Sick Culture, Imaginative Exhaustion

Symbolism Over Politics 

   JoAnn Wypijewski 

So here’s the question: which was Don Imus’ bigger offense, calling the African-American women on the Rutgers basketball team nappy-headed or calling them hos? Almost all the commentary I’ve read on this now is all about the “racially charged” aspect of the comment, and the response to the “hos” part is: these girls are A students, they’re Girl Scouts, they’re musical prodigies, they’re future leaders. In other words, there are some women whom you might reasonably call hos, but not these women….

There was a time when shock worked, because there was intelligence behind it: Lennie Bruce, Richard Pryor. There was a political point to it. If you compare what those guys were doing to the world of fine art, you’d have to look back to the first guy, the Russian Malevich, who painted an all-black canvas. And then an all-white one etc. And that was in 1913 or so, and it was a hugely daring thing to do. But now what does it mean to paint an all-black canvas? It has no meaning, no shock, no daring, just imaginative exhaustion….

At the end of the day all of this seems like another triumph of symbolism over politics, whether he stays or goes. If he stays, the symbolism of apology; if he goes, the symbolism of a demonstration firing. Change will come only through changing the culture, the political culture. But it makes a little more sense as a diagnosis, I think, to say that the culture made the man. You can get rid of the man; you’re still stuck with the culture.

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