DON IMUS AND THE AMERICAN APPETITE FOR SHOCK JOCKS
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. --James 3:8
So, it would appear that Don Imus is posed for a comeback. Of course, numerous pundits have already begun to decry the possibility of the shock jock sitting behind a microphone again. The outrage that ensued over the tasteless (and possibly racist) comments made by Imus a few months ago brings the American public’s penchant for hypocrisy into painful focus. Audiences have the nerve and audacity to be offended because a radio shock jock actually shocked them! The paradox is painfully obvious. Given the nature of the radio shock profession, there is little else that audiences could possibly expect from these questionable entertainment personalities. This contradiction endemic to public opinion prompts an interesting question… Do we actually yearn to be offended?
It seems as if we require a cache of expendable personages for the purpose of being voluntarily offended. The personages constituting this cache typically exhibit an impressive record of longevity in the face of public outrage, but are still susceptible to professional excommunication and social ostracism. Once one personality is burned at the stake, audiences proceed to gorge themselves at the demagogic trough of another one. It is as if we yearn to be shocked so that we may eventually avenge ourselves upon a sacrificial lamb. In this sense, the shock jock has come to serve a cathartic function for the American public’s morally schizophrenic mind.
Before the age of the radio shock jock, several offensive performers already inhabited the entertainment scene. These included Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce, Benny Bell, and Le Pétomane. By the 1970s, this trend in pop culture entertainment began to gradually migrate towards to the American radio milieu. Eventually, the airwaves were assaulted by innuendo, crude sexual references, and toilet humor. Simultaneously, FCC regulations were being consistently strained as this emergent class of entertainers continued to push the envelope. Among some of the more common antics that constitute the shock jock standard litanies is the promotion of weekly highway “flashing days,” such as "Whip 'em Out” Wednesdays and “Blow It Out Yer A**” Fridays.
The problem with this questionable vocation is that, by its very nature, it stipulates the perpetual escalation of risqué antics. One of the most prominent (and disturbing) cases in point was the infamous February 27, 2001 broadcast of Bubba the Love Sponge. During the course of this particular show, Bubba offered listeners a live pig castration. This ghastly exercise in violence was followed by the animal’s publicly broadcasted slaughter. Although Bubba had consulted with the Florida Fish and Wildlife association concerning the regulations for the pig’s humane slaughter, one must still question the moral fortitude of any audience that would willingly subject itself to such overtly violent forms of “entertainment”. Arguably, this grisly episode in radio shock jock history makes Imus’ crude comments about “nappy-headed hoes” seem almost tame.
Initially, the shock value of certain statements may invoke enough public outrage to actually enlarge audiences. However, American moral sensibilities are becoming increasingly dull and audiences are being progressively desensitized. Ironically, this moral decline actually poses a problem for the very shock jocks that are encouraging such moral bankruptcy. As the shock value of certain antics begins to weaken, shock jocks find that they must push the envelope even further. This becomes a dangerous tight rope act. The shock jock must shock listeners enough to maintain robust audiences, but, simultaneously, must make sure that they do not go too far. The delicate balancing act is further complicated by the passage of a new law in March 2004, which substantially increased fines for the violation of decency guidelines.
What is most unsettling about the shock jock phenomenon is not the antics of the entertainers themselves, but the psychology of the audiences that both professionally apotheosize and dethrone such personalities. As the public appetite for morally objectionable entertainment grows, so does the public propensity for condemnation. The shock jock becomes the proverbial scapegoat upon which the collective sins of a corrupt society are laid. Of course, it is always less discomforting for one moral reprobate to be burned in effigy than for an entire nation to practice some personal critical analysis and moral introspection.
it possible that the persecution of Don Imus has actually backfired?
Perhaps those who screamed loud and hard for Imus’ removal from the
airwaves are coming to be seen as modern day Inquisitors. Shock Jocks
could end up being portrayed as daring First Amendment heroes who
have valiantly fought the overbearing, Puritanical City Hall. If such
a modern day mythology rises with the phoenix of Don Imus, Shock Jocks
will begin to multiply and flourish across the United States. With
large audiences hanging on their every word, the purveyors of vulgarity
and bad taste will continue pushing the envelope. If such an escalatory
trajectory manifests, Imus’ “nappy-headed hoes” statement will sound
more like something from a church hymnal.
© 2007 Phillip D. Collins
- All Rights Reserved
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Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He has also written articles for Paranoia Magazine, MKzine, NewsWithViews, B.I.P.E.D.: The Official Website of Darwinian Dissent, the ACL Report, Namaste Magazine, and Conspiracy Archive. In 1999, he earned an Associate degree of Arts and Science. In 2006, he earned a bachelors degree with a major in communication studies and a minor in philosophy. During the course of his seven-year college career, Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature.
He has recently completed a newly expanded and revised edition of The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship (ISBN 1-4196-3932-3), which is available at Amazon.com. He is also currently co-authoring a collection of short stories, poetry, and prose entitled Expansive Thoughts. It will be available late Fall of 2006.
Given the nature of the radio shock profession, there is little else that audiences could possibly expect from these questionable entertainment personalities.