Why Some Get Laughs and Others Get Fired

For a country founded on free speech, some people are getting a lot of flack for opening their mouths.

On Monday, CBS Radio, still reeling from the fall of Don Imus, suspended two local DJs for rebroadcasting a prank call to a Chinese restaurant. The call featured the hosts of WFNY-FM's "The Dog House With JV and Elvis" asking for "flied lice" and referring to the restaurant's female employee as "hot, Asian, spicy."

The same day, Russell Simmons, music mogul and founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, announced that the recording and broadcast industries should ban three racial and sexist epithets from so-called "clean" versions of rap songs to make hip-hop more socially responsible.

And a New York police sergeant was reassigned after calling three female officers "hos" during a roll call at a Brooklyn stationhouse. In a statement, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the sergeant's comments "unacceptable under any circumstances."

From the airwaves to the arts to the street, it seems as if the language police are out in full force. Maybe that's the way it's going to be in the age AI. -- After Imus.

After the talk show host got kicked off the air for calling the women of the Rutgers University basketball team "nappy-headed hos," talk of racial and sexual slurs -- who is saying what and why -- is on the lips of people all over the country.

Political correctness is nothing new. But some say the debate Imus started about what can and cannot be said in public could forever change the language used in pop culture.

Degradation vs. Satire

Bob Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, believes that after Imus, certain people -- especially on-air personalities -- should censor what comes out of their mouths.

"CBS is obviously hypersensitive about this now. If you're on a CBS show and you're making egregiously Asian jokes, you ought to be scared," he said.

But David E. Bernstein, professor of law at George Mason University and author of "You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws," fears that if everyone who says anything offensive gets reprimanded, people will shut up altogether.

"There has to be some allowance for mistakes, for people saying things off the cuff," he said. "We don't want a situation where people are afraid to say anything unscripted for fear of getting fired."

Radio hosts prank call a Chinese restaurant and get suspended. Fox's "Family Guy" makes fun of a heavily accented "Asian reporter Trisha Takanawa" and gets laughs. What's the difference?

According to Camille Paglia, professor of humanities and media at the University of the Arts, it's all about context. Satire is one thing; degrading real people is another.

"Crossing the line into real life is the problem," she told ABC News in a telephone interview when questioned about the hosts who made the prank call. "I too would support them being suspended."

Paglia, however, also supports the right of satire and commentary. "Popular culture is an art form. Pop culture needs protection as the fine arts do. But the moment you step over the line into a news genre, then there are different standards. A different level of judgment is required," she explained.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...