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We're Hiding From the Ugly Truth in the Imus Scandal

People say that Don Imus isn't funny, but let's face it, there is a joke in all of this -- a joke on the black community.
 
 
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"Ultimately, the fact that rappers are now being held accountable for something Imus said shows the bias many people have against hip-hop culture. Hip-hop is often the scapegoat of everything gone wrong in America, but hip-hop didn't slander the Rutgers women's basketball team, Don Imus did, so let's stay on point here. ... The point is, hip-hop didn't invent cursing, slurs, bad language, sexism or misogyny, though hip-hop like so many other fictional forms of the culture uses this type of language as a form of expression, however problematic it might be. This expression represents the way people in the streets talk. It might not be pretty or politically correct, but it is a unique form of fictional expression that emerges from the minds and mouths of young black men." -- Dr. Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC, writing for ESPN.com

The most annoying thing about the Don Imus fiasco? The instant it blew up into an absurdly overdone national controversy, we all knew exactly how everyone was going to play it -- or overplay it, as it were.

We all knew that the angry-white-guy columnists of the Townhall.com ilk were going to turn even the previously-hated liberal Imus into a martyr of the political correctness age ("Imus, Political Correctness, and the end of America" was Douglas McKinnon's not-at-all-hysterical offering). We knew Al Sharpton would show up, business card in hand, at the back of the ambulance, offering his services. We knew campus feminists would surface en masse to paint Imus as a hatemongering symbol of the old-boy white male power structure that secretly still insists on its power and privilege in American society, his show a daily vulgar wink to fellow members of the Matrix. And we knew - or at least I knew, since I've personally been through a couple of these media ass-whippings before -- that virtually every editorial denouncing Imus would include a line in there that would read something along the lines of, "And the worst thing is, his so-called 'jokes' aren't even that funny."

Canny observers of the cultural issues underlying the Imus controversy could have also made a few other predictions. The first is that the angry-white-guy crowd would try to turn the tables on Imus's accusers and point the finger at the hip-hop culture that introduced old white liberals like Imus to use words like "nappy-headed hos" in the first place. The second is that black intellectuals like the above-quoted Dr. Todd Boyd of USC would use their advanced degrees to find a way to split the necessary rhetorical hairs to repel these attacks, dismissing Imus as a worthless bigot on the one hand while upholding rap and hip-hop as a "unique form of fictional expression" deserving of the broad indulgence we grant to true art forms.

They're all full of shit, all of them. With very few exceptions almost everyone who jumped onto the Don Imus pigpile was a shameless opportunist whose mind was made up years before this incident even happened, and used the occasion of a radio jock stepping in shit to robotically jerk off his constituency for a cheap buck. First of all, let's just get this out of the way: the idea that anyone in the media world gives a shit about the dignity of women, black or white, is a ridiculous joke.

America's TV networks have spent the last forty years falling over each other trying to find better and more efficient ways to sell tits to the 18-to-35 demographic. They make hour-long prime-time reality dramas these days about shopping-obsessed sluts hitting each other with pocketbooks, for Christ's sake. Paris Hilton, a dumb, rich slut with a cock in her mouth, gets her own primetime show. MTV, the teenie mags, the pop music industry, they're basically all an endless parade of skinny, half-naked brainless whores selling makeup and jeans to neurotic, self-hating, weight-obsessed little girls.

The idea that NBC -- the company that proudly produced 241 episodes of Baywatch, a show whose two main characters for nearly a decade were Pamela Anderson's tits -- the idea that that network was "offended" by the use of the word "ho" is beyond preposterous. Until this incident, I would have wagered very good money that "Ho" would be in the title of at least one NBC-produced reality pilot within the next ten years. You can't see that? Trivia-battling sluts in Ho-llywod Squares ? An irony-for-irony's-sake callgirl-improvement show called Pimp My Ho ? Would you bet real money that the Paris-and-Nicole vehicle The Simple Life wasn't originally called Whore Acres at some stage of the pre-production process? I sure as hell wouldn't. Programming decisions of the The Bachelor ilk aren't spontaneous mid-show farts by an aging drug-battered brain like the Imus deal -- they're wide-awake decisions, forged in the crucible of number-crunching corporate reflection, to use reactionary images of cheap brainless skanks to sell Fritos and pickup trucks.

The race question is even more ridiculous. Dr. Todd Boyd notwithstanding, there's just no way to talk about the Imus incident without talking about hip-hop and rap culture. Let me just say right up-front that I listen to a lot of rap music. I'm one of those revolting well-off suburban white kids who grew up on PE and NWA and privately mourns the fact that he looks like an idiot in a Starter jersey. I love rap music, always have. But as an adult white male I also know a minstrel show when I see it, and that's what rap has turned into.

Satan himself couldn't have designed a more effective vehicle for marginalizing black culture than modern hip-hop. In the early days rap music was scary social commentary, it was raw and real and it vividly described a violent street culture that white people didn't know about and didn't want to know about. But very quickly rap turned into a multibillion-dollar industry in which the same corporate behemoths who sold us crap like Garth Brooks and boy bands and Britney Spears made massive profits selling a stylized, romanticized version of black misery to white kids in the suburbs.

That was bad enough, but even worse was the way black politicians and black intellectuals so easily bought into the idea that these endless video images of gun-toting, ho-slapping black men with fat wallets, rock-hard tattooed abs and fully-accessorized rides were positive living symbols of "black empowerment" and "black manhood." Like Tupac was the next Malcolm or something.

Yeah, right. Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to not see through this shit? Here you've got the modern-day version of The Man signing big checks to back your record deals and cheering along as all the artistic talent from the black community starts walking around in public wearing childlike one-word stage names like strippers or animal actors, writing song lyrics featuring preschool-level spelling, and primping endlessly for the cameras with their gold teeth and swimming pools and pimped-out cars - all of them absurd caricatures of the capitalist wealth fantasy, only the black heroes of these videos are too stupid to buy land or influence or industry stock with their money, they've gotta blow it all on the first shiny ring or phat ride they see. How exactly is any of that that different from the minstrel show, the conk and the zoot suit? The black man who can dance and sing, but can't control his urges, can't resist pussy and just can't get enough of what Whitey is selling, can't stop preening in his Caddy ... that's innovative? That's empowering?

Bullshit. Rap was real once, but once it became an industry it turned into the same con white people have been playing ever since they set foot in this country. It's a bunch of shiny trinkets for the isle of Manhattan. Here's your Hummer and your bitches, knock yourself out. You need us, we'll be buying the African grain market. Oh, and, thanks for the cap, my kid loves it, he wears it sideways just like you ... No matter how catchy the music is, on a deeper level, that's what big-money rap acts amount to now. And the longer the black community eats it up, the more time Whitey is going to have to laugh all the way to the bank, like he always has.

Pop Quiz: where did the practice of calling all black women, and especially black women who are not actual prostitutes, Hos begin? I seem to remember a line from Boyz N The Hood where some girl complains to Ice Cube about his habit of calling all women bitches. "Oh, I'm sorry, ho!" is the answer. Laughs all around. When the Imus thing hit, we heard Snoop Dogg explain that the difference between rappers using the word "ho" and Don Imus using it is that unlike "old-ass white men" like Imus, 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 hos that's in the 'hood that ain't doing shit." Oh, I get it, Snoop -- you were satirizing the hos and bitches. You obviously checked the crowd to make sure nobody had a degree when you did your "So all the niggaz and the bitches, raise your muthafuckin hands in the air!" act. And it was satire when Ludacris did his thing:

but hos dont feel so sad and blue
cuz most of us niggaz is hos too

People say that Don Imus isn't funny, but let's face it, there is a joke in all of this. It's a joke on the black community. And the joke is this: white people don't even have to call black people niggers and bitches and whores anymore. They do it for us. You throw a couple dozen talented black artists mid-level stockbroker money and they'll be ho-calling bitch-slapping modern Bojangles acts till the end of fucking time. From Whitey's point of view that's a hell of a punchline. The mistake Imus made was saying it out loud.

As for the people who say there's no connection between hip-hop and what Imus said, they're out of their minds. Without Ludacris and 50 Cent and "We Luv Deez Hoez," Don Imus doesn't even know what a ho is. The unspoken truth about the Imus story is that there is no difference at all between what Imus does and what Snoop Dogg does. They both get paid to make ethnic slurs. In this case they both use the same one, one stealing from the other. The only difference is that Snoop doesn't know the joke is on him, too.

That is a dark and ugly truth and I suspect that its very ugliness is what so many people were hiding from when they pretended to be "outraged" by Don Imus. Because everyone knows that the issue with Don Imus isn't what he said, but who said it and in what context.

We've got a TV entertainment industry that ritualistically demeans women, a recording industry that makes billions cartoonizing black culture, and a radio and film comedy industry that lives almost exclusively off lowbrow racial stereotyping. Guys like Carlos Mencia even use the same jokes over and over, changing words here and there to fit the different stereotypes. (Mencia did "That's like going to Compton and finding the only Hispanic teenage girl who isn't pregrant" and he also did "That's like going to a NASCAR event and finding the only white girl who doesn't have a black eye.") Every comic in America does this shit. It's gone so far that we even make jokes about making jokes about ethnic groups (Sarah Silverman's song about "I love you more than Asian people are good at math" comes to mind). And we get critics to bail out these comics by saying things like "He/she mocks bigotry and stereotypes by ironically embracing them" (the Voice's Michael Musto has used that one before) but deep down inside we all know that's bullshit. I dare anyone to watch tape of Richard Pryor doing his impression of a stuttering Chinese restaurant owner and then tell me with a straight face that Pryor is "mocking Asian stereotypes by ironically embracing them."

Of course he isn't. He's laughing at stuttering Chinese people. And the way Richard Pryor does it, it's funny. If Pryor were still alive and coherent today we'd put him on HBO, where he'd do huge ratings with the very same people who are pretending now to be appalled by Don Imus. Because we love our black jokes, we love our Jew jokes, we love our redneck jokes, and we love our misogyny -- we just don't want it all on the wrong network in the wrong time-slot, coming from a white guy, in whose mouth it might very well sound like the bigot in all of us. And when it does pop up in the wrong place, coming from the wrong person, we've got to pull the "I'm shocked, shocked" act and pretend it's a criminal aberration. Because that's much easier than facing the truth about what we just heard.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone .

 
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