This week’s prize for bad behavior in public (as awarded by our mass media) is surely Kanye West’s outburst at the MTV Awards. While I didn’t see it (too busy watching sexy vampires on HBO, then sexy male chauvinist pigs on AMC), I’m shocked – shocked! I tell you – that something socially unacceptable happened in such an august venue.
For those you didn’t see it, please come out from under your rock. I’m not going to comment on it, because there is nothing so boring as an old white person talking about hip hop culture.
However, there was a related incident, in which President Obama, before taping an interview with CNBC, called West a “jackass”. As you might expect, conservatives were outraged.
Some thought it was planned. These people thought Obama deliberately put down West in order to pander to Middle America, such as when Bill Clinton denounced Sistah Souljah in 1992. The theory is that by criticizing an extreme example of rebellion, the Democrat will not be considered one of the dirty hippies.
That’s an amusingly paranoid reaction to an interview with the President by a cable network. However, it is not nearly as funny as this.
“Obama’s off-the-record criticism of Kanye West — which I won’t repeat here — is the first time this President has united Republicans, Democrats and independents on an issue. While the President should avoid using profanity or language bordering profanity, Obama’s blunt critique was refreshing and demonstrated the Midwestern straight talk that Obama championed during the campaign.”
Excuse me, but profanity? A jackass is a male donkey. Despite right wing fears about the power of Political Correctness, it is not (yet) legally considered an obscenity to be male. Colloquially, a jackass is a fool. Sadly, this is also not considered profane in our culture.
It is true that the word “jackass” contains within it the word “ass,” which can refer to one’s buttocks (which, you’ll notice, includes the word “butt”). And it’s also true that, in polite company, one occasionally uses the word “ass” in lieu of calling someone an asshole. However, this does not mean that Obama called West an asshole, no more than it means any elected officials are spewing obscenity when they talk about their love for their country.
And why the higher standards for Obama? He’s hardly the first president to be caught on tape using coarse language. In the 2004 election, George W. Bush actually called a reporter a “major league asshole”, and somehow, that remark, which was supposed to be off the record, was okay with his supporters.
In fact, the standards for discourse on the floor of the Senate are altogether different for Republicans. Who can forget this delightful exchange between Vice-President Dick Cheney and Senator Patrick Leahy (D – Vermont), who is, by the way, a major league Batman fan.
And why was Obama asked about Kanye West in the first place? Sure, it was a moment in pop culture history, and, as such, an occasion for small talk. However, of all the new stories to bring up before an interview, why choose that? Is there a reason Obama’s opinion about West would be important?
Unfortunately, too many see Obama as a Black Man and only a Black Man. Rush Limbaugh, in this example discusses him when talking about other matters of race. He’s mighty defensive about being called a racist. Methinks he doth protest too much.
There are many valid reasons to criticize the President and his policies. These reasons have to do with policy, or political perspectives, or the tactics he uses to achieve his goals. They don’t have to do with an allegedly forged birth certificate or an allegedly secret life as a fundamentalist Islamic extremist.
When, in this discussion, one points out that teabaggers and others are only talking about Obama as a Black Man, they frequently gets defensive and insists they is not a racist. But take a look at this and then let’s talk about what they really mean.
And then let’s ask the President something important, like what he thinks about Lady Gaga.
Media Goddess Martha Thomases will miss Henry Gibson more than she can say.