On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A while back we had the foofarah over Mel Gibson’s “accidental bigotry,” but when it appeared his movies would still make money, the fuehrer (had to say it) died down. The unacceptable became a brief joke on late night talk shows. (And Gibson continues to be a bankable force in Hollywood.)

Now racism in the media has again reared its ugly head in the form of Don Imus and his unconscionable comments about female African American basketball players. Everyone gasps, the ubiquitous Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson mount their pulpits, and the evil is decried as unacceptable. Well, duh.

Still, did Imus have the right to say what he did? Absolutely.

Should he have gotten fired for it? Absolutely.

There’s a difference between what you can say and what you should say. The media has long known that with freedom of speech come responsibility. (Whether or not it always practices that restraint is open to question.) The influence of the media can be a force for right—or a spectacular disseminator of wrong. Let me give you an example.

I was teaching in a high school when the whole rap culture exploded on the scene. Suddenly, I had students emulating rap artists, strutting down the halls in baggy pants and chains, busting moves they copied from music videos, quoting ghetto lyrics that included racist remarks about sticking it to Whitey.

The punchline? These kids were small-town Wisconsin kids. Some of them had never been to a city larger than Racine. All of them lived in relative comfort and familial securty.

And every one of them was white.

The impact of celebrity on the masses is obvious. The responsibility of the media in presenting these celebrities is enormous. So yes, Don Imus had the constitutional right to spew whatever garbage was generated in his mind. But MSNBC and CBS had the moral right to drop him from the airways. It was the correct decision. Like Mel Gibson, Imus can appear contrite, can say the right apologetic words. But in both cases, their true beliefs have been "outed." Unless those beliefs are presented as the negatives they are, unless such thinking is condemned and is punished, it will proliferate, and we will all be diminished.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What are your limits?

I have often thought of myself as a strong person, and I do believe that I can handle any trouble or sorrow that comes my way. But is that true? Yes, I am strong: I got through the shockingly sudden death of my mother and the lingering decline and death of my father. I suffered, I mourned, but I survived and moved on. I have lost relatives and friends, and I grieved and kept going.

Still, I know that I have a breaking point, and I pray I never reach it. We all go through some measure of grief in our lives—some decidedly more than others. What is it within us that decides how much we can stand? What about you? What makes you strong? How much could you stand to lose? How do some people walk away from a tragedy and continue their lives while others experiencing the same tragedy crumble and dissolve?

I do believe that there’s a spark of life deep inside that keeps us going. Some of us let that spark die, and so we die with it—sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually, and yes, sometimes physically. Still, I feel sure we all have the ability to transcend tragedy. It’s a matter of being able to look into our hearts to find that spark, to fan it until it is a refulgent flame to warm our souls through the coldest, darkest night.