Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

You Can't Spell "Animus" Without "Imus."

I was going to post my own thoughts on the Imus story today, focusing on how hypocritical the destruction of a Broadcast Hall-of-Famer is in the context of the much more prevalent racism and sexism of mainstream urban music culture. But the Associate Press is doing it much better than I could.

Reprinted with no permission whatsoever from (ironically) MSNBC's website:

As Imus falls, critics step up attack on hip-hop
Lyrics, themes demeaning to women targeted in wake of radio host's slurs

Updated: 5:46 p.m. ET April 13, 2007

NEW YORK - Fighting in vain to keep his job, radio host Don Imus said that rappers routinely “defame and demean black women” and call them “worse names than I ever did.”

That’s an argument many people made as the Imus fallout intensified, culminating with his firing Thursday for labeling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Now that Imus has been silenced (for the moment), some critics are moving down the radio dial to take on hip-hop, boosting the growing movement against themes in rap.

“We all know where the real battleground is,” wrote Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. “We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show.”

“We have to begin working on a response to the larger problem,” said the Rev. DeForest Soaries Jr., who as pastor of the Rutgers coach helped mediate the Imus imbroglio. Soaries announced Friday that he is organizing a nationwide initiative to address the culture that “has produced language that has denigrated women.”

The larger issue was alluded to by CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves when he announced Imus’ firing: “The effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society ... has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.”

MSNBCPointing out that the rapper Mims uses “ho” and worse epithets in his chart-topping song “This Is Why I’m Hot,” columnist Michelle Malkin asked: “What kind of relief do we get from this deadening, coarsening, dehumanizing barrage from young, black rappers and their music-industry enablers?”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the loudest critics calling for Imus’ termination, indicated that entertainment is the next battleground. “We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women,” he said after Imus’ firing. “We must deal with the fact that ho and the b-word are words that are wrong from anybody’s lips.

“It would be wrong if we stopped here and acted like Imus was the only problem. There are others that need to get this same message.”

It is a message that was spreading even before Imus’ comments.

After “Seinfeld” actor Michael Richards was castigated for a racist on-stage rant, the New York City Council passed a symbolic resolution banning the n-word, and other cities around the country have passed similar measures.

Cultural critic, author and columnist Stanley Crouch, a longtime foe of rap music, suspected the Imus ordeal would galvanize young black women across the country. He said a key moment was when the Rutgers players appeared at a news conference this week — poised, dignified and defying stereotypes seen in rap videos and “dumb” comedies.

“When the public got to see these women, what they were, it was kind of shocking,” Crouch said. “It made accepting the denigration not quite as comfortable as it had been for far too long.”
Some defenders of rap music and hip-hop culture, such as the pioneering mogul Russell Simmons, deny any connection between Imus and hip-hop. They describe rap lyrics as reflections of the violent, drug-plagued, hopeless environments that many rappers come from. Instead of criticizing rappers, defenders say, critics should improve their reality.

“Comparing Don Imus’ language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mind-set that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” Simmons said in a statement Friday.

The superstar rapper Snoop Dogg also denied any connection to Imus. “(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports,” he told “We’re talking about hos that’s in the ’hood that ain’t doing ---- that’s trying to get a n---- for his money.”

Criticism of rap is nothing new — it began soon after the music emerged from New York City’s underclass more than 30 years ago.

In 1990, rapper-turned actor Queen Latifah challenged rap’s misogyny in her hit song “U.N.I.T.Y.” In 1993, C. Delores Tucker, who was chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women Inc., led an organized movement — which included congressional hearings — condemning sexist and violent rap.

That same year, the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem drove a steamroller over a pile of tapes and CDs.

In 2004, students at Spelman College, a black women’s college in Atlanta, became upset over rapper Nelly’s video for his song “Tip Drill,” in which he cavorts with strippers and swipes a credit card between one woman’s buttocks. The rapper wanted to hold a campus bone marrow drive for his ailing sister, but students demanded he first participate in a discussion about the video’s troubling images. Nelly declined.

In 2005, Essence magazine launched its “Take Back the Music” campaign. Writers such as Joan Morgan and Kierna Mayo and filmmaker Byron Hurt also have tackled the issue recently.

T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, author of “Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women” and a professor at Vanderbilt University, said many black women resist rap music and hip-hop culture, but their efforts are largely ignored by mainstream media. As an example, the professor pointed to “Rap Sessions,” the 10-city tour in which she’s participating. She said the tour and its central question — does hip-hop hate women? — have gotten very little mainstream media coverage.

Sharpley-Whiting said, “It’s only when we interface with a powerful white media personality like Imus that the issue is raised and the question turns to ‘Why aren’t you as vociferous in your critique of hip-hop?’ We have been! You’ve been listening to the music, but you haven’t been listening to the protests from us.”

Crouch said that change in rap music and entertainment likely won’t come fast, because corporations are still profiting from the business — but it’s coming.

“I’ve been on (rappers) for 20 years,” Crouch said. “I was in the civil rights movement. I know it takes a long time when you’re standing up against extraordinary money and great power. But we’re beginning to see a shift.”

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

And now some of my thoughts:

Don Imus is a jackass. He has a long history of being a jackass; his job was to be a public jackass. He also has (or had) three hours of radio time to fill every day. You try riffing for three hours straight, trying to be edgy and entertaining, without saying something ill-considered that you'd like to build a time machine to take back. If previous things he has said, things far more offensive in my mind, were not worthy of firing, this surely wasn't. And canning him in the middle of a previously-scheduled fundraiser for cancer research, cutting off the telethon is just unbelievably thoughtless. For God's sake, fire him on Saturday, after the telethon is finished, you heartless bastards.

I don't like Don Imus. I don't listen to his show, I don't watch him on MSNBC, and I don't for a moment defend his words. Clearly, the free market has spoken; Imus likely would have lost his job to loss of sponsors if nothing else. But we have this thing called the First Amendment.

What disturbs me in this case is the apparent victory given to Al Sharpton (of Tawana Brawley fame) and Jesse Jackson (of "Hymietown" fame), in their continual quest to pit blacks against whites in America to increase their flagging political power. The idea that Al Sharpton, elected to no office, appointed to no position of authority, and trailing a long legacy of racism, anti-semitism, and homophobia, gets to be the moral arbiter of what is deemed acceptable for broadcast is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. Then again, it's entirely predictable: Sharpton's stock-in-trade is racial animus, and Imus gave him a massive opportunity to snatch some relevance back from Barack Obama.

And where was Obama during all of this? He's a leader who was actually elected to his position; I would very much have liked to hear his thoughts on the subject.

Raise your hand if you want Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson determining when the First Amendment is to be applied or not.

What, no hands?

No surprise.

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  • At 4/14/2007 2:17 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    This is my favorite quote on the subject from the previous article:

    “Comparing Don Imus’ language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mind-set that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” Simmons said in a statement Friday.

    If he's so concerned about censorship, why doesn't he defend Imus' right to speak whatever garbage he wants to spout? I seem to remember Russ making millions off of the beastie boys when they had a woman in a cage onstage!!! Oh, right, they were just expressing themselves 'artistically.' Well, They later saw clearly how they had perpetuated a negative view of women, and to amend that fault, MCA (adam yauch) said in the lyrics to 'Sure Shot':

    "I wanna say a little somethin' that's long overdue/This disrespect of women has got to reduce/To all my mothers and my sisters and their wives and friends/ I wanna offer my love and respect to the end"

    To that end, the Beastie Boys wouldn't appear with a group that played the song 'Smack my bitch up' at the tibetan Freedom concert, so they dropped the group from the lineup. (there are certainly free speech issues there to be discussed, but the point is that the event was focused on a nonviolent response to Chinese repression) Way to take a principled stand. I can hardly imagine eminem dropping fifty-cent from a concert lineup for similar reasons.

    Amending negative behaviors in the past by creative positive behaviors in the present?? WHAT?? THERE'S NO MOMNEY IN THAT!!

    Wow, just think what a world it would be if more hip-hop artists followed suit like my B-Boys did.

    That having been said, though,I have a problem with any government agency, be it city council or the federal government 'banning' words. Since when do they have the right to ban words?? How does one effectively enforce that measure? Oh, right, it is simply 'symbolic.' Sounds like a 'Non-Binding resolution.'

    How effective.


    This whole focus on Hip-Hop is long overdue-- and it needs to be examined, not in a Tipper Gore-'Stop-Everyone-from-saying-anything-which -doesn't-include-cute-duckies-and-bunnies'
    style, but in a manner that promotes serious consideration by certain artists to shift their focus and use their considerable talents (of course, some serious no-talent herbs are making bank right now) to examine real problems in the black community. (including the perpetuation of negative sterotypes WITHIN that community.)

    Talib Kweli & Mos Def are my two favorite rappers. Talib Kweli says:

    "It's a paradox we call reality/where 'keepin it real will make you a casualty of abnormal normality"

    'Abnormal normality' I think sums up this entire sorry state of affairs-- where black women growing up are forced to see themselves as props in music videos shaking their asses rather than flying into space with NASA (Like Stephanie wilson, from my hometown of Pittsfield Mass) or becoming doctors, poets, lawyers, etc.

    The soundtrack of bullshit becomes so loud; The limit of a young black girl's vision growing up then becomes so stunted that the best she can hope for is that young Jeezy will throw money at her in some lame ass video for a song that will be yesterday's news by next thursday.

    'Abnormal Normality.'

    Bitches, Ho's, or Baby mommas. Ladies, according to snoop, Dre, Fifty, and many other successful men-- Those are your three choices in life. Bitches, Ho's, or Baby mommas.

    These notions are so prevalent, and so pervasive, that most women don't even see it while they are growing up, let alone question it-- the beats are sweet, the songs are on 92.1 all day long, they play it in the club, well, subconsciously IT MUST BE TRUE!!

    The point is, if You feed a person (no matter who) a steady diet of negative mental 'Junk food' all their life, you get a person who grows up with an unhealthy self-image. It's time to break that skipping record of negativity.

    Time for hip-hop artists to step up and start being a solution to the problem... anyone ready to follow adam yauch's lead??

  • At 4/14/2007 2:34 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    "It's a completely different scenario," said Snoop, barking over the phone from a hotel room in L.A. "[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about ho's that's in the 'hood that ain't doing sh--, that's trying to get a n---a for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha-----as say we in the same league as him."

  • At 4/15/2007 11:13 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I wonder how Snoop figures those "ho's in the hood that ain't doing sh--" are gonna get a "n---a for his money"? Taking away his hard-earned crack sales revenues, or hitting him up for child support of the baby he may have fathered (but who can keep track, when you've screwed so MANY hos?)

    Snoop, let's keep it real dawg. You're so full of it, that it's making my brown eyes blue (apologies for quoting a white female country singer, but Crystal Gayle sho' nuff ain't no ho).


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