Monday, May 14, 2007

Late, but necessary

As the kind of person who generally says whatever pops into his mind at any given moment (and results in a great many open mouth, insert foot moments), I have recently come to worry more and more about the self-imposed censorship that goes on in our society. No, I'm not talking about the FCC, that's a whole nother story. I'm talking about the tyranny of the majority esque censorship that goes on, and the threat it poses to freedom of speech.

Of course I'm talking about Don Imus and the fiasco that followed his comment about the Rutgers Women's basketball team. Now, I know the issue has been beat to death, but I don't care.
First of all, I have been told by some that I have no right to speak about this issue because I cannot possibly know exactly what it feels like to be generally referred to as a nappy-headed ho.  No and yes. I do have a right to speak about this, everyone does. Everyone has a duty to speak about it, we live in a democracy don't we?  And of course I can't possibly know exactly what it feels like, but I can imagine it feels pretty shitty.  I can also imagine it feels pretty shitty to hear it repeated over and over and over by every newscaster you can think of.  

However, I don't really give a damn about what he said. He said it, people bitched, and he got fired.  It is what it is, but you're a fool in my book if you believe for a second that the real reason he got fired was because CBS and NBC fired Imus because they abhorred what he said, or even that Al Sharpton was really totally motivated by righteous outrage.  CBS and NBC fired him because of the massive shitstorm that Sharpton and exploitative cronies like him kicked up.  Sharpton did exactly what attention whores like him do best: drew attention to himself.

My point is, we need to take public figures such as Sharpton and Imus less seriously, because for all intents and purposes, they are ridiculous jackasses. They serve no better purpose than that. Some of them get fired for shit they say, some of them get more airtime for berating the ones that screw up. But, in the end, all they care about is ratings, or at least mostly. I'm sure Sharpton enjoys being righteous and I'm sure Imus enjoys being offensive and shocking.  I'm just worried we are taking these people too seriously. I say tons of offensive things every day, but I only say them to people who I know will 'get' it because they 'get' me.  People who 'get' Imus listen to Imus, and if he says something you don't like, then, rather than taking it as an opportunity to end his career, why don't you accept the fact that he said something you don't like and move on with your life. Sure you can be pissed off and sure you can talk about it on the radio, but Sharpton personally met with the head of CBS and demanded Imus' removal.

Sharpton on CNN: "If there's no punishment, what message are we sending to the country?" Um, maybe that we have the right of free speech? That comedians sometimes say offensive things? That being a "shock jock" like Imus directly entails shit like this? That people screw up sometimes and cross the line? That the line isn't clearly delineated and that Sharpton is essentially saying that, for racism, he 'knows it when he sees it'? To me, that is the most dangerous part of this. Sharpton suggested that the FCC should regulate this kind of thing, calling for "decency". So then we are not only going with "obscenity" but also distrimination? Alright, Mr. Sharpton, you are proposing that we kill comedy.

I'm worried this is leading in the direction of the sort of tyranny of the majority that Tocqueville and Mill (how's that for name dropping?) warned about. It seems the idea of "decency" is growing wider and wider,  and even if the FCC isn't regulating it directly, it seems like the majority is.  One of the major reasons I love America is that I don't have to "watch what I say" here, or do I? With every one of these outbursts, I become more and more worried that we are creating a self-imposed censorship that is moving in a risky direction. It is our own, each of us individually, responsibility to prevent this. We must continue to voice our own opinions.  When the majority orders silence, yell louder. But also know when to shut up. Don't let yourself become part of the majority. If you've got more to say than your time on the floor allows, write a book, or start a blog.