Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Imus and Language...

First and foremost, I won't even try to defend Don Imus's comments as anything but contemptable and inflammatory.

I will, however, point out that saying contemptable, inflammatory things sorta goes with the territory when you're a self-proclaimed "shock jock." His job relied, to no small degree, in offending people, and people's sensibilities. Folks tuned in to see what he'll say next to leave the listener with the thought, "I can't believe he said that!"

What's unfortunate in the turn of events, is that somehow, somewhere, the proper perspective on words have gotten lost. I was taught as a child that words, no matter how hateful, are not the same as actions, and can only affect their target as deeply as that target chooses to be affected. Much different than, say, a 9mm pistol (yes, this IS a direct reference to the VA Tech tragedy). I would have been quite supportive of the Rutgers University Ladies' Basketball Team making a statement to the effect of, "he can say what he wants, we're a fantastic team, and we prove our mettle with actions on the court, not with empty words over the airwaves."

But they didn't. They made a conscious decision to play the victim. They spoke about shattered dreams and neverending pain, as if they had been physically assaulted. For that, they came across as weak.

Furthermore, I find it interesting that there was a cry for a similar response when the same words Imus used are uttered in the context of rap albums and "urban" entertainment. I personally think that's an idiotic position. I do recognize that consistency is needed; in oversimplified terms, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

But this drives "consistency" the wrong direction. The consistency we should seek is a consistent attitude that words are just that...words. Words can be used in a variety of ways, and whether "ho," "bitch," or even "nigger" can be used in a "positive" way is irrelevant. Words carry meaning, but their impact lies within interpretation, and it's time that people took steps to minimize their impact.

Consider the social environment we'd have if "the n-word" (a designation that makes me chuckle...surely George Carlin is amused at the power of a word that just can NOT be uttered) became totally nonoffensive. For that matter, imagine all "racial slurs" were just accepted pieces of our vocabulary. I personally think their use would decline, not increase, and when someone wanted to utter something derrogatory, he would be forced to be a little more specific to make his point.

Words such as that are powerless if those at whom they're directed CHOOSE to simply ignore their intent. It does, however, take a conscious choice to not be a victim, and to establish that one's own self-worth is not dependent upon another's perception.

I think much of the "victim" mentality is rooted in our sheltering of our children from any hurt feelings in everything from grade school to little league, to the degree that when these children get out in the real world, with real "mean people" they simply don't know how to shrug off such insults. Admittedly, insults derived from the essence of a person's being (i.e. race, religion, etc.) can be more hurtful, but I consider the fact that in my (and previous) generation(s), many "fatsos" were encouraged by the taunt to trim up and enjoy a happier, healthier life, instead of being comforted by mom utilizing the healing power of a half-dozen jelly doughnuts.

In summary, folks need to grow up. If someone insults them based upon things beyond their control, shrug it off, and attribute it to the ignorance of the source. If an insult strikes home and calls attention to a real problem, fix it. Either way, move on!

I wasn't an Imus fan, but am a big protector of Free Speech.

He shouldn't be excused, still -- but it's interesting to think about the part that technology played in this whole affair. I mean, a few years ago this probably wouldn't have happened. Shelly Palmer wrote a pretty good essay about this, "Imus in a Techno-Political World." It's worth checking out.

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