Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Don't Call It A Comeback...
The I-man plots his return -- with legal/quasi-philosophical weapons in tow:
I thought Imus should be suspended, didn't think he should have been fired, but didn't shed any tears seeing him leave. Similarly, indifference would be reaction his return.
Even without actually filing the suit (a step he still hasn’t taken), Garbus scored several points. First, he repositioned Imus as a victim, not a villain (Imus wasn’t the bad guy here; the suits who fired him without cause were). He also staked out the legal high ground in the CBS contract dispute, should the matter ever come before a court. The nappy-headed-hos comment, Garbus says, was clearly a joke, not a slur, and in no way falls into the category of prohibited speech. Firing Imus for the remark, he argues, didn’t just violate the terms of his contract—it was unconstitutional. Essentially, Garbus is deploying the Lenny Bruce defense. “Bruce had a joke where a couple of guys are sitting around playing poker,” Garbus remembers. “One guy said, ‘What do you have?’ and the other says, ‘I got two kikes, a wop, and a chink,’ and the other guy says, ‘Oh, I have three niggers, a dago, and a so-and-so.’ And he kept throwing out the words. He said, ‘If I use it in this context, you understand it’s a joke.’ He said that words don’t have any meaning. It’s the meanings that you impart to them.”
And what was the meaning of Imus’s comments? Before he was fired, Garbus says, Imus was saying ho on the air a lot, actually; not just about the Rutgers women but about his wife, Deirdre, a committed environmentalist he dubbed “the Green Ho.” It was like Lenny saying nigger, Garbus argues, because he was making it clear that there are people out there who use that word all the time, unironically—in Lenny’s case white racists, and in Imus’s case the hip-hop crowd. According to Garbus, when Imus said “nappy-headed hos,” he was being ironic—goofing on the pleasure white society gets from co-opting the lexicon of the black world. It’s a highbrow variation of how Imus’s producer-sidekick, Bernie McGuirk, who said hos right before Imus did on the air that April morning, explained the whole thing on Hannity & Colmes: “You know, we’re trying to be—or I was trying to be—cool.”
That argument, of course, doesn’t wash with everyone. In our discussion, Garbus brings up the book Nigger, by Randall Kennedy, the Harvard law professor, that explicates the different connotations of the word, depending on the context. He calls it a wonderful book. Unfortunately for Garbus, during the Imus controversy in April, Kennedy told Reuters that he found Imus’s comments “terrible and reprehensible … ‘Nappy-headed’ could be used in a variety of ways, it can be said lovingly or in a complimentary way, but Don Imus said it to express casual contempt.”
Garbus clearly doesn’t see it that way. “Nappy-headed hos is not nigger,” he says. “As I said, it depends on the context in which you say it. And that was Bruce’s point: It depends on how you say it and when you say it.”
And that’s your point in this lawsuit, I ask—context is everything?
“Context is a great deal of it,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s everything.”
Labels: Don Imus