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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2007/04/23
by Mike Gruenberg


In My Life
The King is DeadLong Live the King.
For those of us who grew up in New York, radio personality, Don Imus was as much a fabric of our lives as the subway, Papaya King, pigeons, Grand Central Station and the general high energy pace of the city. We listened to his nonsense; we marveled at his uncanny ability to reinvent himself and winced every time he made disparaging remarks about someone or something. No one was safe. Those unkind remarks crossed all gender and ethnic lines.
When he arrived here form Cleveland, it was clear to everyone that he had severe alcohol and substance abuse problems. To his credit, he finally got help, sobered up and came back to be the top NY radio personality on WNBC, which was AM radio. He was clean and sober with his acerbic wit in tact. When sports radio became popular, Imus began his tenure with WFAN. He was first paired off with a widely known sports talk authority named Pete Franklin. The gist of the pairing was that Pete knew sports and Imus knew squat about sports. They argued, they were not a good match and Imus prevailed when Pete left New York in disgust. There was much speculation that Imus simply drove Pete out of town after one too many insults.
As sports radio became more and more widespread, Imus grew in popularity as the insults continued. To add substance to his shows, dispersed with the usual low brow humor, well known political and literary personalities appeared on to his show to either tout a recent book or gain credibility for an upcoming election. Against a backdrop of riveting current events discussions and charitable efforts that raised millions of dollars, the Imus program continued to equally insult all ethnic groups. Virtually all of those insults were ignored by his management since the Imus program provided a highly profitable cash flow to his employers. At the same time any outcries from the public was virtually ignored until his last run-in with the Rutgers Womens Basketball team.
We are all aware of what he said, so I wont beleaguer the point. The bottom line is that Imus is not a racist. He is merely a symptom. Our society has become a mean spirited one and his actions reflect that fact. When once the founding fathers of this country encouraged questioning government policies, we are now told that if we disagree with the Presidents policies, we are anti-American. TV viewing of situation comedies has been largely displaced by reality shows that encourage people to turn on one another, exposing the most mean spirited behavior that ends up with a person or persons being publicly humiliated. The popular American Idol television show subjects people who want to be in show business to a panel of experts who take on the responsibility of publicly abusing a person trying to sing or dance their way to fame. In short, we as a society exhibit the same poor behavior of which Imus is only a symptom of a much larger societal problem. Many of the people who publicly called for Imus to resign have been guilty of the same, if not worse outlandish behavior. And as far as the general public is concerned in a recent USA Today poll, 46% of the people that responded said that he should not have been fired and only 38% said the dismissal was warranted and 9% of the public said no action should have been taken.
But since we speak of music on this site, I would be remiss not to mention the mean and repulsive state of some of the product being listened by all ethnic groups today. In thinking about what Imus said, one would have to compare his actions to those people whose musical lyrics are degrading to woman, challenging to authority and appealing to those who would take a violent path. Turning on MTV, one can see a steady diet of videos that are violent in nature, degrading to woman and whose lyrics are less than casual. In short, artistic freedom aside, we listen, we see and we know that it is wrong to say hurtful things about others and yet we continue to do so. We watch the videos, look forward to see who gets kicked off the island, who flops on American Idol, forward by e-mail insensitive jokes and listen to people like Imus. We created and supported him and his ilk. We criticize him and call for his dismissal, yet none of the people who have publicly castigated Imus have taken the purveyors of rap music to task over lyrics that are far more insidious than his ill chosen words.
I grew up at a time where we first questioned authority. Many of the songs we listened to had overt reference to drugs and pre-MTV we watched movies whose violence shocked our parents. What is happening today is really not much different than what has occurred in the past. The difference is that a discussion about violence, degradation and humiliation has begun. Perhaps the only good that has come out of the Imus remark is that hopefully we have begun to travel on the road to repair. If people become more aware that as a society we must tolerate others and be respectful of their heritage and customs, then I thank Imus for being the catalyst of change. If we let it go and wait for the next news story to horrify us, then we have lost a golden opportunity.
Peace & Hope & Prayer to all at Virginia Tech.

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