May 01, 2007

Better the Devil You Know...

My daily routine usually goes something like this: fumble with the alarm clock for several minutes, roll out of bed, navigate the piles of clothes and junk that have collected on my floor the past week, search for caffeine, find something to get the mass of unruly blonde hair out of my face (sometimes not mine), and stumble to my office area to check my e-mail and the day’s top headlines.

What I find there occasionally makes me want to go back to bed.

Take for instance the most recent controversy involving radio personality Don Imus. For those of you who avoid radio and television (smart people), all hell apparently broke loose on his April 4th broadcast, when he referred to the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team as “nappy-headed hos.” Within days of this, fueled by a pubic outcry (and not to mention the threat of losing the support of major companies and their advertising), Imus was fired, and his show, Imus In the Morning, after nearly thirty years on the air, was canceled.

Not only do I want to go back to bed, I’d like to do so on another planet.

I know with that last comment, you’re probably wondering, “Robby, that surely doesn’t mean that you feel sad for and support those heinous remarks by that wicked old man?”

No, I don’t support vindictive name-calling or hate speech that is degrading and insulting. And no I don’t really feel especially sad for the man, considering his age and the longevity of his career. We should all be so lucky to have a career that spans decades. He will always have his fans and supporters, accumulated wealth, and his legacy. I’m sure he will be just fine.

What does make me sad, and actually it pisses me off more than anything else, is the long-term implication of this messy affair and our society’s arbitrary rules and regulations regarding freedom of speech.

I fear that as a society we are lurking in dangerous territory when it comes to ridding ourselves of the people and the opinions we don’t agree with. If I condemned every person who has said something offensive or hateful to me in my lifetime, there’d be but a dozen people left in this town. Hell, I’d be history. My fear is that we start with the likes of Don Imus and his ill conceived and offensive remarks…and tomorrow? Anything and everything that anyone and everyone finds personally objectionable is subject to annihilation.

Let me throw some names at you. Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh. Bill O’Reilly. Michael Savage. Laura Schlessinger. Howard Stern. At one point or another, these people have also, in one form or another, said things that could be interpreted as demeaning, discriminatory, racist, sexist, and sometimes, in my opinion, just plain fucked up and wrong as what Don Imus spouted off. And though they too have had their hands slapped by various social groups and causes, ultimately they all still have their jobs.

And I say, without a trace of hostility or sarcasm, God bless them and congratulations.

“Now Robby, surely you jest,” you may cry. “For crying out loud, Ann Coulter called John Edwards a faggot and you’re saying God bless her? Have you become asphyxiated on the bleach fumes?”

No, I assure you, I’m not losing my mind, nor am I member of the Ann Coulter fan club. And of course I don’t support anything she or any of the other people I mentioned say or do. BUT, being an open minded, give and take, rational human being, I cannot argue with their God given right to say whatever the hell they want to whomever the hell they want to say it to, even though I personally find what they say and stand for personally reprehensible.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, to be an advocate and partake in this luxury we call freedom of expression and speech, you must be willing to stand up for it for everyone. To silence the opposition means that you and the work of those you do support too could be silenced. For every Ann Coulter there is a Kate Clinton whose work I support and commend. For every Bill O’Reilly, a Jon Stewart. For every Howard Stern there is a Roseanne Barr and Margaret Cho. And I can think of a handful of editors, columnists and writers whose points of views the world would sorely miss if they were erased from the social consciousness.

The world does not spin on any one point of view; no matter how much we may protest certain ones, good, bad, and indifferent. Though we would probably have a more peaceful existence if certain people were not permitted to speak (or think) and if certain words or phrases were struck from our vocabularies, this is, so to speak, the boat we row and what we have to work with.

Selfishly, I need people like Don Imus and the rest of the sordid bunch. I need people to say and do things that make me pause and go, “now what the hell was that?” or “what a limited perspective” or “God, what an asshole!” Difference of opinion creates debate and dialogue, things that are productive to growth and change.

Just something for you to sleep on.

Essential Download: "Better the Devil You Know"
Artisit: Kylie Minogue
Available On: Ultimate Kylie

Originally published in the May 2007 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.