Saturday, May 12, 2007

We're becoming a society of hall monitors

Things are getting a little out of control with talk radio these days. On Friday the radio duo of Opie and Anthony, shock talkers out of NYC, were compelled to publicly apologize for a comic riff they did on satellite radio network XM Radio.

Yeah, that's right. Now you can't say anything shocking even on a pay-service, non-FCC regulated network without incurring the frenzied wrath of this world of busy-bodies that we're living in.

Sure, Opie & Anthony were party to some horrific comments apparently made by their guest, an outspoken homeless man, about the terrible things he'd do to women such as Condi Rice, Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth. I didn't hear the remarks, but knowing O&A's show, they were probably delivered in the same manner of a bunch of construction workers on a break, crudely joking around. That kind of thing can get real disgusting real fast, especially when they're trying to top each other by being even more ridiculously outrageous.

In other words, the comments weren't supposed to be taken seriously.

Or taken out of context, which is exactly what happened with the witch-hunt piling on that the media tends to indulge in these days. Can you imagine if the creator of "The Sopranos" was held publicly responsible for the lines he had written for his characters? When Paulie Walnuts calls a stripper the "c-word", should David Chase then be hounded out of Hollywood?

While O&A aren't necessarily fictional characters, their on-air "personas" tend to be. Like Howard Stern. In fact, Opie occasionally breaks character and makes a statement starting with "I'm Greg Hughes, the actor who plays Opie..."

This latest tempest seems to be largely the creation of Matt Drudge, who broke the "story" on his website and made sure to quote the most heinous lines from the show. It almost seems to be payback for Imus, who was a darling of the right, even though they will deny that fact. And the non-questioning media jumped right on board, mostly glossing over the fact that the show is on a pay service and has as much business being compared to the Imus situation as "The Sopranos" would have being compared to a network TV show like "CSI: Miami". Different standards apply.

The one thing that O&A have going for them is the fact that they have very few advertisers on their show, whereas Imus was killed by all his advertisers bowing to public pressure and pulling out of his show. XM Corp so far has decided to stick with O&A. That could change if the FCC decides to pressure XM to drop them before signing off on the proposed XM/Sirius merger.

And that would absolutely be de facto censorship. We've apparently gone right back to where we were when Lenny Bruce was hounded to death for supposed "obscenity".

So now, every single day there's a cadre of people "monitoring" talk radio, both broadcast and satellite, hoping and waiting to hear somebody say something they can "tattle" upon. Meanwhile, every single day Americans are losing their lives in a pointless war; but THAT'S not important enough to get people riled up, apparently.

Here's a write-up on the situation in the RecordOnline.Com, which gives a more balanced treatment of the facts than I've seen elsewhere in the media.

And here's Elvis Costello singing about how "the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel!"


Anonymous said...

I dunno, if you go out on a limb in public, you take a risk, and it accrues to your reputation. Bloggers don't get a pass on that, and neither should radio hosts.

That said, what's so bad about apologizing? If you had a party and some jerk insulted your guests, you'd probably apologize for inviting the jerk. "Oops, we were dumb" isn't so hard - or so damaging - to say, if you mean it.

spazeboy said...

Another key difference between Imus and the O&A show is that powerful elected officials don't spend time talking to Opie and Anthony.

At least not to my knowledge--I freely admit to not listening. My XM is nearly always tuned to Ethel or XMU

CT Bob said...

Yeah, they aren't a news show or political show; they're a couple of knuckleheads who love to talk dirty and make hysterically obscene references.

They ain't for everyone, that's for sure. But they ain't "Meet The Press" either.

And the fact that they're on a pay service with channel-blocking availability, I think they pretty much have a "free speech" zone where they shouldn't have to be worried about their potty-mouthedness.

Melissa said...

Sorry Bob but I disagree. I would expect anyone to apologize if a guest made a joke about sexual assault. That's not censorship. That's sanity.

CT Bob said...

CGG you're absolutely right, of course. I'm NOT saying that joking about sexual assault is funny.

It isn't.

But this isn't about that. My point is that the media can take nearly anything out of context and make it sound way different than it was intended.

If you've seen the movie "The Aristocrats", you'll understand my point better. The film is a documentary about an old vaudevillian tradition, where comedians each attempt to tell a really filthy old joke; the point of which is to make your version of the joke as horrific and revolting as possible. At the end of the joke, the punchline is always the same.

Now, they aren't advocating any of the acts described in the joke; and in the context of the film, the offensive language was somewhat acceptable, though in really really REALLY bad taste.

But if you took any bit of any of those comics' words out of context and splashed it across newspaper headlines, it would make him sound like a sexually-deranged and criminally-insane psychopath.

That's sort of what is going on here. Drudge just hated the O&A thing because the homeless guy mentioned Laura Bush and Condi Rice, so he helped create what Joe Lieberman calls a "partisan frenzy" out of it.

Connecticut Man1 said...

The oddity here? Drudge is dragging a self-admitted bible thumping conservative through the mudd on this one. Check up the Wiki profiles on the hosts... It's in there. heh

Anonymous said...

"But this isn't about that. My point is that the media can take nearly anything out of context and make it sound way different than it was intended."

Sorry, Bob, you're way off base on this one. There is only one way this could be intended, and that is as an expression of the deeply-rooted misogyny in our culture.

Seriously? "Taken out of context"? There's only one context for violent sexual assault, and it is never funny.

Just because it a pay service, and non-FCC regulated, does not make these comments any more acceptable, nor does it expand their right to broadcast whatever they want.

There are long-term cultural consequences to spewing this type of misogynist crap, and painting the negative response as "censorship" entirely misses this point.

I used to love your blog. I cannot believe you would defend this in the name of preventing censorship.

CT Bob said...

Kelley, I'm sorry you feel that way. Really.

I don't mean this to be a defense of the remarks, and I still don't think it is. But if you had listened to the entire segment including the offending lines, and were familiar with the context of the show, you'd probably agree it's obviously not meant to be taken literally.

Because it WAS obvious that the homeless guy in the studio (NOT the hosts of the show) saying the remarks wasn't serious and was just trying to be outrageous and funny.

And he failed miserably at the funny bit. It wasn't funny and I don't think it was very nice, either. But the offending 30 seconds gave Matt Drudge an opportunity to create a media frenzy and get zillions of hits for his shitty website. And maybe some payback for Imus. Good for him.

But if you've only heard second-hand accounts of the bit, or listened to a brief segment isolated from the rest of the conversation, then yeah it WOULD seem like the worst thing in the world.

I dunno, maybe if I was a better writer I'd be able to explain it properly. I just know that we, as a society, are getting so ridiculously politically-correct that pretty soon nobody will be able to say anything even remotely controversial, whether it's funny or not.

CT Bob said...

Wow, I just heard they've been suspended for thirty days by XM Radio.

Anyone who thinks this isn't related to the necessary FCC approval for the proposed XM/Sirius merger, and isn't a kind of de facto government sponsored censorship is missing the point.

Opie & Anthony also broadcast on CBS FM, and they haven't yet been fired, but mark my words...their show is coming to an end.

All because a homeless idiot jokingly ranted that he'd like to fuck Condi Rice and Laura Bush.

If he'd said it was Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi he wanted to fuck, I'm sure XM wouldn't have been pressured by the government to suspend (read: fire) them.

We're doomed as a society.

CT Bob said...

Er, that would be the SEC above, not the FCC. The Securities and Exchange Commission needs to approve the proposed merger, since it will effectively create a satellite radio monopoly.

Same rules apply though; they're a group of Republican-administration appointees. No doubt they can effect censorship through threatening to block the merger.

David Watkins said...

If you're not defending the remarks, you shouldn't whitewash them. He "joked" about rape and murder, not "fucking."

The day large paychecks can't be drawn from major corporations for "joking" about rape and murder hardly seems like something to lament.

CT Bob said...

Who said anything about murder? Did you actually HEAR the show, or are you going by something that second party sources are "quoting"?

Look, I agree that it wasn't funny, but if we're going to be a society that blows a friggin' fuse every time somebody makes a dumb joke (and subsequently apologizes for it repeatedly, yet is STILL fired) then we're fucked!

You know what? I don't like Imus, I never liked him, and in fact I think he's a decrepit old fossil, but I thought his firing was stupid and unnecesary. He was crucified by the special interest groups, who finally got somebody to listen to them.

Sorry, but if my opinion is going to piss everybody off, maybe I better turn in my fucking Liberal Membership Card, because I'm obviously too much of a neanderthal to be allowed to carry one.

"Bang, zoom; to the moon, Alice!" Does anyone REALLY think Ralph Kramden was going to punch Alice? Have we become a society of unforgiving literal idiots?

David Watkins said...

Dude, calm down. Just because we disagree about this doesn't mean we both can't be liberals. And while I'm no expert on criminal law, I'm pretty sure "fucking someone to death" constitutes murder in most jurisdictions. And (as with Imus) I'm not sure why people are trying to classify either of these things as jokes, even failed ones. Indeed, an understanding of how a certain treatment of the transgressive and the taboo can make for exceptional humor helps see these buffoons for what they are, namely assholes hiding behind Lenny Bruce's skirt. Humor has a form. This is just random and offensive insults (Imus) and fantisized threats of violence (these clowns).

Look, maybe this is about Bush prudes in the SEC as you speculate, and maybe not. What I see is a corporation that has decided that paying lavish salaries and heavily promoting purveyors of creepy misogyny may not be something they're entirely comfortable doing. I have a real hard time following the twists and turns of logic necessary to lead me to conclude that this is somehow a bad sign.

CT Bob said...

Fair enough. I can see what you're saying.

I'm just a little miffed about how this whole brouhaha originated through Drudge, and it stinks of selective treatment.

However, I'm willing to admit that I might be wrong. Sorry about getting a bit snippy up there.

David Watkins said...

Eh, don't worry about it. I think maybe Imus was a tipping point; larger forces may actually start paying attention to just how odious these shock-jocks are. Or maybe it's Drudge, who knows.