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[whitespace] George W. Bush
Bush imitators target our baser instincts.

Don't Touch That Dial

Humor turns to hate on the radio

By Gina Arnold

YOU KNOW THOSE buttons on your car radio that you use to program in your few favorite stations? Turns out they also serve to shield us from attitudes we don't want to know about. The other day I was accidentally cruising the dial and hit on KSJO for a second. What I wound up hearing was a brief skit from Lamont and Tonelli's morning show, which was being repeated because of its supposed hilarity.

On this skit, a George W. Bush sound-alike makes a speech about what we--i.e., the United States--are going to do to our enemies, who are characterized as "Afghanistan and Iraq." What we're going to do is kick their asses, of course--and the rhetoric was appalling. I distinctly recall the word "towel heads" being used, also "greasy" (or maybe it was "oily") to describe anyone who's a Muslim.

But the racism and bloodthirstiness of this skit weren't even as startling as the stupidity and wrongheadedness of the scenario the skit presented: one in which we're going to send all Muslim believers back to the Stone Age; one in which "we" are all-powerful, the proof being that "we" had kicked Saddam Hussein's ass in the war on Iraq. (Yup. That's why he's still in power.) In this scenario, Afghanistan doesn't have a hope against us--tell that to the former Soviet Union.

Of course, I'm all for free speech, so I don't think that this rant shouldn't have been broadcast, but it really made me sad to hear it anyway. So I called Greg Stevens, operations manager for KSJO, and in an odd moment of serendipity in reporting, he actually agreed with me. Apparently, the skit--which came from a comedy service that Lamont and Tonelli use--was originally harsher and more racist.

After its first airing, the skit was edited down for content, and, says Stevens, "it's still pretty borderline. When I heard it in its original form, I was on the phone immediately, saying, 'Don't air that again till we've discussed it!' "

The result of his editing was a less volatile piece--that still shocked me. Stevens sighs when I say so. "Our goal is not to be racist," he tells me. "Their goal was to be on the pro-American, anti-terrorist [side], and it does strike a chord with our listeners, a lot of whom are pretty hard-core. I don't like to squash their creativity, but I agree with you, it was too harsh." Stevens says it's a tricky subject though. "We haven't gotten complaints about that skit per se, but there has been a lot of discussion in general on the topic of whether there can be humor on this subject at all, or if it's too soon to laugh at it."

This is true, although I'm not sure that KSJO has really put on the brakes. Anyway, it reminded me why I don't listen to KSJO ... even beyond the fact that their playlist doesn't appeal to me. I looked up their website, and there is a little software program called "Osama bin Laden's Liquor Store." You can click on it and try and shoot bin Laden as he pops up behind the counter. The program contains a disclaimer saying, "No attempt to discriminate against any race, religion, nationality or occupation (except terrorism) is either expressed or implied," but the site and the skit together did make me question what the connection between the music KSJO plays--bands like Incubus, System of a Down, Linkin Park and Tool--and right-wing political beliefs that such humor is aimed at.

The truth is, rock and social class have a very distinct connection, but it's almost impossible to define it. It's a tricky thing to talk about out loud because it tends to get caught up in rude remarks about intelligence. The temptation is to say that dumb people like dumb music and dumb politics. But I'm not so sure that the music of Zeppelin, Tool and Metallica is dumb, exactly, and it would be foolish indeed to say that conservative values and warlike sentiments go hand in hand with low IQs. One day, I'd like to explore more fully the connection between listening to metal music and exhibiting right-wing political beliefs, but it seems like kind of a trivial thing to be thinking about right now.

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From the October 11-17, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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