I’ve had a long, hard day with mental and physical work, so maybe my native semi-optimism is at a low ebb right now. For whatever reason, reading Dick Cavett’s defense of Don Imus, who apparently is returning to radio, just leaves me feeling drained and slightly depressed. A few points:
1. I recall watching Cavett’s TV shows when I was in college. He was witty and enjoyable and often interviewed people nobody else seemed to get, like Janis Joplin and John Lennon. I was always slightly amused at his “intellectual” reputation. On a typical community college campus, Cavett would have been just another well-read freshman lit teacher, but in the vast wasteland of TV he was Goethe, Kant and Voltaire rolled into one. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. (For years I thought it was “one-armed man.” I blame The Fugitive.)
2. Over the years I’ve heard maybe 20 minutes of Imus on radio. When the whole “nappy-headed ho” nonsense got going, I was surprised to learn that he was considered a welcome stop for serious authors and influential pols; I had thought he was just another shock jock.
3. As you’ll see from skimming the scores of comments following Cavett’s piece, almost nobody’s mind is changed–perhaps nobody’s mind can be changed–by wading into these polluted waters and taking up the Imus cause.
I don’t want to indulge in the “old white man” rhetoric dished out by some of the Cavett haters, but the mere fact that Cavett would try to defend Imus shows that he is, in fact, rather out of it. He can’t be very tuned in to the popular discourse if he thinks he can list a few of Imus’s good points, tell the I-Man’s critics that they’ve gone overboard, wave the flag for free speech and wait for the converts to fill his in-box.
4. Alas. Thinkers like Shelby Steele could show Cavett that today, even more than in the tumultuous Sixties, race is not just the third rail of American politics, but race-consciousness–usually traveling under the name “Diversity”–is a substitute religion for millions of people. For vast legions, “Diversity” has no possible downside; almost alone among human inventions, it is perfect and cannot be challenged.
Let me be clear: If Imus was on ten channels at once, I doubt I’d pay much attention. I think his comments about the Rutgers girls were stupid and crass, though as I said at the time, I can’t imagine how anyone thought he was important enough to do any real damage to the kids.
Whether these comments were an anomaly in Imus’career or part of some insidious pattern, I leave to those who care about him. But I hate to see Cavett, who’s been a pretty salutary force in American entertainment, embark on a fool’s errand that will bring him loads of grief while accomplishing almost nothing.
Maybe I’ll return to this tomorrow with a peppier outlook.