Celebrity Bigots

Why Hate is Hot

The answer is that resentment and rage don't necessarily dissipate when they are expressed in fantasy. On the contrary, a steady stream of invective can foster violence. The men who ran amok in Central Park didn't take their marauding orders from Eminem, but the air they breathe is part of his repertoire. As in this rockin' rhyme: "In a couple of minutes that bottle of Guinness is finished/You are now allowed to officially slap bitches/You have the right to remain violent and start wilin'."

Would the culture of male violence exist without such anthems? Please! A survey of 10 organizations that deal with defamation produced no reliable data linking hate speech and crime. What seems obvious is that some people act on these messages, just as some people model violent sexual behavior on porn. But the effect on most of us is more complex. The real issue isn't how individuals react to public slander; it's how the culture takes shape around these rituals of casual abuse. This is where the lessons of fascism are worth heeding, for the ultimate uses of bigotry are political.

Of course, celebrity bigots insist they're anything but. Imus has told 60 Minutes he never utters the N-word (except in private conversation). Everything he says is meant in fun. That's what distinguishes him from a shock jock like Bob Grant, whose description of David Dinkins as "a washroom attendant" set him up for a fall. "I mean, if he's serious about it," Imus told CNN's Jeff Greenfield, "well, then, that is offensive."

Eminem offered a street version of this disclaimer when he told one interviewer he was merely "making fun of the world." Though he recently slugged someone for calling him a fag, Eminem has "nothing against gay people." He just thought it would be witty to rap this little ditty: "My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge/That'll stab you in the head whether you're a fag or lez/Hate fags? The answer's yes."

Those who are bothered by lines like "I was put here to put fear in faggots" or "Bleed, bitch, bleed" have no sense of humor, the worst sin of the politically correct. But behind the celebrity bigot's wink and grin lies a lusty rebel yell. "I don't apologize for offending people," Imus proclaims. "I know it's not politically correct, and I don't care." Eminem is even more trenchant: "My comical," he notes, "is really political."

So it is. Eminem and Imus draw from the same well of resentment that has nourished the Angry White Male. These stars are part of the backlash, and their reach into the mainstream shows how far this attitude has advanced. Bias is now a marketable commodity, tailored to the niches of a needy audience. Young males who feel deprived of sexual supremacy can take solace in the rapine arcadia of rap. Here, blacks and whites team up against bitches of all races. But for mature malcontents whose beef has less to do with sex than with loss of skin privilege, there's the fellowship of shock jocks. Here, whites team up against other races. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. But when you put these messages together, they add up to a powerful counterculture, a brotherhood of bigotry.

Irony is what makes this sensibility appeal to those who wouldn't be caught dead in a skinhead bar. Where there's irony, people can pretend that something other than hatred is at work. It's just a fun house; you don't confuse reality with the ride. And the more progressives protest, the more it seems like they're not in on the joke. Irony has accomplished what George Wallace never could. It's now hip to hate.

Celebrity bigots like to claim they're equal-opportunity offenders. Imus insists he's global in his jibes, but there's a pattern in his patter. His audience would dwindle dramatically if he took on Mother Teresa or the international Zionist conspiracy. There's no downside to joking about dead Haitians floating on the sea, as Imus has. The groups he picks on are the ones it's permissible to mock.

It's no coincidence that every celebrity bigot targets gays. They are the newest group to enter the multiculti fold. Gays are to America what Jews were to Europe a century ago: a newly emancipated—but far from licit—caste. No wonder politicians (like Dick Armey and Rick Lazio) can use homophobic slurs without risking their careers. The more precarious one's social status, the more one is subject to casual slander and the more people are willing to regard these insults as harmless—or even worse, reasonable.

Which brings us to Dr. Laura, another entertainer whose shtick is slamming those who stray from the straight and narrow. Aside from attacking feminism on a regular basis, she is infamous for resurrecting ideas about homosexuality that haven't been heard since the 1950s. Like certain notorious shrinks of that era, she promotes treatments the Christian right calls "reparative therapy." There isn't a shred of evidence that homosexuals can be counseled into losing their same-sex desire. But the point of this strategy is conversion, not healing. That's why most gays regard reparative therapy as a profound offense. It's no different at heart from the age-old ambition to convert the Jews.

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