April 19, 2007

Giving offense

Cartoonist Jen Sorensen looks at what would happen if the tables were turned:

Let's apply this to the Don Imus flap.

I've been trying to formulate something for the Language Log about Imus's fall from grace.  There's been such an avalanche of commentary in the media that it's hard to know where to start.  Our own Geoff Nunberg has now done a "Fresh Air" piece about some of this commentary, noting that much of it is about the complex details of the context in which offensive speech occurs, but focusing on the charge of hypocrisy leveled against those who "silenced" Imus.  I'm going to pick out one other theme: the claim that Imus has always been an equal-opportunity offender.

From Frank Rich, in an op-ed piece "Everybody Hates Don Imus", NYT Week in Review 4/15/07, p. 14:

... I was aware of many of his obnoxious comments about minority groups, including my own, Jews.  I wasn't seriously bothered by much of it, even when it was unfunny or made me wince, because I saw him as equally offensive to everyone.

Yeah, sure.  It just happened that the groups he chose to mention in his spectacles of ritualized offense were those that bear some stigma in our society, those for which there is a widely known slur vocabulary (some of which Imus was willing to use).  I'm not willing to search through his broadcasts, but I'd be astonished if there was any heterophobic humor (like Sorensen's above) in there, or any slurs on men in general, or white people in general, or Christians as a group, or city-dwellers, etc.  The targeted groups were surely the conventional ones, the usual suspects.

A few days earlier, on 4/11/07, a letter to the NYT (p. A22) from Charles R. Cooper of New York made a similar claim, but with an odd word choice:

Don Imus is a brash, outspoken, over-the-top radio host.  But he is not a racist.  He criticizes anyone and everyone with equal vigor.

Imus's performances are CRITICISM?  "Nappy-headed ho's" is a CRITIQUE of black women?  In what world?

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at April 19, 2007 02:25 PM