When I first happened on the Don Imus radio program, all I heard were bitter complaints about how he gave good show and got bad press. That, apparently, was the show. Like a rapper whose only song was of self, he seemed unable to escape his own gravitational field. Though it made continual reference to the outside world, the show never seemed to go anywhere.
The political commentaries were short-order sharp, as precocious boomers vented privileged rage. The periodic ("he said 'period!'") sexist humor was not just another instance of uneven development (male pattern bawdiness?) but rather the final standing threat to women—play ball or be gone. The show reflected the New Meanness, and its magnetic north just had to be Bob Dole: paternalistic, stern, remote, sarcastic—above all, judgmental.
"I love that man!" quoth the Imus, of arguably the least lovable public figure since Richard Nixon. "Amen!" echoed the minions, all straight and narrow.
Not my cup of coke, to be sure. So I'd flip it off in disgust.
But then I'd flip it back on, drawn by feelings deeper than the show seemed to merit; afraid of missing something, of being left out.
What hooked me was their Nixon imitator (before and after that timely death) singing "Imus in the moooorning!" in a teasingly emotional way. Imus always cuts it off——a blushing boy in the face of a national father figure.
I share his blush.
Words can distance us from the ache of feeling (I fully expect someday to hear the Holocaust described as a "bummer, major league"). And words can distance us from each other, as when boys spit up a nearly unbroken stream of venom.
And yet, at the epicenter of this vitriolic male storm come glimpses of innocence, of accessible vulnerability.
Listen as well to this lanky combination of genuine religiosity and hard tongue cynicism, as Imus summarizes his feelings on a subject too easy to ridicule:
"Hey, the I-man loves the baby Jesus, push comes to shove.."
Huckleberry Gump. Soft core. Accessible.
The heart of his accessibility is a teasing, push-pull relation with authority that blurs worship and blasphemy. He is everyman; put upon and blushing. We identify with him as his signifying sidekicks gleefully pour salt in the wounds of a fabulously fallen king who hath risen from glorious debauchery (wouldn't you have just died for his sins?) to take a young queen.
I share his rush.
And so he lets us in.
Beneath the casual locker room veneer lies monkey-butt hierarchy. No guest survives for long without comment about their persona. How they present themselves is more important than what they say. Every call to that show is a judgment call.
The essence of patriarchal power is the ability to put a name and value to things—to judge. And as we highway superintendents glimpse these men building up and tearing down personal edifices, we take the measure of ourselves.
The show does go somewhere: it goes to who you are and whether and where you belong. In so doing it pushes all the old male buttons: In and out; proximate and remote; here and gone.
I wonder what my father would have thought of it.
I wonder what my father thought of me.