Imus, Bias, Devils, And Heaven genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions
I’ve never been a Don Imus devotee. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I listened to any portion of his show. I’ve never met the man and I know next to nothing about his character or his motivations other than what I’ve garnered during this rancor over his racially charged remarks.
So what do I know? I know that people on both sides of the political divide have sought to take advantage of the situation. While that isn’t necessarily wrong, it is indicative of a much larger problem in our society. In the broadest sense, it’s the oversimplification of us versus them…good versus bad.
To make my argument, the best example I can offer is from the 2004 presidential election and the circumstances surrounding John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. At the Democratic convention, Kerry made his oft quoted announcement, "Reporting for Duty", and so began a series of volleys intended to frame the issue for the voting public. The two choices offered were that he was either a courageous war hero who risked his life for his fellow soldiers and then focused his energy on opposing a war that was wrong…or he was a cunning opportunist who crafted his actions to garner the accolades of a heroic soldier in order to provide him with the vehicle to make inflammatory accusations about the war and his fellow soldiers to promote his own political and personal gain.
Back to Imus. There is no doubt that his actions triggered this mess. His derogatory comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were ignorant and inflammatory. His words were immediately met by a barrage of criticism and that is as it should be. In short order, MSNBC acknowledged the inappropriateness of his remarks and suspended him for two weeks. As an outside observer, that certainly seems warranted.
So now what? Well, this is the point at which it gets tricky. This is the juncture at which the situation becomes larger than the sum of its parts. This is where it becomes less about Don Imus and more about ideology and advantage for those in search of opportunities to engage in the dialogue of us versus them…good versus bad…from positions that have eclipsed the essential considerations of those involved in and impacted by the transgression. It’s not surprising and it’s nothing new…but it is wrong.
Let me attempt to explain. Fortunately, today’s headlines provide a relevant example…the dismissal of rape charges against three Duke University La Crosse players. By all accounts, the local District Attorney sought to manipulate the system and the media to further his own agenda…regardless of the intended purpose of his office…to determine the guilt or innocence of the alleged perpetrators.
First, my own mea culpa. When it was reported that one of the accused had previously been involved with, and charged in, a gay bashing incident, I felt justified in doubting the assertions of his friends and family that he was incapable of the alleged rape. In my own way, I wanted to punish him and all those who would commit crimes against gays…and I made the rape incident about more than those charges and the guilt or innocence of those alleged to have committed those specific charges.
I wasn’t alone. A number of influential Black leaders came to the defense of the alleged victim. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting they were wrong to come to her aid or to advocate on her behalf. Had that been the limit of their actions, I wouldn’t be able to use the situation to advance my argument. However, they too sought to make the incident about more than the needs of the alleged victim and ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused
The media outlets were also duplicitous. Almost immediately, the cost of tuition at Duke University was discussed and the social and financial standing of the families of the accused was reported. The inference to the excesses of class and status was palpable. They went further. They also portrayed La Crosse as the sport of choice for the privileged and hinted that the ability to participate might involve implied racial considerations. As is so often the case, the media sought to expand and exaggerate the breadth and depth of the situation…because it better served their need for sensational stories to attract viewers.
So what are the connecting points? Essentially, our culture has devolved into the serial practice of partisanship without regard for the individual or the pursuit of the truth. We’re not looking to find the truth, we’re looking to create truth and that is a pivotal distinction. As such, each issue becomes the flagship for opposing interest groups and the epicenter for partisan politics. Those actually involved in this and other incidents (and they are often victims) become nothing more than pawns in an elaborate game of chess…and they are frequently further victimized.
How does it play out? In ways that defy logic and deny reason. Don Imus has yet to speak with the Rutgers basketball team and they have not yet had the opportunity to confront him directly. Imus has apologized numerous times in countless ways…through the media. The Rutgers players have reacted…through spokespeople and the media. I’m sorry but when I see how these situations unfold, I am convinced that we suffer the severest form of "nothing is as it seems". Until we begin to realize that resolution and redemption begin at the most fundamental level…person to person…accused with aggrieved…true progress cannot be achieved. Why are direct dialogue and a face to face meeting between Imus and the Rutgers players the last consideration?
Frankly, we are fast becoming the epitome of a Jerry Springer society. It seems to have become more important to have an audience and notoriety when confronting conflict than it is to attain resolve and mutual respect. That model seems to serve the needs of the exploited and those who seek to exploit; reinforcing all that relegates objectivity to the outhouse while making the frailty and imperfection of the human condition a spectacle that harkens back to the Coliseum.
No doubt the Rutgers players were drawn into this fray through no fault of their own…which should afford them far more leeway as well as the right to determine the method and the means to achieve reconciliation. Unfortunately, the interlopers that seek to parlay the predicament are soon dictating the dynamics…fueling resentment and recalcitrance in order to advance their agendas. Putting them on display seems to be more important than facilitating the confrontation and apology that is necessary to begin the healing process and the restoration of their hard earned dignity.
Beyond that, the actual merits of Don Imus the man or the employee cannot and should not be ciphered through public opinion…especially public opinion that results from the systematic hijacking of the incident. In fact, one might be safe to suggest that those manipulating public opinion may well have more malicious motivations and intentions than those that underlie the incendiary words uttered by Don Imus.
This situation isn’t and shouldn’t be about whether liberals or conservatives, this race or that race, hip hop or honky-tonk, one group or another, are more offensive and therefore more responsible for all that is wrong with America. I am not capable of judging the whole of Don Imus nor am I capable of crafting a recipe to fix all of America…and neither are the countless pundits and partisans who have sought to frame it so.
I may be wrong, but I’m convinced that fostering or fixing the direct relationships we currently have is where we will begin to find solutions to our much larger societal issues. Consequently, I’m also not willing to subjugate the rights or responsibilities of the individual for the benefit of some beguiled brotherhood. When we do so, we endorse a system that substitutes subjectivity for substance and we are all diminished.
I’m not a religious person…but I often find kinship with the imagery surrounding the portrayal of one called Jesus and his teachings of understanding and forgiveness. For all the banter I hear about the Bible and Christian values, it certainly seems to me that we are fast abandoning what many view as the sacred "tablets" in favor of the sacrosanct tabloids. If I’m right, all I can say is heaven help us.