Msnowe's Blog

Devil Ex Machina

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on August 15, 2007

It’s hard to understand just what this country is getting at. We claim to be politically correct, to value justice, freedom, and all things ethical, yet we also praise the exact opposite of everything we hold dear. Our mouths say one thing, and our credit card statements and search engines say another. It’s good to have principals. But it’s also good to act on them. It’s hard to see just where we are acting when the popularity and revenues of some of the seediest, under-belly-type companies and products continue to flourish. We’re all human, and it’s understandable that not everything we say translates into action, otherwise we would never have come up with the meaning of “hypocrite.” But a frightening trend is emerging, and it’s not altogether sustainable if we’d like to view ourselves as morally superior, or at least on the track towards it. As a nation, we seem to think that outright action and forceful language automatically clears any problems or controversies. And then, after what is viewed as a considerable time-period of dormancy, the problems can creep back in, unabated. Because we’ve already covered the given issue to death, and quickly, people (and to some extent the media), are unwilling to repeat the ethical outcry.

Two examples that currently exemplify this are O.J. Simpson’s book, which is reportedly going to be published by an as of yet undisclosed New York company, and Don Imus’ possible return to radio. Both these items are similar in that they were covered to death and highly controversial a few months ago. The outcry to stop Simpson’s “If I Did It” was perhaps a lot more consolidated and forceful, whereas Imus’ dismissal from CBS was more of a gradual ascent of realization in terms of just how serious and provoking his comments were. At the height of both controversies, it became clear that people would not stand for these two men to continue to gain financial prizes and notoriety from what they wrote or said. While Imus’ dismissal was debated with vigor, people realized that to defend him blindly was a dangerous move, and sponsors eventually pulled out.

But enough parsing the issue – everyone remembers, it was only four months ago. And THAT is the very problem.

How does four months after Imus’ dismissal change anything? The only things that have ticked away are the minutes, hours, days, and months since the controversy. And what about his apology? If he was genuinely sorry, why would he be suing CBS, and earning an “undisclosed” amount for his own pain and suffering at the lost contract? The sad thing to realize is his opportunity costs have probably skyrocketed- Imus’ story (Like Simpson’s), although controversial and grotesque, has gotten a lot more interesting. The offers will come rolling in from the nether world like satan ex machina, saving the career of a man who deserves a punishment he will never really get. And that notion of the lack of punishment brings me back to Simpson. The book’s profits have changed hands, and it is no longer Simpson who holds exclusive rights to his work of biographical “fiction.” The public has decided that the controversy is nullified by that fact, and it’s perfectly acceptable to voraciously devour this publication because Simpson won’t be making money from it (we hope). But wasn’t the despicable nature of the book enough to put people off? Isn’t that part of the reason people were up in arms in the first place? As a writer who feels like any publication is far game and would never suggest banning a book as a viable option, the publication can’t be completely condemned here. But its the approach, and the public’s obsession with the murder that make anybody with an ethical sense of right cringe.

What Imus said was absolutely unforgivable, even if said in “jest.” What Simpson wrote about was unforgivable many times over, obviously. And yet their popularity, which tinkered to life just after the dust of the public outcry has settled, tells us less about these characters and more about ourselves. Like the operas composed with the last minute, unbelievable salvation of the hero, this salvation is added to their stories by the mere fact that the audience wants to see it happen. Despicable people like Imus and Simpson will always be looking for an extra buck and a little bit of press (good or bad). Its how we (both collectively and within the different establishments such as the press and the overall business world) react that gives these kinds of men and women power. We’d like to think its the machinations of some uncontrollable force; but it is some part of us which allows for this unnatural salvation of the most objectionable kind.