"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus In Mourning

Never eat in a bar or drink in a restaurant: this advice, tendered by a sage elder, has served me well over the decades. Applying its wisdom to another sphere, I never listen to television shows over the radio or watch radio broadcasts on TV. Here in Miami you can pick up NBC TV on 87.7 FM, but the thought of processing Kelly Ripa’s vapid vaporings without visual aids fills me with dread. By the reverse token, if I want to catch the Imus Show, my only access is by tuning in to MSNBC on cable; it has no radio home in Miami. Or had, before its plugs were pulled. The upshot is I have not heard the show since leaving Cincinnati in 2000, save the periodic New York visit.

Now they tell me I will never hear it again, nor will you or the 2.75 million people who habitually did in the past. CBS has asked the I-Man to take his creaky, oft-broken old bones and shuffle off in his absurdly tacky cowboy boots for parts unknown, following MSNBC’s snappier dismissal. This in the wake of his describing the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, Cinderella finalists against Tennessee for the NCAA championship, as a group of “nappy-headed hos”.

The singular of that is “ho”, listed in Homnick’s Dictionary of Modern Slang as: 1. a soothing Hawaiian lounge singer with fifty or so kids. 2. half a cylindrical, frosted, cream-filled cake manufactured by Hostess. 3. a third of a holiday greeting by Santa Claus. 4. the unnamed female protagonist in rap songs who needs to get the **** over here and engage in various sordid activities involving large quantities of asterisks. Short, one presumes, for the more Biblical “whore”, a word used variously to describe a woman either loose or commercial in her sexual proclivities. And, of course, Mr. Imus has now encountered the last definition: 5. (with heave-) the unceremonious process of being evicted or fired; the bum’s rush.

Is the I-Man’s career over? I think not. He will not be satisfied to let his 40-year run finish in unrelieved ignominy. Either he will sign with a lesser network for much less money or he will follow his mortal nemesis, Howard Stern, to satellite radio. His corporate sponsors like Procter & Gamble will give way to the sleazy ads endemic to the medium: baldness cures, get-rich-quick home business packages and virility aids. And most of his big-name guests will scurry for cover into taller grass.

It could not have happened to a less nice guy. Imus is to Dale Carnegie as Al Sharpton is to Emily Post. He may have been a Marine, but his buddies are none too proud of his simpering for a fee. If I rise to defend him, I do it with nose firmly held. He can make me laugh but he can never make me smile. (This is not to minimize his considerable acts of charity. But writing a check does not whitewash a disreputable personage.)

Am I the first guy to notice this is neither a racist nor a sexist slur? A slur, I should think, impugns the character in some way. Racist means attributing some debility or unwholesome behavior to members of a particular genetic group. Sexist – vile word! – indicates a presumption of inferior human fiber on the part of one gender (an intrinsically absurd notion, since every human being has one father and one mother). Now find me that, any of that in Imus’ gibbering.

Was he disparaging these girls’ chastity? Of course not. Was he trying to asperse their style of dress? Ridiculous: all college basketball players wear a uniform outfit, differentiated only by team colors. Was he saying they must be whores because they are black? Ludicrous; Rutgers is no blacker than other college teams. Was he saying all women are whores? Gimme a break.

What he was saying, in silly street language coined by black wastrels, is that these girls projected a kind of tough street persona, a court sensibility that tells an opponent: you can’t hurt me anymore than I have been out there in the big bad world, and I’ll keep clawing until I have your crown. In fact, if you have been around sports long enough, you know that some teams cultivate that sort of image to intimidate opponents. Whether or not they have a valedictorian and a musical genius in their ranks.

Irony of ironies. What he said was offensive, but only on grounds of generalized crudity. He did not insult the Rutgers girls or blacks at large or women in general, he only insulted a standard of decorum most of his listeners would deem effete. Think about it… then laugh at the foolishness… and cry at our national idiocy.

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