Tuesday, December 15, 2009

book review: Burying Don Imus

Thanks to the University of Minnesota Press for providing a copy of "Burying Don Imus: Anatomy of a Scapegoat".

The author, Michael Awkward, is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, at the University of Michigan.


When I became aware of this book, I was excited to review it. I've been in radio broadcasting since 1979, and somewhat of a fan of Imus.


In the covering paper jacket of the hardback book, is written: "...Awkward privides the first balanced, critical analysis of Imus's comments..."

OK...we'll see...

In the preface: "This book explores why so many...felt that Imus's symbolic burial was utterly necessary.."

In the first chapter is a nice two paragraph setup of the career and caricature (if you will) of Imus. It's probably good that Awkward did that, because some who have attacked Imus didn't understand what he has done, and what he does: the style of his programs which have been very consistent...and acceptable in the past (until being fired from MSNBC).

Throughout the chapter, Awkward does a great job of explaining the tone of the program before Imus was fired. If you don't know where Imus came from, you probably don't understand how he got to where he was/is.

Something arose early in the book that annoyed me. (And I expected it would for the rest of the book.) I believe the fault belongs to the publisher. To access a footnote: I had to go to the rear of the book, locate the "Notes" section, and find the note that relates to the chapter...c'mon! Put footnotes, that relate to the chapter I'm reading, at the end of the chapter they are in.

Awkward states that he does not agree with the explanation Imus gave about why the Rutgers womens basketball team should not be made fun of. I won't try to speak for Awkward...I think it's best that it be read from his book so you can find if you understand, and agree, with his position. Due to my personal morals, I will say that I can somewhat agree with Awkward on this.

I almost want to close my review here. With Awkward stating that the basketball team is "fair game", I think that alone should be enough for a lot of people to want to read the book.

Towards the end of the first chapter, he states: "My intention in the following pages is to continue what Imus...started: to consider his skit in terms of the broad 'conext [of] what happens on this program'...the responses to it...the art of comedy...I hope to demonstrate that the conclusions at which people arrived about the nature of the nappy-headed hos skit reflect a failure to consider the comedic context..."

And that is VERY important. In my professional, and personal, life...many things have not been considered in proper and reasonable context. To attempt to defend against misunderstandings and misinterpretations, effort intensive and time consuming framing has been needed to keep material clearly defined. Which, after doing so, depreciates the worth of the attempt at comedy and/or "the joke". Bad jokes happen. Get over it.

In chapter six, "The Appeal of Imus in the Morning", Awkward states he was never aware of Imus until the show was on MSNBC. (I've known about, and tried to study, Imus since I began my radio career.) Because of what I've read in the chapter, I can say that Awkward "gets it".

Awkward mentions his memoirs, "Scenes of Instruction"...which I believe helped him to be open to understanding the program and those of us who like it. (I haven't read "Scenes of Instruction", but I suspect that when I write my memoirs they'll have a similar tone.)

At the end of the book, some post-MSNBC incidents are noted: a comment Imus made about Adam "Pac Man" Jones, a joke by Bernie Mac (that the audience at a fund-raiser for Barak Obama did not appreciate), and D.L. Hughley agreeing with Imus (about the appearance of the basketball team).

Good book. If you were of the opinion that Imus was evil, is evil, should have been fired, and should not have a stage...this book could cause you to consider how attempts at comedy can be viewed, and what can be considered acceptable behavior and attitudes in certain environments by some.


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