Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Collective Opinion" and Imus

CBS has fired Don Imus; thank God racism has now been eliminated in our country. Right? Right?

Of course not, but it will take the next celebrity saying something stupid to put an examination of race back in the mainstream American discourse. We are in an exhausting stretch of celebrities saying something offensive followed by legitimate righteous outrage. Mel Gibson, Tim Hardaway, Michael Richards, Michael Ray Richardson, even Michael Irvin, I guess (back in November, I wrote no less than 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 posts defending Irvin and criticizing some of the reactions to his joke), that guy from Grey's Anatomy, Billy I forgetting anybody? I just wish there was a more positive, progressive way to talk about eliminating racism, homophobia, and sexism in our country; the main thing we seem to do is react on the defensive when somebody says something offensive. As Jweiler points out at The Starting Five, people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are on the offensive in attempting to eliminate poverty and racism in this country, but they usually only get the media attention when they react to somebody else's racism.

John Stuart Mill says that "There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism." Perhaps in our time and place, we've found that limit. Combining racism and misogyny, and directing it at a specific, innocent party, and doing so in a public platform, goes beyond that limit; the "collective opinion" has decided that this sort of expression is unacceptable. And perhaps that is fair. I still maintain that we need to keep the limits to free speech as narrow and rare as possible for the good of society as a whole, but if this is the limit, so be it. If somebody with a national, commercial platform says what Imus did, he goes too far and does not deserve that platform anymore. I'm still concerned about a society so willing to demand termination for words, but it is quite clear that the "collective opinion" believes Imus went beyond the acceptable limit.


  1. Anonymous5:43 PM

    what happens when if people start stifling political speech. our founding fathers were brilliant and they understood that once you limit one it opens the door. there is a reason it is the first amendment

    check out this column i think you'll find it intersting.

  2. I need to make this clear: I have a principled commitment to free speech, even speech I disagree with. I'm not sure everybody citing free speech in this case has the same commitment (I'm not going to do the research to find out if some of the conservatives now shouting "censorship!" were the same ones that say war protesters are traitors that hurt the troops or that Ward Churchill should be fired).