Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Goodbye and good riddance - The demise of Dr. Laura's career

My favorite Jewish radio shock-jock, Howard Stern, left terrestrial radio for the satellite variety a few years ago and I haven't heard from him since. Last week, my second-favorite Jewish radio shock-jock, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, announced that her radio show will end this year. She'll probably move to XM or Sirius and, like Howard, Artie, Gary, Robin, and Fred, be gone from my life forever. On the plus side, paid subscription is the best protection against a young person hearing the good doctor's adult-themed advice without the filter of a loving parent. On the minus side, I will have to endure afternoon traffic jams without the entertainment of Dr. Laura's particular brand of crazy.

Unlike Howard Stern, Laura Schlesinger isn't leaving by choice. She's leaving because 10 years after her homophobia made her TV show un-marketable, she had a racially insensitive on-air meltdown. Two of her biggest radio sponsors have dropped her (and essentially ended her career) now that the whole world knows that she's not just a homophobe, she's a racist homophobe. I hope her demotion to satellite and the giant pay cut she has to take when she walks away from her nationally syndicated radio show remind her that her job is to help people, not to make "philosophical points" about racial slurs.

Dr. Laura's shtick is that she's already done all the scandalous, depraved, immoral things her callers are doing, so she understands them. She claims the moral authority to judge other people, particularly women, because she doesn't do those things any more. She believes in honoring your father and mother, the absolute sanctity of the husband/wife relationship, and that raising children is the most important job in the world. She approaches everything from a conservative religious point of view with no gray areas — which accounts for her motto ("now go do the right thing") and makes for amazing radio when people call in to be scolded.

This recent drama started when a black woman married to a white man called the show looking for advice about a neighbor. The caller said, "Every time he comes over, it's always a black comment. It's, 'Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?' And, 'Do black people really like doing that?'"

The Dr. Laura I know would have advised this woman to tell her husband either that neighbor cuts it out or he is no longer welcome in their house. Her actual response was, "I don't think that's racist." She followed up with, "When somebody says, 'What do blacks think?' say, 'This is what I think. This is what I read that if you take a poll the majority of blacks think this.' Answer the question and discuss the issue… . We have to be able to discuss these things. We're people."

Putting aside the fact that she was wrong (ascribing a behavior or characteristic to an individual based exclusively and only on race is, by definition, racist), that doesn't seem like a career-ending statement. If not for what she said right after "I don't think that's racist," it wouldn't have been. But this was Dr. Laura's next complete sentence, "Without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black. Didn't matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That's not a surprise." So much for trying to help people.

When the caller mentioned the "n word," Dr. Laura stopped being a radio psychologist altogether and became a confused, old, white woman who doesn't get it saying, "Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger. I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing." Then she went to a commercial.

She came back on the air with that same caller who said, "I was a little caught back by the n-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations … since Obama's been in office … racism has come to another level that's unacceptable."

Dr. Laura's response was, "Yeah. We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious." Then, in response to a question about whether or not it's OK to use the word in question, Schlesinger said, "It depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK." When the obvious difference between herself and "black guys" was pointed out, Dr. Laura said, "Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can't do much about that."

The only reasons a white person would make a philosophical point (in the form of a complaint) about this racial slur are they're either trying to protect black people from being insulted by other black people or they want to reserve the right to use the word themselves. Either way, it's the wrong thing to do. So there actually is something that can be done when it comes to a discussion about the "n word." Stay out of it.


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