Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hell Week

Last April 11th, my father had the misfortune of taking a phone call from an angry person. I was upset, and I know that it carried over the phone. “You’re not going to believe this,” I said. “Imus was cancelled!"

And I’ll never forget his response: “So?”

I was irritated at him, even though he made a very good point. At that moment, I was in the middle of the most incredible semester of my academic career. There are times where everything in your life - your friends, your work, your relationships – are absolutely perfect. Due to one thousand personal reasons, the period from January to May 2007 were some of the best months of my life.

So why did this hit me so hard? Or, to paraphrase my dad, why should I care?

Why should I care about the misfortunes of people with whom I share no relation, have never met, and will likely never meet? Yes, I admire their talent, and no, I would never wish ill upon them. But bad things happen to good people nearly every day. Terrible things. Why was their case any different?

We're in the middle of the anniversary of that awful week - "Hell Week," as I call it - and I figured that these questions were worth revisiting. There were so many aspects to this entire sordid episode that shocked me. Some are very na├»ve on my part, but others…I don’t know. Judge for yourself.

1)First, I was shocked by the fact that anyone actually got fired. I thought that, barring illness or death, this show would never be kicked off the air. Never. It had been around for 35 years, it was an institution, and on and on. Yeah, I know that’s a little ignorant, but it’s exactly what I believed. I’m still not sure how it happened, honestly.

2) The demonization. I didn’t watch every single episode; I caught the first 30 minutes of every Monday and Tuesday before I went to work, so I usually saw about an hour per week. When the controversy started, I remember thinking, “Are these people REALLY that bad? Did I miss an episode where they did something horrible?” Judging by the reaction, you’d think that they’d sacrificed a virgin on the MSNBC anchor table. (Perhaps that happened on a Thursday.) I had no idea that the people I had “spent my mornings with” were so dangerous.

I didn’t watch most of the coverage that week, and I remember seeing a news segment about it a month later. (The segment - “Has America changed since the Imus firing?” The answer: No.) They showed some stock footage from MSNBC of Imus and McCord, sitting at their desks, coming back from a break. One was reading the newspaper, one was checking his mic. It was a benign little scene - if you took away the I-Man’s ridiculous fashion style, you could have easily placed the two in a subway, at a table in a diner, anywhere. But what creeped me out was that the news program was playing scary crisis music behind it. The kind of music they play when someone finds a “mysterious package” in an airport bathroom, or when there’s “local breaking news” about a man who keeps his wife in his freezer. And I will never forget that feeling - watching ominous music, over my morning routine.

3) Speaking of music, the songs they played on the program were incredible. They did an excellent job in setting the tone that week, and they are among the things that I remember the most about that awful occasion. I can still recall that eerie feeling of listening to “Atlantic City” at 6:30 AM. I had just witnessed this awful apologetic speech, which was traumatic in itself, because I realized that these terrible people had somehow beaten the I-Man into submission. When the song began, I realized how the opening lyrics somehow alluded to the situation at hand…and then my veins iced over when I heard “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact - but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” It doesn’t help that those lyrics are sung louder than all the others. I will forever associate that song with that week.

Martina McBride’s “Anyway” was also played in near entirety, with good reason: the lyrics seemed like they were written for the occasion. I think they also played Billy Joel’s apocalyptic “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway).” Key lyric: “They turned our power down/drove us underground/but we went right on with the show…” I must have played that song 100 times over the summer.

I don’t know who chose the music - Lou or the I-Man or another person - but someone was bringing their A-game that week.

4) Weasels. This topic has been done to death, so I won’t rehash it too much. I never believed that the I-Man's guests would win a Purple Heart for bravery (with the exception of Jack Jacobs, John McCain and John Kerry, of course), but I grew to admire a lot of the people on that program. What bugged me the most was that somewhere, perhaps in a dusty closet in Secaucus, there were days and days' worth of footage of various weasel journalists, yukking it up with the I-Man and telling some very un-PC jokes. Yet somehow, none of this showed up on the news.

Here’s how pathetic I was: I actually used to read Brian Williams’ blog on a regular basis. (Yes, he actually has a blog, and no, I’m not linking to it.) In fact, in late March of 2007 I actually bought the Men’s Vogue with him on the cover. My then-boyfriend laughed at me for buying Men’s Vogue, and I wish I had listened to him. When it was announced a few weeks ago that David Gregory was getting his own MSNBC show, I said, “You know, there was a point in my life when I would’ve been excited about that.” Sad.

I liked a lot of the guests that later turned out to be “traitors.” Brian Williams. Tim Russert. Jon Meacham. David Brooks. (Yeah, I was the one person that liked David Brooks. Don’t judge.) So you can imagine how I felt when I saw these people, who I thought represented truth in journalism, go two-faced. I didn’t just lose my favorite program; I also lost the respect of a chess set of people that I admired.

5) Personal strength. A survey completed in April 2007 revealed that upon hearing the phrase “nappy-headed hos," 55% of Americans “were paralyzed with shock,” 29% “cried like little girls,” and 12% “wet themselves.” (Source: Lexis-Nexis).

But…I did nothing. I am not a tough person, not really, but somehow I didn’t go into a mass panic. If you are horrified and disgusted by my lack of disgust, don’t become too concerned, because I’m sure that most of 2007-era America would agree with you.
If you weren't traumatized by those words, then something was deeply wrong with you - you were somewhere between “social eccentric” and “kid toucher.”

6) The suffering. Lots of people “suffered” during that fateful week, I discovered. But some tales of suffering were more poignant than others.

My personal favorite was from some Internet columnist. He told this compelling story about how, between 7:30 and 7:45 each morning, he had to venture out of his apartment in Manhattan to park his car. During this time frame he listened to the “Imus in the Morning” program, every morning, over the car radio. In his article, he reminisced about how absolutely dreadful the show was, how he never “laughed once,” and so on. He went into painstaking detail about how it killed him to listen, about how he was forced to hear to this garbage every day, and how he mentally suffered for it.

But his account was so moving. He painted this Tom Joad-like portrait of a man who bravely trudged to his car every weekday morning with knots in his stomach, ready to face his daily beating, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torture wouldn't be so painful today...and how, each time, he was beaten down into submission. But he faithfully returned, every morning, to repeat the cycle again. Equally heartrending was that he was the only man in New York who did not possess an Ipod, Walkman, CD player, tape deck, or knob to change the channel.

Such was the tragedy of his life – up too late for Steve Somers, up too early for Joe & Evan.

7) The fact that I apparently have a vastly different values system than the rest of America. Okay, so maybe the words were wrong. I can accept someone saying that. But that someone insists that the words weren’t just wrong. They were…as bad as losing your husband to a heart attack. Seriously? That bad? Maybe your goldfish, but…your husband? Okay, well, if you say so, but…wait, what’s that? You’re saying that his words hurt you as much as your young daughter becoming disabled for life? Really? Well…

And the best part? No one challenged this.

Which leads us to

8) Alleged “role models.” Ladies, didn’t it drive you crazy when you were told, practically at gunpoint, that you had to accept Vivian Stringer as your personal role model and savior? Because if you didn’t like her, you were a traitor to your gender. She had suffered for us, dammit. It especially sucked for people my age, because she apparently is a "mentor" for college students, and was therefore touted as our “inspiration.”

So this is why the entire situation disturbed me so much. How did it disturb you?


Queenpat said...

Only because I heard the comment first hand, thought it was humorous, but not insulting. The video I saw has these "women" look like dreadlocked tatted up Dennis Rodman wannabe's. I said it then and will to Stringer's face if need be. Then Imus got pulled in the middle of his radiothon, appeared on a "racial accelerant's" program (and don't mention that so called reverend's name here in Ulster or Dutchess county, for they will ride him out on a rail.) I was in radio for years, know that what was acceptable in 1970 is no longer so. Listen to the airchecks of a drugged crazed DJ on WNBC mornings back in 1972 and you heard ...genius. Hysterical blowing up of all that was pompous. Imua was all that and a side of chips!

Afer the DAY, I did something last year I never did before, would not do again. I attended an Army football game with revenge. They were playing Rutgers and the Scarlet Blight's fans were using the "F" word to describe the Army players (they did it a few weeks earlier to Navy) . I pulled a sign out of my coat, folded neatly and held it up:

"Nappy Headed Football Players/ GO ARMY!"

The Army fans roared...and that phrase drowned out the sorry assed Rutgers fans. (I pulled my sign back before I got caught). No, Army didn't win that day, but the Rutgers fans got a lesson in..."what goes around".

No, Imus won't be the wonderful DJ I listened to for 37 years, now, people are too sensitive, too litigeous. Watch sitcoms from back in 1970 or so, like "All in the Family" and "Sanford and Son" and see if you don't wince at something Fred or Archie say.

I'm glad he is back, but not happy with the program. I'm glad Imus like it, but then he's the host. He knows his long time fans are not happy, it's why he constantly repeats " I know what I am doing"

I truly hope so.

And you may thank Lou Ruffino, engineer extrordinaire for the bumper music that always comes out right.

channelXRFR said...

College Girl, I heard NHH that morning. Thought it was stupid but didn't think anymore about it till Imus starting apologizing. Then it hit me, this is serious. The light at the end of the tunnel was a train and it was coming right at us. The spousal unit said he wouldn't get fired. Wanted to believe her but had that gut feeling...

Looking at Lou's work on the track editor. It is always spot on, technically perfect. Ruffino is truly a gifted and talented person.

dee said...

CG - brilliant blog, and it brings back so many emotions from last year. I'm still digesting and will comment when I can put my year-ago rage into perspective.

In the meantime, there are 2 posts ahead of mine which I think need to be deleted :)

Mike said...

As a fellow college student, I completely have to agree with you, because that was my Mom's same reaction when I told her.

And I only listened to the show three mornings a week for an hour a piece, but what happened to him made me genuinely worry about the sanity of people in this country. I actually heard the NNH comment on the way to school one morning, and if I had to put my shrug/eyebrow wrinkle/weak "ha" reaction to words, it would have been: "Hmm, I-Man's bored yet again during a sports report. That was kind of a lazy thing to say."

On April 14th I bought a black T-shirt from Cafepress with his image and "FREE IMUS" across the front. Reactions on campus were 50% neutral, 35% "If you don't like what he says, change the channel" and 15% "He finally got his comeuppance." That last comment was actually from one of my professors.

In my opinion, the show has gotten much better, yet I still miss him being on WFAN. Your comment about that idiot waking up too late for Steve Somers and too early for Joe & Evan reminds me of how much that station was my "one-stop shopping." Now, when I'm driving around bored I'm just as likely to listen to Sean Hannity when a year ago, Mike and the Mad Dog was my only afternoon listening. I-Man was more a part of a radio station family than he is now - when Joe Benigno was railing against Yankee fans moaning that Billy Wagner was coming out to "Enter Sandman" while that's been Mariano Rivera's "song" for years, Imus was still hanging around the studio and Mike Francesa was early. They both gave Beningo hell on the air, and it was great radio. I remember as a freshman driving around weeks before Election 2004 and Imus joining M&MD to break down the election, much like they'd have Peter Gammons break down the World Series.

That's probably the only wound I feel that hasn't healed yet. M&MD did such a classy job last summer, hanging out with Chuck in the morning and dealing with the immediate aftermath by bashing Russert and the rest of the half-a-phonies. It seems that Imus is still quite fond of them, but they feel insulted in some way, as I think they've publicly bristled at some of the things he's said about how WABC is a better radio station. I believe Mad Dog one day even said, "Hey Don, it's not like you were traded." It's been my hope for months now that they would show up at Rainbow Studio one morning, yuk it up for a while while "Fatso and Fruit Loops" insults are flying, all while Boomer and Carton flounder around in Astoria. Boomer and Carton would whine, M&MD would flex their muscles, those talentless skunks would get fired, the FAN would break away from CBS, and 660AM would air a simulcast of the I-Man.

Wishful thinking? Hah, sorry CG for this long rant from someone nostalgiac for hearing, at 5:30AM, "Good morning, Charles." "Good morning, Steve."

CollegeGirl said...

So I've come to accept the fact that my readers are way smarter than I am. (Well, with the exception of those two spam comments I just deleted, thanks Dee).

QueenPat, seriously, you are my hero. That is all. :-)

ChannelXRFR, your wife and myself were thinking the same thing...I never really took this controversy seriously, because I didn't think he'd ever get fired. I'll never forget how shocked I was that night, April 11, when a friend IMed me and told me the news.

CollegeGirl said...

No worries, Mike, excellent post, write as much as you'd like. Also, I apparently am not the only one up in the wee hours of the night. You gotta love the college life. :-)

...and the thing is, I miss WFAN as well. I'm happy that they're on a "better station" and all, but I used to love the guys over in the "moldy basement." The sad thing is that now, like you, I don't really listen anymore. I used to listen to Mike and Doggie occasionally, and my respect for them increased tremendously post-April 2007. (Also: the video on Youtube with the guy imitating Mad Dog's rant about Pacman Jones? I've seriously watched that thing about 100 times. It's hilarious.) I still hope a little for a Fatso/Frootloops cameo, even though that probably won't happen, at least in the short term.

No one on my campus really talked about the incident...I don't go to Rutgers (THANK GOD), so at least I didn't have to witness anything like that firsthand. Most of my friends agreed that the entire thing was ridiculous, though part of that may have been that they didn't want to make me mad.

And this is sort of sad, but I actually got a little misty-eyed when I read (and remembered) "Good morning, Charles." "Good morning, Steve." I need to get to bed. :-)

laree said...

Oh my how did I react, still reacting:)

My husband and I were sitting in the living room watching Imus in the Morning, when we watched the news that the show had been canceled, well that lit both our husband a now retired amry sargent started rattling off orders ....take down the names of his sponsors who deserted him, make a list we don't buy their products anymore...why would my husband and millions of others get up every morning and put on a uniform to fight for everyones freedoms to have one of those freedoms assaulted right in front of his eyes? (free speech and freedom of expression) People are fighting and dying for us everyday...that is where I come from, no one is going to make the sacrifice in vain for me. I am going to use the freedoms they afford me and not take them for granted. Like your free speech, thank a U.S. Military Service Person.

Oh and I would really like to carry queenpat's train.

This has got to be one of your best blogs to date College Girl.

Al said...

No wonder robio asked College Girl to marry him...

Queenpat said...

Jeese, I'm nothing more than another Imus fan, just older and don't give as big a shirt as you youngsters.;) Steve Somers, I miss as much as Fatso and Fruitloops, but I haven't heard the 'FAN since the DAY, and I'm a NY Mets fan!

I listen to Imus, the same reason as NASCAR fans watch a see the next wreck, or in Imus' case, the next yuk. Rob 's "Feets" knocked another out of the park today.

Just think CollegeGirl, when you reach your 50' can not give a shirt and hold a sign up, too! (laughter)

Anonymous said...

CG-discovered your blogs from support months ago and have read often, but this one is GREAT! I cannot talk about the Imus "incident" without great emotion and generally tears. I still do not use products that were on "the list", do not listen to or read the "weasels" unless they happen to be on the new show, nor do I watch/listen to MSNBC or WFan. All of that would take me back to the time, when some unknown entity came to my house and took something away that I loved. In the meantime, I have discovered other products and other people worth listening to. (Sorry, haven't resorted to Fox yet) That DAY and that event is permanently engraved in my memory, probably because, like many, I never saw it coming. I heard the NHH comment and never raised an eyebrow. My daughter had played college basketball and I was actually appreciating the attention the girl's game was getting. Pretty naive looking back. Anyway, thanks for the cathartic experience . breinecker

Fake Cardinal Egan, bejeez. said...

The even more ironic part is that Martina sang that song live on the day the comment was made. Something greater is at work here, folks. ;)