Archive for September, 2009

an exegesis on the banality of Neil Boortz

September 18, 2009

I got my car back today, and on the way home I was surprised to hear that 103.7 was broadcasting the Neil Boortz show.  Thinking fondly of my late grandfather, Pop, who always had his radio tuned to the Neil Boortz show, I decided I’d listen for a while, and what I heard shocked and saddened me.

First was a commentary on recent comments made by President Jimmy Carter about the possibility that some opponents of Barack Obama’s policies simply do not want a black man in the White House (Carter’s comments were noticeably not replayed for the benefit of the listener).  Boortz was of the opinion that, due to the nature of these comments (ie. Carter’s pulling the “race card,” as Boortz put it), Carter was probably suffering from some form of dementia.  He went on to call such comments idiotic and worthy of ridicule, blasting Carter for going back to a past notion of racial division which has been thoroughly put aside by the American people, only to further insult the former President by saying, quite condescendingly, that listeners should cut Carter a break (from such extremely harsh rhetorical criticism instigated by Boortz himself), because after all Carter just might be suffering from dementia.  My immediate response was to quite reasonably, though indignantly, ask, “Is Neil Boortz a medical doctor, well versed in the symptoms and conditions of dementia?”  Is Neil Boortz a medical expert on dementia?  Or is this just another example of sensational editorializing?  To disagree with Carter on the grounds that the real issue at hand is Obama’s policy and not his race, as Boortz went on to do, is one thing, but to quite literally call the former President’s sanity into question without any medical analysis—or even the medical training to back up such a claim—based simply upon the fact that he disagrees with Carter’s analysis, is nothing more than a mud-slinging ad hominem attack.  Really, Neil?

Boortz’s lack of critical constraint aside, was Carter’s analysis really that off-base?  I recall hearing a special on NPR (one of the only truly unbiased major news sources left in the States) during the presidential election season in the fall of 2008, which discussed the question of Obama’s race playing a factor in the election.  During this program, a student voter registration volunteer at the University of Pennsylvania, who did support Obama and wore an Obama button as she registered voters, reported instances in which tailgaters at her school mockingly referred to Obama as a “monkey,” as well as statements that the White House wasn’t made for a black man, as she went around campus trying to register voters for the upcoming election. Audio footage of these encounters was played during the report.  This young lady further reported that though this type of response was not a majority response by any means, it was, however, typical of a fringe demographic she encountered from time to time.  This being the case at a fairly liberal University in a battle-ground state during the election, would it be that far-fetched to say that some segment of the American population opposes Obama’s presidency and the policies he backs on the grounds of his race?  According to Neil Boortz, such a claim is apparently an indicator of mental illness.

What I would like to add to this in passing is that by making such a sweeping and frankly careless statement about our 39th President, Boortz is marginalizing Mr. Carter, grouping him “out there,” along with all the other “crazies” who populate the fringe of that exclusive political landscape owned and protected by the Religious Right—y’know, all those REAL Americans—such political pariahs as Al Gore, Michael Moore, William Ayers, and the list goes on.  What this does is to effectively make illegitimate everything else that President Carter may have to say that is counter to the “convential” wisdom of the dominant media gauntlet, such as his educated-though-controversial views on the Israeli occupation of Palestine as analogous to South African Apartheid, or his condemnation of the death penalty on grounds of faith as well as reason.  Now another pressing question surfaces:  is this casual marginalization a coincidence, or could it be another notch on the wall for a manipulative agenda to demonize any progressive thinking which opposes the increasingly Nationalistic militarism of political discourse in America?  I leave that for you to ponder unanswered for now, because I am afraid that I’ve derailed from my summary of what I heard on the Neil Boortz show as I followed a natural tangent that I would like to return to later.

Boortz’ stated purpose in this diatribe was to dispel any ideas that he has racist views or that racism is even really still present in any direct or veiled sentiments in mainstream media.  He argued that, quite the opposite, liberals keep grasping onto out-dated claims of racism to attack ad hominem anyone who disagrees with the liberal agenda.  After a call-in conversation with an African American listener who, though sympathetic to Boortz’s sentiments, tried unsuccessfully to educate Boortz on certain nuances of racial identity (repeatedly bringing up Obama’s mixed racial heritage in addition to musing on the fact that a ‘multi-racial’ option for ethnicity has remained absent on certain computerized applications until recent years), Boortz took a female caller and without ever actually allowing her the chance to state her reason for calling, proposed to her a sensational situation which called into question whether or not she, the caller, had racial prejudices.  The ironic thing about the situation he laid out for her is that in doing so, he seemed to give his listening audience a closer look into his own racial prejudices.

After espousing that she had been brought up to see people as people, regardless of skin color, this caller was presented the following scenario by Boortz.  She was asked to picture herself at an ATM after dark.  On her left, approaching her, was an elderly white lady wearing a Tweety Bird hat and using the assistance of a walker.  On her right, approaching her, was a young black man (Boortz noticeably called him “a black,” a term that in and of itself carries quite a bit of racial baggage) who had cornrows, wore a hoodie, whose pants “sagged down to his knees,” and who was “grabbing his crotch” (Boortz’s verbal emphasis).  Boortz then asked this caller if she could honestly look to her left and to her right, and regard both individuals equally as people.  Her answer was yes.  He then said, “Let me put it this way, when you are finished with your transaction, which way are you going to go, in the direction of this hoodlum, or in the direction of Tweety Bird’s grandmother?”  Her answer was to say effectively that she would go whichever way she originally intended, not allowing the presence of these two people to cause her any difference in her direction of travel than if they were absent.  Neil Boortz responded by saying, “I don’t buy it,” and cutting to commercial.

It was at this point that I turned off the radio, indignant, and decided to ruminate over this interchange, so as to later write this very criticism.  What gets me is Boortz’s obvious juxtaposition of two very extreme cultural archetypes, the contrast between, as he puts it himself, some young hoodlum and Tweety Bird’s grandmother.  These two images are quite evocative of two very different emotions.  One, comfort or even pity, and the other, fear. As if such a situational juxtaposition were likely to ever actually happen.  Come on, really?  The false dichotomy that Boortz proposed to this caller is of the same sensational variety as the absurd theoretical, “what if someone was holding a gun to your head and forced you to choose between A and B?”  He was trying to illicit a fear response in this woman, fear based on a very negative stereotype of black men in our society that is more reflective of his preconceived notions than hers.  Her response was to ignore this false dichotomy and speak from the perspective of someone with a broader logical ethic than fear.  Boortz, in a very typical neo-conservative reaction, categorically denied the validity of her response and ended all other chance of further discussion by abruptly cutting to commercial.  And this is the same type of rhetoric which is advertised as “fair and balanced” on other, unnamed networks.

This type of rhetoric is in not enlightened; it is not mature, it is not conducive for discussion or self-education.  Simply put, it is childish.  The tactics I heard today on the Neil Boortz show are the same as those used by children who want to win an argument with a rival while cutting them down in order to do it.  The sad thing is that these tactics are used by people who call themselves journalists.  Worse, people of all classes actually buy into this type of rhetoric as an acceptable means of dialogue with those they disagree with, resulting in the stubborn and divisive quarreling we’ve seen more and more frequently in American politics. I am at a loss. Though thankful for my own collegiate education, which has granted me the exposure to such a variety of views as has allowed me to think and speak critically about the world around me, I see that some of my very peers, as well as some of those who are supposed to be more educated and well-rounded than myself, certainly people with greater public influence than myself, are incapable of holding differing views in tension, and see things rather in terms of one extreme or the other, and when presented with a view to which they do not adhere, have the same emotional response as a small child whose mother has abruptly set him/her down and left the room: fear, anger, and shouting, crying out for the return of comfortable familiarity.

I honestly pray for a resurgence of rational discourse and neighborly rhetoric—peaceful engagement instead of militant immobility—in our socio-political forums.