[12 April 2007]
Let us, for a moment, table Don Imus’ contemptible language and address the issue of how he and so many other opinionated gabbers came to flourish in the first place.
There is precious little humility or civility left in our national discourse. We don’t have a culture war as much as a breakdown of dialogue. Actually, there’s precious little dialogue. It’s all monologue, on the radio, the television, flooding the Net, with shrill soliloquies of anger, snark-infested humor and uncensored logorrhea that, at the core of it, amounts to more from Me, me, me!
While millions of people tune in to talk radio, they don’t listen. They tune in to be entertained and appalled. They want an aural freak show, the ramblings of an unbridled id. They’re cruising the dial for bad behavior, the kind of talk never permitted at the dinner table or eliminating all chances of a second date.
The issue isn’t a call for censorship. It’s the abandonment of self-censorship. No thought, no matter how stupid, gets left behind.
Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest media market, can’t support a full-time jazz or classical station—such music might prove too soothing—yet is host to more squawkers and yakkers than clot City Council.
What does it say about a culture that handsomely remunerates gabfest “hosts,” a misnomer if there ever was one, to prattle angrily for three to four hours daily? Most people, even unrepentant egotists, can’t listen to themselves for that long.
The result of so much mighty windbaggery is a verbal marathon, a Tour de Fray. After a while, everyone’s exhausted, making little sense, while the audience becomes more inured to bad behavior. Consequently, the stakes keep rising.
The shock isn’t simply the offensive stupidity of Imus’ comment. For starters, stellar athletes are the last people who should be compared to hookers. But why doesn’t it happen more often, given the culture’s appetite for sensation? People are waiting for that next water-cooler moment and celebrity in free fall.
Certainly, the chattering classes don’t listen. They’re broadcasters in glass booths throwing bricks while searching for constant validation, a soothing chorus of approbation for their comments and behavior.
Most of them are so snake-fanged yet thin-skinned—as Imus proved when confronted by critics Monday—that they’re cut off from anyone who doesn’t toady in agreement. It’s rant rage.
“I can’t get anywhere with you people,” a flustered Imus protested when confronted by the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Then again, he had cornered himself into having to finally listen to people who didn’t agree with his new world order. Meanwhile, Sharpton, as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dick Polman points out in his “American Debate” blog, has his own shoddy history of insensitive rants coupled with an inability to apologize.
Imus’ initial defense was that he was trying to be “funny,” further proof at how removed he is from listening, which is essential to civility. Every time you’re talking, you’re not listening, and Imus and his ilk are talking all the time.
The Internet, extending a similar physical remove from personal interaction, is flooded with the same level of discourse, or pronounced lack thereof.
There are 75 million blogs on the naked Internet, according to the blog-indexing concern Technorati, with more than 1.6 million entries being added daily along with 175,000 additional blogs.
What this amounts to is an unfathomable level of blogorrhea, snarky sniping, pseudonymous attacks and quips, and such a lack of regard and enlightenment that it’s led some bloggers to call for a code of etiquette.
Which, of course, has been met with epithets, derision and death threats among some users who view the Web as a Wild West shoot-out of unfettered opinion.
Imus, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and a Bigmouth to Be Named Later, take your pick. Suspension, rehab, dismissal, confession. The garbage is going to keep mounting until people realize we’re not having meaningful discourse. We’re all just yelling at the same time.