Government And Bad Taste
A litany of bad taste: (top Miss Jones of Hot97 aired the 'Tsunami Song;' (above, left) 'The Holy Virgin Mary,' a black woman splattered with elephant dung; (above, right)Howard Stern, the man who pushed the limits and the FCC; (right) the moment at the half time show of last year's Superbowl when a planned "wardrobe malfunction" revealed Janet Jackson's right breast.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
You can't get much more offensive than this
Tsunami Song (to the tune of "We Are The World")
"There was a time, when the sun was shining bright So I went down to the beach to catch me a tan. Then the next thing I knew, a wave 20 feet high Came and washed your whole country away. And all at once, you can hear the screaming chinks. And no one was saved from the wave.
There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away. You can hear God laughing, 'Swim you bitches swim.' [Chorus] "So now you're screwed. It's the tsunami, You better run and kiss your ass away. Go find your mommy. just saw her float by, a tree went through her head. And now your children will be sold. Child slavery."
The song above, which was aired on Hot97 hip-hop radio's Morning Show hosted by Astoria resident Miss Jones, has set off a mini tsunami of protest and exhortation led by elected officials outraged by the racist and insensitive words.
Our friend, Flushing Councilman John Liu, who regularly uses the press to further his causes, was probably first to cry foul. And he cried loudly, calling upon Hot 97 Radio to terminate, not just suspend, Miss Jones and Todd Lynn for the production and repeated broadcasts of Hot 97's so-called "Tsunami Song."
Liu then went fur ther and "called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate and sanction WQHTFM Radio and its parent company Emmis Communications."
Liu has been joined by a number of fellow Councilmembers, as well Jimmy Meng, the borough's new Asian American Assembly member. Meng has focused on getting sponsors of the radio station to withdraw their
Now, perhaps this column won't be popular – that's not what motivates me to write. Nor am I writing to offend the readers of this paper in the most multi-ethnic place on earth. However, with all my well meaning friends calling for the head of Miss Jones – someone I neither know nor have I heard her on air – plus the economic devastation of a radio station, and the FCC – government's – intervention to punish the radio station for airing something, this devotee of the first amendment has to stand up and try to put what is going on into perspective.
The "Tsunami Song" is vile and ugly. There are an awful lot of things that are vile and ugly in our society. The government should not be the judge of what they are. Our wonderful system and marketplace is effective in determining what is good, bad and ugly.
The people with their radio dials (or push buttons as technology would have it), are and should be the ultimate arbiters of what is acceptable. Leaders like John Liu certainly have a right, if not obligation to try to rally opinion and focus the rest of us to oppose vile and ugly offering like the one in question.
However, they should not use the government to regulate what is acceptable and what is not. The creative process, the First Amendment, and freedom of expression are all too important to be subjected to government regulation. Not here, not in a free society! The FCC sadly has moved further and further toward censorship. We must not encourage it. Elected officials have continued to try to judge what is acceptable in society.
Although a glimpse of the strangely adorned right breast of Janet Jackson might not be why young, 11-year-old boys watched the Superbowl last year, our republic was not threatened. And certainly, if we look around at billboards, magazines, music videos, television and cable, Miss Jackson and her partner of that moment, Justin Timberlake, merely walked a line – perhaps slightly crossed it — that society has found acceptable.
The old white men of the FCC — I saw with a smirk since many are neither older than me nor any longer just white or men – must not be allowed to regulate our speech, entertainment, or creative or performing arts. Using the excuse that the airways are licensed and therefore regulation is permitted is merely sidestepping the ultimate and intellectual argument as to who should judge what we see, hear and read.
Not all that long ago, America's Mayor – before Rudy Giuliani achieved post-911 universal appeal, tried to hold himself up as judge of what was acceptable art. "The Holy Virgin Mary," a depiction of the Virgin Mary as a black woman splattered with elephant dung by Nigerian born artist Chris Ofili was on display at the Brooklyn Museum Of Art.
Giuliani not only used his bully pulpit to call the artwork
"anti-Catholic," he took the museum to court asking that the city be allowed to end the museum's funding. In the end, the Brooklyn Museum won and patrons and the art community were allowed to see and determine the place and value of Ofili's artwork.
I am not a Howard Stern fan. However, if you want to watch or hear his vulgar sexually-oriented shtick, you should be allowed to push the button. Some of the lyrics of today's rap artists are far too violent or insulting for my taste, but if that's your bag, so be it – just turn it down when I'm around.
The writings of Adolph Hitler, the publications of the Ku Klux Klan, the women-demeaning displays of Howard Stern, anti Catholic art, or a great deal of humor is offensive and insulting to many. But we are a better society for permitting dissent and diversity of opinion – even when that opinion (or humor or art) is ugly. The only appropriate role of government is to provide parents with information so they can guide and monitor their children's choices.
Hot97 has suspended Miss Jones and apologized – their parent company has even offered to fire the two people most directly responsible for the song and pay $1 million to the tsunami relief effort. Liu says that's not enough – he wants $10 million, and is still pressuring advertisers to pull their ads. Enough, already. Give me a break!
Overly punishing or regulating because of bad taste can only go to stifle the creative process. Miss Jones and Hot97 were guilty of no crime.
I don't even know if there is any racism behind their ugly choices – perhaps it was all for effect. Their choices were poor, but not illegal. Public officials can voice their opinion but should not play on the slippery slope of censorship. This entire episode, the song and cries for FCC intervention, are cases of bad taste. Just turn the dial.