The Don Imus Disease

February 11, 2009 “CBS announced Thursday that it has fired Don Imus from his radio program, following a week of uproar over the radio host’s derogatory comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.”

Imus found himself at the center of a storm after he called members of the Rutgers team “nappy-headed hos” last week. Protests ensued, and one by one, numerous sponsors pulled their ads from Imus’ show. On Wednesday, MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the program.

Don Imus is a regular Typhoid Mary. He is a carrier of the “cultural disease”, and the symptom is language. He has the misfortune of working as a professional talker in a mass medium, where a mini-medium might have been “preferrable” for his uses. He is an infected person walking among the masses. He cannot give the disease to other carriers of his own affliction; they can recognize his language of infection and give an elbow dig-dig and a knowing heh-heh. He can only pass his ailment to the uninfected, unless they are resistant to it or have acquired an immunity.

The cultural disease is found in people who share the code-system of one in-group. But when a Don Imus talks to people who do not carry his code system, his out-groups, his disorder becomes noticeable. Culture is a code system in verbal and nonverbal behavior internalized and understood as a habit within groups large and small.

The language used by Imus betrayed his affliction. To his fellow sufferers, he appears normal. What he said was an improvised cultural explosive device. The explosive charge was language, and the perpetrators are membes of the Imus in-group that, by U.S. social standards, are a sort of cultural terrorists.

I heard the coach of the so-called “victims”, the women of the team, speak at extreme length in defense of her team as if they had been injured or afflicted by Don Imus’s disease. To whom was she speaking? I never selected to listen to Imus, but if I had, I would have merely shaken my head at his xenophobia, chauvinism, racial intolerance.

Anyone who has decried the concept of “political correctness” has done so to the detriment of a democratic society and has led to the sheltering of those like Don Imus who need political in-correctness to do their business, rotten as it may be. Political correctness is cultural astuteness, a sensitivity to cultural differences and an adaptation to behaviors of people raised in other cultures, people whose verbal and nonverbal codes are unfamiliar, different. A democratic society has the modes of that sensitivity and skill in recognition and adaptation to differences. “Can’t we all just get along?” What do we do with computer viruses and other criminal interferences with internet communication? How do we treat AIDS and other pandemics? That’s what we should do with cultural viruses.

Imus shows no cultural astuteness. The defense mounted by the women’s coach was useless in the face of the Imus in-group, and unnecessary in the face of his out-groups, those who have an adequate background in intercultural communication. Both sides knew what he was saying and its intent to ridicule, dominate, and exploit.

Those who chuckled with knowing recognition of a membership in the in-crowd have a diseased culture in these times of growing democratic sensitivities and cultural ideals.

What is the cure? Imus got his go-downance. But will that make him culturally astute? Watch and wait. And those like him? Just as the terrorism problem rests mainly in the hands of the Islamists to confront, so too is the problem of the diseased culture of racism in the hands of that in-group to redeem themselves by an education in intercultural communication, or suffer more such public floggings earned by Imus.

Published in: on April 13, 2007 at 9:59 pm  Comments (4)  

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