicians. Never mind his audience now was far-reaching (and probably more sophisticated) given that he was simulcast on MSNBC, and CBS radio syndicated his show.
    In other words, Imus hit the big time.
    Imus got comfortable. Comfortable insulting his wife, comfortable insulting his guests, comfortable insulting his co-workers, comfortable even insulting himself.
    The second cartoon in your piece, where Don Imus is caricatured saying “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m seriously contemplating the nip thing, hari-kari,” is funny because we get the impression that Imus still doesn’t get it. He has become complacent to the point he would keep on making insulting remarks (because is is unaware of them) even if his show had not been cancelled.
    Yes, there is prejudice in us all. That is a scary thing. We must guard against complacency. It is a clear and present danger.

  8. Hi Donna!
    Right! This Imus episode only exposes us all as frauds and bigots — because Imus has been on the loose for 30 years and saying nasty things all the while and we haven’t done anything to stop him until now. That doesn’t speak well for our “moralistic majority” where we are supposed to treat each other as contemporary equals.
    I think, in addition to complacency this is also a matter of self-satiety and the want not to share. If you’re in the power majority, if you have a good life, why should you be bothered to be socially aware outside your circle? Why should you try to help others when your plate is regularly full and you expect it shall always remain that way?
    Harvey does a good job of pointing out the hypocrite in all of us and the only way we can stop the propagation of those narrow interests of satiety is to become hungry again for truly wanting to learn about each other.
    I agree that, while Imus claimed to get it, history and his behavior prove he never “got it” and to continue on with his charade to appease his advertisers would have only prolonged his inevitable firing and our newly discovered community shame and national misery.

  9. Your comment begs a question: Is Imus a paradox? How do we explain he was a supporter of Harold Ford, Jr., and yet made racist remarks? How do we explain his formation of the Imus Ranch and his fund-raising efforts for kids with cancer? What about his other fund-raising and awareness-raising of autism and SIDS? He doesn’t appear to be into self-satiety, given that he is a multi-millionaire and spends millions on the kids at the Imus ranch. This makes Imus all the more mysterious.
    What say you?

  10. You ask a good question, Donna, and I’ve thought a lot about it and I feel Imus is an example of self-aggrandizement pretending to serve the public good. He does serve the public good in many ways, but the brandishing of the Imus brand name trumps the other “selfless” work he does.
    If Imus were truly altruistic and not hungry for more brand attention and name familiarity — he would remove his name from his projects and give them non-genuflecting titles or name them after other more deserving people.
    His Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer, Imus Foods, Imus in the Morning, etc. are all examples of Imus using his name to do perceived good, but his real goal is to promote his name, his wife’s projects and his own brand in the marketplace to perpetuate his own personal greatness in the community.
    Imus relies on the kindness of others — mainly advertisers on his show — to provide the real funds that run his ranch while his personal out-of-pocket expenditures, as I understand it from watching his show, are actually quite small compared to his overall wealth. The fact that his “for profit” projects funnel their profits back into his personal public works projects is yet another masterful touch of the self-promoter who is always hungry for fame and attention and not necessarily common riches.

  11. I agree with you that Imus is a self-promoter. Recently, he blasted Larry King for not inviting his wife on Larry King Live to promote her “Green This!” book, saying that Larry and he were feuding over Imus not promoting Larry’s wife’s CD she did with Willie Nelson. He (of course) insulted Larry’s wife and Larry, implying that Larry’s wife could not sing and, furthermore, all the profits from Sharon King’s CD went into their pockets, whereas all the profits from Deidre’s book went to the Imus Ranch.
    Several weeks later, Larry invited Deidre on his show to promote her book, saying there had been a miscommunication with the producer. Imus then played Larry’s wife’s CD and promptly insulted it. What a performance!
    I’m still not sure of Imus’ agenda with Harold Ford, Jr., but I could not believe Imus would call Harold to task on his show the last few days (before it went off the air) and make a public display out of the fact that Harold had not called Imus in the wake of the maelstrom.
    I agree that Imus is a power-hungry individual. He continues to spiral downward exponentially in my book.

  12. Heya Donna!
    I think Imus lives on feuds just as Howard Stern does: They both need someone to hate in order to get their internal fires burning. I remember that strange puncturing of Larry King and his wife. You don’t get that same cruel vibe from Larry that you get from Don.
    It’s easy to run non-profit stuff when you’re that famous and then create a side-benefit from living on a ranch those charity efforts create and support by getting your name out in the public. I would much more respect the “Imus Ranch” if Don and his wife didn’t live there with the kids. If you are truly altruistic and good-natured, you would not directly benefit in any way from the kind donations of others. Imus’ life on the ranch shows he has a vested interest in making the ranch work: He gets another vacation home in the deal.
    If you do it right, you can look like a great guy, get some fine side-benefits, and offer your richest friends and big business tax donation opportunities. If the little guy were paying for all these Imus charity prospects I would be more impressed.
    Jerry Lewis never counts company donations in his on-air money totals for his Labor day telethon. The numbers you see are generated by the donations from individuals. He’s open about that, and I think that’s a great philosophy to make it clear to everyone where you allegiances are kept and founded.
    I wonder if the Harold Ford, Jr. support was done in the same spirit as his Kinky Freedman for Texas Governor campaign: Pick an Underdog, start a fire, and see who gets burned? Imus is all about creating havoc and rooting for disorganization and throwing the support of his show behind those two was good for some laughs and to keep the bad boy image alive and polished.
    My feeling about the reason Imus was so incensed Harold would not call him back is that Harold was the only Black acquaintance he had to cover his back and when Harold rightly refused to provide that cover, Imus was completely exposed and open and tender in the all-around.

  13. I can believe that it is still going on!
    Fortunately an undergroud of blogs, bloggers and concerned persons rallied in stating that not only must Imus go, but his type of worldwide influence of insults and comments via MSNBC will not represent the people of the United States, regardless of Bush’s defense of Imus!
    This is issue is bigger than it appears because of race and sexism, and because MSNBC has a WORLDWIDE audience that believes what they hear and see about race, our culture, persons, and women via that show and others ( i.e., The Today Show).
    Do not be complacent as another commentor stated. This is one of many issues on which to take a stand.
    Adrienne Zurub

  14. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Adrienne!
    I thank you for taking a moment to share your great thoughts.
    I, too, cannot believe this is still going on — but a common touchstone has been struck and sounded in many people on this matter — and I am thankful that, for most part, the reverberations have been against the sort of Race and Gender baiting that came out of Imus’ mouth.
    You’re right that the blogs discovered this Imus issue and have given it a longer shadow than the matter would’ve generated even five years ago. It’s hard to beat down ten thousand hands typing a thousand words a day on why what Imus did is bad for society and our general welfare.
    We have a long way to go together and the path will be easier if we can lean on each other along the pinnacles and the pitfalls instead of pulling apart and going our own way.

  15. Well, Imus did have the Bishop Patterson’s wife to “cover his backside,” I guess. However, I did not hear any pleas on Imus’ part for her to call him in his hour of need. I think she would have been shocked at what he said, and I don’t know what he would have come up with in the way of excuses, if they had talked.
    I don’t think Brian Williams will be inviting the I-man to Baghdad. He invited him in the weeks before the fall, but Imus wasn’t too keen on the idea. Imus also dissed NBC’s top story coverage of Imus’ firing the day MSNBC announced it. He said the “Brian Williams piece was despicable/deplorable (I can’t remember exactly). This was after they were “best buds” when Brian had invited the I-man to tour Iraq.
    I’ve seen on the Web that the Imus Ranch may be in serious trouble due to sponsors pulling their support.
    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts imuslutely.

  16. Right, Donna! He didn’t really have any hardcore support from the Black community. His only vigorous defenders were White people he’d done favors for by having them on his show. It was pretty pitiful and sad to watch them line up over the days and toe the Imus line.
    I feel he wanted someone Black to forgive him before he met with the Rutgers team so he could go into that meeting with at least one minority chit in his pocket that confirmed what a great guy he thought he was.
    It seemed Imus’ greatest fear was that his on air gang would shame him into going to Iraq. He didn’t want to go. He would have been foolish to go. He never would’ve gone. The whole conversation was a sham.
    He even bad-mouthed those he was beholden to in order to keep his job when he was on the air Thursday. Didn’t he call his bosses “bastards” or something similarly insulting during the Radiothon?
    The Imus Ranch always seemed to be to be a teetering house of cards. There were actually very few children served each year compared to the amount of money and resources that went into the enttity. It wasn’t an ongoing process that always had children on the ranch as I understand it. He should turn over the whole thing to an established non-profit and pack up his family and friends and leave that ranch forever.
    Hey, “Imuslutely” is a very interesting new term! 😀

  17. Hi David,
    The Imus Ranch is an “offset” that was designed to allow Imus to feel protected from criticism because he was contributing to an organization set up to do good deeds.
    Elizabeth Musselman writes for the University of Chicago Divinity School about the modern trend of paying money to charities to assuage feelings of guilt for continuing to lead lifestyles that damage the environment.

    Guardian commentator George Monbiot compares carbon offset programs to sales of indulgences in medieval Europe.
    Citing the worst abuses of indulgences (such as the sale of pardons for incest and murder), Monbiot identifies three problems with carbon offset programs. They encourage people to continue to emit carbons now in exchange for the possibility of reduced carbon emissions in the future (and any scientist will admit that an ounce of carbon saved next year isn’t as ecologically valuable as an ounce of carbon saved today). Further, they eliminate the sense of guilt that might drive energy consumers toward earth-saving lifestyle and policy changes. Finally, they are simply too little too late. “You can now buy complacency, political apathy, and self-satisfaction. But you cannot buy the survival of the planet.”

    The Imus Ranch was Don Imus’ offset that was supposed to protect him from criticism while he continued to pollute the environment with his racist remarks and mean ways.
    Unfortunately for those who buy indulgences and offsets, the stench these hypocrites continue to emit can’t be covered up by contributions of cash or celebrity status.

  18. Thanks for the excellent link and analysis, Chris!
    I do think Imus felt the “Imus Ranch” protected him from criticism and made him “a good person” by default. I would buy that argument if he and his wife and child didn’t live on that ranch for kids with cancer.
    The fact that he and his family benefited from that charitable enterprise even in a small way — Imus always fought off those criticisms by claiming he was working and not on vacation at his ranch when the cancer kids were there — but those with common sense can see right through that false argument as being an excuse and not a rational reason.