Monday, April 16, 2007

Essay 2005

The collateral damage generated by radio personality Don Imus is pretty extensive, exposing issues that continue to fester in society.

Unfortunately, Madison Avenue — that bastion of biased behavior — was also drawn into the I-mess. Besides the obvious media and advertiser connections, a handful of advertising-related blogs touched on the topic, as well as the multicultural marketing news sources.

And once again, Advertising Age unwittingly managed to stir up controversy. The trade publication’s website presented a story detailing the CBS decision to ax Imus, which led to online comments that showed our business has a long way to go with its delusions of diversity (see Essay 1994 and Essay 2002).

Granted, visitors do not fully represent the advertising collective. Indeed, the online remarks mirror statements made nationwide by the general citizenry. But for a professional community labeled as minimally exclusive and probably racist, the responses clearly justify the charges of our critics.

In the event that the postings accurately reflect the views of most adpeople, MultiCultClassics humbly counters the stereotypical comments with stereotypical rebuttals.

First, it’s always peculiar to witness the paranoia and resentment targeting the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Like it or not, there’s indisputable evidence that both of these men have performed far more positive deeds than anyone dissing them — and definitely more than Imus. Do a Google search and prove it. And for the haters who think the two are race-baiters, hypocrites, cultural coercionists or worse, there really is a simple solution to silence the pontifications of Jackson and Sharpton: Stop being evil bigots.

Numerous uninformed individuals accuse Jackson and Sharpton of pushing a double standard; that is, people like Imus and Michael Richards get ripped for using racial slurs while rappers get a free pass. Sorry, but Jackson and Sharpton — along with Oprah, Bill Cosby, Stanley Crouch, countless community activists, spiritual leaders, local and national politicians and others — have been quite vocal and forceful in their protests against the ugly side of hip hop. Too bad the media moguls responsible for rap music aren’t as easily persuaded to do the right thing as the media moguls behind Imus. Additionally, those who cry about double standards ought to consider that White youth account for a sizeable chunk of rap sales. If you want to affect change, start in your own house.

FYI, the preceding rebuttal point may also cover the confused souls whining, “How come Blacks can spew specific epithets but non-Blacks can’t?” Many of the folks previously mentioned have gone so far as to attempt to legally banish the N-word, plus condemn artists who peddle entertainment rooted in negativity and hate.

Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Racism sure does bring out the patriotic spirit in Americans. The First Amendment and freedom of speech are routinely displayed to defend boorish spectacles. But let’s be straight regarding the Imus incident. No one deprived the man of his constitutional rights. He’s virtually free to say whatever he desires. MSNBC and CBS merely exercised their right to fire him. This should not have been surprising to people in the advertising business. If any of us regularly spoke in the office like Imus regularly spoke on the air, we would face termination too. Hell, we’d even be making potential lawsuit troubles for our bosses, since such words would create hostile and discriminatory work environments. Funny how the freedom fighters pooh-pooh the reality that Imus and his crew have been running an enterprise that the EEOC would never approve.

Another perspective contends that anyone offended by Imus should just not listen. Did the Rutgers women’s basketball team have the option to just not listen? Ultimately, the entire country was unable to close its ears to Imus’ statements. This weird position is like declaring the victims of drunk drivers should just not venture onto streets where the intoxicated might cruise. Or shooting victims should just not allow bullets to strike them. Imus was not broadcasting in a private fashion; rather, he was using public airwaves. Adpeople know the messages we devise are subject to network, legal and public scrutiny. So please don’t express shock and dismay that someone pulled the plug on Imus.

Perhaps the most pathetic perspective involves reprimanding people for being too politically correct. Phrases like “PC Police” and “You’re too sensitive” fortify this goofy platform. When did the insensitive types win the authority to dictate sensitivity levels for the rest of us? Oh, wait a minute. They didn’t. Let’s not dissect the reactions of the sensitive in our ranks. We should examine the actions of the insensitive instead. Why are you people so uncaring and ignorant about the diversity of attitudes, opinions and beliefs in today’s global village? The last sentence is a rhetorical question, in case you didn’t notice.

Imus is damned lucky in lots of ways. He’s now no longer obligated to make good on his latest promises to reform. Also, he’s spared from undergoing the obligatory sensitivity training that would have been a requirement for staying on the job. No one doubts the man will find another corporation eager to sponsor his brand of garbage. He could even retire a millionaire immediately. If Imus is a casualty deserving pity, we should all wish for a similar fate. Or pray for the future of civilization.

Contrary to popular perception, CBS, MSNBC, Procter & Gamble, Staples, American Express, Sprint Nextel, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton et al did not reject Imus. The new majority public did — by flexing its multilayered, consumer-based influence.

In the end, Don Imus may symbolize the challenges ahead for Madison Avenue. Will we cling to outdated notions, acting like old men forever recycling the same tired shit? Will we demonstrate arrogance, failing to recognize and respect anyone who doesn’t share our physical and emotional characteristics? Will we remain oblivious to the fact that control of communications has completely shifted into evolved consumers’ hands?

Stay tuned.


RFB said...

That was a damned fine essay - and you got me on a number of points that I've been believing in, such as "everyone's too sensitive." But am I really a hater if I think Jackson and Sharpton are race baiters?

But your bottom line is correct. We'd all lose our jobs if we spoke in the office the way Imus did on the air.

Case closed. Nice work.

RFB said...

And this is rich: the Russian news agency Pravda says Imus was fired for announcing he was going to reveal the government's involvement in 9-11, the racist remarks apparently just a smokescreen.

HighJive said...

Admittedly, this essay was a compilation of thoughts and perspectives in response to the national debates that seem to be erupting. There really are no black & white areas — no pun intended. We all agree and disagree on various points. Jackson and Sharpton are definitely controversial characters. At the same time, if they weren’t stepping forward, who would? Jackson especially has turned it all into an art and science. He has played the game long enough to know how to make the biggest and fastest impact in these situations. You can criticize his tactics; but we should also examine the consistent tactics of the “opposition” in these scenarios. Jackson probably sees behavioral patterns that most of us are not exposed to. If someone has a better solution or advocate, we’re all open to seeing it.