Friday, April 13, 2007

Offensive Language vs. Censorship

(from Moon-Yun)

Because of the Imus incident, are we all going to have to edit and have "approved" whatwe're going to have to say to an audience? It wasn't very nice what he said about the women's basketball team but the same company that fired Imus are profiting, I'm sure, from rap songs that sing about raping and killing women. It's OK for "cool black dudes" to belt out hate but God forbid it's the geeky ones out there. I personally don't like rap. It's not my kind of music. Black men need to get over whatever it is that makes them think it's so "cool" and "liberating" to call each other "N!"


Pat said...

You might want to watch the video clip of Imus on YouTube.

My guess is that this incident is one of a long string of offenses; that is, Imus's remarks are part of a long-standing pattern of behavior. If we hold him accountable for what he says and does, I don't think we are being unfair.

Regarding your point that we don't hold rappers accountable for their lyrics: as I recall, some rappers have indeed been criticized; they have not, as a class, been exempted from public criticism.

Inconsistency in application of accountability does not undermine the validity of the principle. We are all accountable for our behavior; if we do something wrong in the privacy of our home, it is still wrong—whether or not it becomes public. And, I might add, whether or not we think it is wrong.

If I say something in class that is offensive, it is right to hold me accountable for my remark. It is also right to give me a chance to defend myself and, if I apologize, to consider forgiving me.

Pat said...

I just read Mike Lopresti's column in the sports section of the April 10 Advertiser. He is the sports columnist for USA Today.

His thinking seems to be in line with Moon-Yun's, and his piece is worth reading. If you don't have the Advertiser, you can find it online at

jenny d said...

Moon-Yun might also want to think about the rash generalizations she herself made about "Black men" and rap music. There are a lot of different types of hip-hop artists out there, many of whom talk about how they respect and adore women. I think it's inconsiderate to speak about African American men as if they all use the "n-word." It might put you in the same category as Imus, whose comments where both racist and sexist.

Ryan said...

The key term is audience. Not all audiences are the same, and the effect of words a particular audience at a particular point in time, from a particular speaker (kairos) will determine the interpretation of the message and the attendant social consequences. Chaim Perelman, an important theorist of rhetoric and public discourse speaks about the need for a speaker to establish a "presence" within an audience; but, this speaker must also pay attention to what the audience is giving him. Imus fostered bad presence. As a radio host who provides social commentary, Imus committed a sin of ethos and was justifiably punished. Remember, his sponsors pulled out en mass--which means he was costing CBS radio money.
I agree with Jenny: you cannot generalize audiences, speakers, or discourses. Each category offers its own obligations and enforces unique social interplays. There is a difference between Snoop Dog using defamatory language and Don Imus or the president. Their roles as public figures differ dramatically. It's a lot like comparing John Stewart and Stephen Colbert with anchors on CNN. The Daily Show doesn't have to be accurate or truthful because their goal is to create comedy.

Pat said...

Thank you for your comments, Jenny and Ryan. And thank you for opening the discussion, Moon-Yun.

I hope others in the class will feel free to comment or to post links to related pieces, as Jenny did.