The reason Don Imus lost his show is because there has been an escalating sensitivity among audiences about discriminatory comments made in the public sphere and, as the public has become more accustomed to the outrage it feels at these comments over the last few months, the more capable it has become at demanding reprimands. Way back when Michael Richards screamed “nigger” at the heckler in his audience the public reacted with dumbstruck shock. There was a certain paralysis that occurred because people weren’t sure if it was actually happening. He went on Letterman and the audience laughed through his apology (set in front of an apologetic, punishingly communist gray background) because they couldn’t tell if he was actually being serious.
Isaiah Washington went on a “faggot” calling spree on the set of Grey’s Anatomy and then, doubling the horror, denied ever saying it at all at an awards show making him seem both bigoted AND unstable. Everyone knew he’d said it. He denied it. What was wrong with him? So, GLAAD got all up on their high horse and people shouted for him to be fired but, due to a combination of the fact that still, people weren’t so sure what to do with such brazen behaviour, it wasn’t racism; it was homophobia and homophobia is the new black in the sense that socially it’s still more or less acceptable – or at least inoffensive to the majority of the country and also, the ratings suggest Isaiah Washington, bigot or not, is popular and therefore advertiser friendly. The producers didn’t fire him, they symbolically punished him the way Lindsay Lohan balances out the fact that she drinks like every other person her age with the judgemental eye of the moralizing American public – he went to rehab.
Then there was Ann Coulter. Her homophobic remarks were cheered at, even if in disbelief, but the actually denounced by public figures, she was apparently dropped from newspapers and advertisers withdrew support for her. And yet, after laying low, weeks later she announced on Fox News (and yes, sure she could be lying – after all facts were never really a central component to any Coulter argument) that actually being banned had made her a lot of money. She went so far as to suggest that the same would happen with Imus. Is being critically and publically denounced ever a really bad thing? At least when it comes to publicity and generating buzz, it seems not to be.
So, then you have Don Imus. He’s popular because he’s an angry angry, mean spirited man who talks charismatically. There’s a lot of anger in organized society no matter where in the world you are. There’s always a lot of resentment due to status that is blamed on other people. People don’t trust journalists, they don’t trust politicians, they don’t trust CEOs. In response to this, there are people who profit from that by masquerading as Champions for the cause of human frustration. People like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh exploit human misery by pretending to be on the side of the self described downtrodden. In Australia there are angry, mean people like John Laws who do the same thing. Right wing sympathizing, multi millionaires who act as supporters of the downtrodden they screw out of healthcare. Don Imus is just one of those. These people form a part of the media and their position is there by the grace of freedom of speech.
What Don Imus said, namely, that a women’s basketball team from Rutgers were all “nappy headed hos” which apparently refers to race and the fact that the women are prostitutes, was both appalling and hateful and unnecessary. It was also probably no worse than anything anyone else who fills a role like Imus fills says repeatedly. America was just at the point where it had to seriously take down a bigot and Imus was that bigot.
NBC’s apology for Imus on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night (which you can see here) and the explanation given for his suspension which would then lead to the firing of his show was saturated in calculated apology. It was sopping wet in melodramatic performative sweat for the simple reason that they had to knock Imus down and they had to do it by seeming extremely sad about the hurt. They linked it to humans who were hurt. They had to humanize. It was all about human emotional response. Money is nothing compared to human emotion. Well, yes. Maybe not. In this case they were backed into a corner. Imus got away with murder until he couldn’t be sustained anymore but the hateful misery profiteer is a money making component of mainstream media and sadly, it isn’t going anywhere. [source]