Friday, April 13, 2007

Whose job is it to tell us to be offended?

The questions generated by the Don Imus controversy have gone far beyond what he said, and how and why he got fired. The entire controversy has grown in such a way it affects everybody, whether we are members of the Rutgers women's basketball team or not.
Granted, Imus' bad joke was uncalled for, and never should have been said, much less repeated everywhere in the media. There were likely less than 300,000 people--less than one-one hundredth of the US population--listening when he said it, and it would be safe to say, given Imus' history of racism and sexism, that none of the listeners were members of the championship basketball team. The entire matter should have been irrelevant to most of us. The entire set of circumstances was escalated, by people who have chosen to make themselves the nation's thought police, into a situation that is life threatening to freedom of speech.
It would be entirely rational if the reason for firing Don Imus from both his radio broadcast and television simulcast was loss of revenue from lack of sponsorship. In that case, the question of First Amendment rights would be irrelevant. However, the reasons given by the Viacom/CBS broadcasting consortium that Imus was canned due to complaints by employees, and the pundits and newscasters across the media have speculated that it was because of the involvement of Sen. Barak Obama and/or the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It could be reasonably argued that the involvement of these three did have something to do with several large companies withdrawing their sponsorship of Imus' radio and television programs.
One question that comes to mind is, do we really need somebody to tell us when we should be offended? Certainly, we all possess the rationale to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Most of us believe in the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King--that there will come a day when the color of one's skin does not matter. But the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton have too much to gain from perceived racism. There are sheep who accept without question anything that is said by these two men. Without being told they are oppressed, the sheep wouldn't feel oppressed. Jackson and Sharpton do not want to see Dr. King's dream come to fruition, for, if it did, they would be out of a job.
What precedent does the firing of Imus set? Where do we draw the line? It should be up to the individual to treat others with respect, not up to the Federal government and the FCC to tell us what we can say, see, or hear. Can anybody who feels offended by anything just say so, and thereby limit the choices we make for entertainment? It certainly seems that way, and, figuratively speaking, book burning has made a comeback. From the looks of things, song lyrics are next, soon to be followed by such entertaining television programming as The Daily Show, South Park, Red Eye, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, and The Cobert Report, all of which are satire, which is the most often misunderstood form of humor. We don't have to agree with the issues made by such programming, and we can often laugh at ourselves watching these programs. We really don't have to watch or listen--because we have the rationale to make such choices. In any case, we must realize that humor and satire are not news or opinion, in order to realize the significance, or lack of such, to the nature of society and culture as a whole.
As South Park creators and writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone often point out, in their program, we can only be offended if we choose to feel offended . We can either laugh at a joke, or feel that it is wrong, but in no way should we let it be an excuse to limit freedom of speech.

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