Friday, September 11, 2015

Lamenting the Demise of Irreverence

Every year on September 11,  I try to listen to Imus in the Morning. This year, his audience has shrunk from a national television and radio audience to a local, radio-only audience. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I am streaming Imus in the Morning this morning on WABC in New York. Unfortunately, they're playing a "best of" show, which is good, I guess.

I was a devout Imus listener at the time of September 11, 2001.  I remember being glued to the radio listing to the show produced and aired on the fly, with no commercials and no breaks.  It was then and still is one of the very best coverages of any unplanned event that I have ever heard.

This day always makes me miss Imus.  Missing Imus makes me miss the America in which we could be irreverent without being insulting.

Granted, he was both and he’s run afoul with several people and groups because of it, but I would argue that his irreverence and humor didn’t really change much over the years.  As a matter of fact, I might say that he toned things down a bit as he went from a local to a national celebrity.

The change that Imus either missed or attempted to challenge is our collective definition of and threshold for discomfort. Something that was irreverent and funny years ago is now personally insulting. The avoidance of pain is fast becoming the primary concern amongst us.

Our inability to laugh at ourselves and more importantly, to laugh with someone as they laugh at themselves has devolved into laughing at and feeling indignant at being laughed at.

That sensitivity is coming from somewhere.  What has happened along the way?  Was it economic?  Was it social?

Across America right now, churches of my faith have put up “Black Lives Matter” banners, only to have them defaced, stolen or ruined.  Just the other day, one of the leading candidates for the Presidency commented that another contender would not make a good President because of the way she looked.  I like to think that these things would not have happened thirty years ago, and if they did happen, they would have met with a stiff rebuke because they were uncivil and outside of the social conventions that defined interpersonal relationships.

Sure, we called Jimmy Carter a "peanut farmer" to demean him and laughed at the travails of his brother Billy and maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but it seemed different.

The civil discourse and mutual understanding that comes from having a good laugh at yourself or with others laughing at themselves - from really getting to know one and other - has largely vanished. It has been replaced with self-defensive posturing (even being self-defensive to ourselves) that robs from us the opportunity to engage people on a whole hearted basis and band together on the road to solidarity.  We make friends by laughing together so that when the tough times come and disagreement is real, we can still hold our communities together.

I lament that loss when I hear Imus.

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