Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus and Civility and Us

You know, I've been wanting to post about The Imus Affair since the moment news broke Thursday that he'd been fired by CBS, but I found myself hesitating and now I think I know why:

The situation compels us to confront a fundamental facet of our generational...duality.

Many of us are children of the '60s, even if we were born earlier - or later. The events of those years and of the 50s and 70s -- the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate and Nixon, etc. -- propelled us toward a particular embrace of free expression, which in turn has taken us down a variety of paths.

For the most part, those were beneficial paths. We tend, more than previous generations, to be more open and candid with each other and with our children (and, now, grandchildren). This is good.

Unfortunately, another of those paths has led us to the casual use of profanity. And yet another has led some people to a place where they believe they have a right, almost an obligation, to say anything that pops into their heads. After all, free expression is limitless, right?

Well...maybe not so much.

And that's where the duality comes in. On one hand, we remember our younger, liberated, idealistic selves - the people who vowed that they wouldn't be all bound up like so many of their parents. On the other hand, we are older, wiser, more experienced, in many ways - hold on now - more conservative.

We, or at least I, believe that civility has some value, and we - at least I - mourn each erosion of it.


1. We can defend Imus' right to say pretty much anything, with the proviso that if you don't like what he says, you simply turn off the radio and/or pull your advertising.

2. Or we can say, 'Listen. Enough is enough. He inflicted great pain on a group of admirable young women - and many other people. He has a history of it. This sort of behavior is, among other things, uncivil. Perhaps he has a right to say anything he likes, but his bosses also have a right to impose standards of what they will tolerate under their flag.'

Personally, I'm cheered that so much of this nation was genuinely appalled by what Imus said. And by what Mel Gibson and Michael Richards said last year. I think a case can be made that the nation, as a whole, is beyond this sort of thing now and in many ways is ahead of some of its media figures.

And so, I lean toward No. 2 above. I lean there with some discomfort, but there you go. As Stevie Nicks said in Landslide: "Even children get older. And I'm getting older too."

What do you think? Click the comment button right below this post.

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