What, dare I ask, is worse: being called a "nappy-headed ho" by a disheveled crank, or being falsely labeled a rapist by a county prosecutor and most of the national media? Watching the news coverage out of the States this week, you'd think the former. In fact, watching the various programmes that constitute the tradition of Sunday morning talk, you'd think Don Imus the worst person since Joe McCarthy. On Meet the Press, Reliable Sources and This Week, one story dominated the other completely by a huge margin in terms of air-time devotion. Guess which one. Meet the Press didn't mention the other at all; This Week elided over it almost completely; and Reliable Sources came to it only in an epilogue that rhetorically, and utterly emptily, asked if the media should apologize.
I wonder-- could there be an ulterior reason for this? The media couldn't be using Imus as a straw man to deflect attention from their irresponsibility, and their fundamental complicity, in the Duke fiasco, could it? No, the American media would never do that. It's just that there was no vigil to keep outside Mike Nifong's house.
So it comforts me to know that, as the clamour suggests, it's okay to make and perpetuate criminal allegations against male athletes, and to actively participate in grand public libel. But toss off a crude and thoughtless epithetical slander against female athletes, and there will be Hell to pay. It comforts me that being slurred in a couple second sound-byte is a greater act of victimization than being dragged through the courts for more than a year on the most serious and invidious charges. It comforts me that every news programme in the US, and every talking head featured on it, will go on effusively about how impressive the Rutgers women are, while those few that bother to mention the unimpressive Duke boys do so now to emphasize that they came from wealthy families who could afford fancy-shmancy legal representation. It comforts me that we're supposed to feel the pain these young women felt, while we're supposed to slough off the pain those young men felt because they were college boys and must have been bad in other ways we just don't know about. It comforts me that the social priorities are so clear.
Now, please, let's get on to the important business of going after certain cultural sections that use what's now clearly taboo. Let's get the rappers and the shock-jocks and the comedians and the satirists and the moviemakers. We all know they're the real problem.
After all, since we're discussing so intently the damage that can be caused by words (so much for sticks and stones), it's good to know which ones are really hurtful. So, feel free to call me a rapist. Just don't call me a ho.
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