Show business manifests through myriad media formats and the recent spurt in radio talk shows and their wide local popularity has spurred the development of numerous FM stations all over the country. In order to grab the attention of the avid listeners, innovative and meticulously planned music as well as talk shows are planned, designed and executed keeping in mind the tastes and preferences of local audiences as well as the national stage, if the broadcast capabilities include such a framework. Shock Jocks contribute substantially in the success of such programs with their witty comments and innovative utterances which stimulate anticipation as well as keen interest in the listeners. In the process local and national advertisers are able to push many of the products across to their customers through strategically placed audio ads which generate huge revenue for their respective companies. A radio jockey has to keep in mind what to say and what not to according to the prevalent norms in the social setup he or she is operating in. Inadvertent or intentional slips of the tongue, though generating great interest can sometimes lead to serious trouble as demonstrated by the incident leading to the sacking of Don Imus from two of the major broadcasting radio stations, CBS and MSNBC (Clemmitt 1). Slapstick comedy and shock comments are the essence of a successful radio jockey and on most occasions they get away with the most preposterous and ridiculous comments which serve to stimulate as well as titillate the humor bone of the listeners. But if certain limits are crossed, the very comments which appear innocuous at first can be interpreted in a different way altogether.
Imus, who already had a reputation for passing racial slurs, especially against the African-American community, was caught offhand on one such occasion while discussing the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, in which he labeled the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team members as “nappy headed hos”, largely due to their composition of the team, which was represented by all black team (Clemmitt 20). Although he was quick enough to air an apology when he realized the gravity of his mistake, the comment sparked huge outcries which lead to severe condemnation and protests form African American organizations across America. Imus was labeled a misogynist and this particular comment was widely published over the internet which strengthened the case against him (Clemmitt 20).
The protests reached such a crescendo that the two major broadcasters he was working with had to stop the talk show and sack him permanently. A controversy raged thereafter which attracted numerous comments from primarily African American celebrities and organizations as well political followers which included both the conservatives as well as liberals, who debated the applicability and enforcement of specific laws and regulations to prevent such incidents in the future. Although the incident set up a precedent for sacking other jockeys due to their selectivity of slurs directed against particular ethnic communities, it was highly debated by supporters and fans of Imus, who were addicted to his inimitable style. His supporters asserted that such slurs were common even within the African American populations and the vocabulary used was a product of their own hip-hop and ‘Gangsta’ styles of music and living, in which women were labeled with insulting names, denigrating their position in society. The supporters pleaded that if such labels are not considered insulting in music which is constantly being aired worldwide, why did the use of this particular phrase by Imus, despite his public apology, was used to annihilate him socially and professionally.
His fans believed that the termination of his program spelled a doom for the ‘shock jock’ system of entertainment, whose foundation itself was based upon the value to elicit the elements of surprise and humor among the audiences. He is known for his satire and outrageous comments (Imus on MSNBC). The detractors however built a crescendo of allegations against Imus due to the plethora of evidence of racial slurs associated with his performances which had denigrated to the level of insulting innocent, apparently admirable batch of young students who were representing their university team. (Clemmitt 15-17) in her article has analyzed the issue incisively and presented the pros and cons related to the incident. She provides evidence from the American history during the past century which has numerous anecdotes and incidents of racial discrimination against the minorities, which need to be addressed by such punitive measures to discourage such misadventures in future. The views and arguments put forth by prominent personalities from the Black world in America were instrumental in building the public opinion against Imus, which lead to his sacking.
The author has nevertheless interspersed her article with comments from others who were concerned about the freedom of radio as an instrument for expression and entertainment, which they feel was under grave threat of being throttled, if regulatory authorities started directing and dictating the content of the aired programs. Ethnic and race based jokes have existed in all societies of the world and cannot be completely be got rid off as they serve to titillate and entertain people during the course of their daily activities. But there use on a public platform such as radio and television is definitely objectionable and needs to be prevented in the future to build a more safe and tolerant society.
Clemmitt, M.”Shock Jocks, Should Racist and Misogynistic Speech be Regulated”, CQ Researcher, Vol. 17, Issue 21, pp. 481. June 1, 2007 “Imus on MSNBC, Don Imus- Host”, online information accessed Dec.
11, 2009 at:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3080530/