Everytime I get a call to action against a shock jock, I wonder to myself why any of them are allowed on the air at all. Free speech is a fundamental right in this nation and I support the right of any and everyone to use it, including people with whom I disagree. Where I find myself stumbling is how easily the use of free speech translates into hate speech on these shows. By hate speech I mean language that would certainly be used as evidence in a hate crimes case, like “nappy headed ho,” comments likening body parts to Mexican food during a mock sexual assault, and jokes about sexually assaulting indigenous women, or the potential inciting of violence or tacit agreement with violence against people but especially federal protected groups, such as the Bill O’Reilly lynch Michelle comment or the Jon “Justice” mock sexual assault of a prominent Chicana or the comment to “let the blood flow” at the polls in response to poc voting. Any of these behaviors when applied in the real world are considered hate crimes or potential hate crimes if no parties are physically or otherwise injured. And some of these crimes in the real world reference back to these same shock jocks. The latest such crime was the armed rampage at a church during a Sunday School performance, in which the gun man had several shock jocks’ books and a letter repeating many of their most incendiary comments about “liberals” and “homosexuality” as his reason for targeting a church that has an open door policy and killing children. While the gun man was certainly unhinged, he states clearly his targets were a direct result of his idealization of shock jock radio and various messages they have put out there. The fact that none of these people, with the exception of Imus, has ever had a suspension or firing over abusing women, the queer community, or people of color and that Imus’ own suspension was met with incredulity from the left and the right so that he was quickly able to return to the airwaves.
But they are not the only villians in this story. Shock jocks make their money by inciting emotion – hatred against people or hatred against them is irrelevant to them as long as people are heated and calling in. Their careers are made and retained on the basis of their ability to fill air time with calls AND their ratings. And while it is easy to say that their callers are just an extension of the hate they spread, ie they are all invested in oppression of some group somewhere, the other piece of the puzzle is the listeners. And here in lies the rub. The people listening are not just oppressive conservatives, they are average people whose sense of disenfranchisement and possible isolation make hate speech resonate because there is no alternative being offered, they are liberals who claim to “only listen because it is so ridiculous,” and they are every day people who find it “entertaining” even though they would never say that about real people, saying those comments in the real world. In other words, listeners cross rural and urban divides, ages and genders, and run the political spectrum. And while some are more effected by the hate speech than others, all of them ensure that the speech goes on.
So I am passing on another call to action against shock jock radio today, this time targeting the queer community. But I am also asking you to think about what you listen to in your car, at work, or on satellite tv when “nothing else is on.” If you are one of those people who, however passively, helps keep these people employed, STOP. Turn the station. If you don’t have any good stations, bring CDs or an MP3 player in the car. Turn the tv station, and if nothing else is on, turn it off and listen to music. If everyone who was outraged by shock jock radio and everyone who claims to support equality for women, poc, and GLBTQ people, turned off the shock jocks and asked that their friends and relatives and bosses and co-workers did the same, I wouldn’t have to keep writing these posts b/c they wouldn’t be spewing their hate to a national audience.
See Part TWO above for the call to action