Friday, April 13, 2007

Stupidity as a teaching point

I won't bother linking to anyone here, since the story is so all-pervasive, but I was thinking this morning about the whole Imus "controversy". What a crock of fertilizer.

I agree that what he said was completely wrong. As somebody put it to me, "he lived by the sword and he died by the sword". Fair enough. A shock jock needs to keep shocking his audience. In doing so, he crosses the line occasionally. When he does, he should pay the price-within his right to exercise free speech. Calling the Rutgers players "nappy-headed hos" or whatever he said was completely stupid. Was it criminal? Of course not. Was it something for which he should have been fired? Not in my opinion. And unlike many, I've been in those shoes. I was fired from a job for saying something that, in retrospect, I didn't mean and shouldn't have said. My "offense" wasn't as tasteless as his, but the loss of my job was just as real. I still feel that getting rid of me was wrong, when I should have been merely told not to do it again- no harm, no foul. But that's not the way it played out. Life really sucks sometimes.

At any rate, he was fired. As many have argued, not because of what he said, but because the issue wouldn't go away. Mr. Imus of course bears much of the blame for that, but no matter. He should have merely admitted his error- preferably right after he said it- stated that he would make a point of watching his tongue, issued an apology to the Team, and moved along. If his employer wanted to punish him with a suspension, then take it like a man, and be done with it.

I also would point out here that I think Rutgers has made too much of it. Nobody was hurt, and I've personally been called worse things than that. Big deal. Instead, they played the victim card, getting to appear on Oprah, and who-knows-where-else, presumably chattering on about the "cost" to them. Which, realistically, is nil. But hey, it's nice P.R, right?


When I was a little kid, roughly 8 years old or so, my family (less my brother) went to downtown Detroit (people still did that back in the early 70s!), to one of the riverfront ethnic festivals, which at the time were a big draw down there. The gang split up, my mom taking my sisters off to do their thing, while I went alone with my dad. We wandered around for a while. There was a big area full of picnic tables, where people could eat the food from the vendors. At one of the tables, all alone, sat a man. Face down on the table. With an empty beer cup next to his head.
My dad shook his head, and muttered something under his breath. Then he said something that has stayed with me forever. He said "see that guy over there? Do you know what's wrong with him?" "Yeah" I said. "He's drunk". My dad replied with one of the best lessons he ever taught me: "That's right. He looks pretty stupid, doesn't he.... Remember that."

Think about that for a moment. My dad pointed out where another man had done something that embarrassed himself, made the people around him uncomfortable, likely damaged his family, etc. And he held up that man's error as a teaching point. And it worked. Brilliantly. Even now, some 35-40 years later I still remember the whole discussion. Shame as a teaching point. Amazing.

Now imagine if he had merely lectured me one day on the evils of alcohol. I doubt very much that it would have worked anywhere near as well. I can't say for sure, but I suspect as much. I know a lot of people who got the alternate version, and it didn't sink in as well as that 1 minute conversation Dad and I had.

(Only later would I find out just how much my father hated alcoholism, and why. Suffice it to say he has some idea of what alcohol abuse can do to people. And so do I)

So here's my thought. Rather than lecture people about how wrong Imus was, lecturing people about "hate speech", "racism" and all that blather, and rather than making the Rutgers team out to be victims of-whatever they're victims of-let's make it a teaching point.

Teachers and parents should at least point at Mr. Imus and have the courage to say "He sounds pretty stupid, doesn't he? Remember that."