Pop Culture Supreme Court, Case 2: In the current media environment, are radio personalities being held to a different and tougher standard than their peers in print and on television?

Does the much-ballyhooed firing of Don Imus suggest that radio personalities are being held to a higher standard than their print and television counterparts? While Imus faced severe consequences for his racially-charged comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, the evidence suggests that the application of any standard to the medium of radio as a whole is, at best, arbitrary and capricious.

Whether it’s a fine from the FCC, a drop in sponsorship dollars, or an outright firing, shock jocks like Imus, Howard Stern, and Opie and Anthony have often paid the price for pushing the boundaries of decency on their shows. Other prominent radio personalities, however, continue to broadcast offensive material on a daily basis without significant repercussions or media scrutiny. Consider Figure 1, comparing the average number of racist, homophobic, insensitive, or otherwise inappropriate comments made by various radio personalities per hour:

Figure 1.1

Okay, so I made up all the numbers in Figure 1. Buy, hey — I’m a blogger. We’re held to no standards whatsoever. The point is that the enforcement of broadcast standards is just as arbitrary in the medium of radio as it is on TV. Networks depict dozens of brutal murders each week on police procedurals like CSI, but it’s incidents like Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” that really twist the FCC’s nipple shield. Sure, Don Imus was fired for his comments, but syndicated radio talk show host Neil Boortz was able get away with the following statement on the issue of immigration during his June 18 broadcast:

…build a double fence along the Mexican border, and stop the damn invasion. I don’t care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumbleweeds in the Santa Ana winds in Southern California. Let ’em. You know, then just run a couple of taco trucks up and down the line, and somebody’s gonna be a millionaire out of that.

Compare Boortz’s statement to Imus’ comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Is one really more offensive than the other? Yet, aside from a mention on Media Matters, Boortz’s remarks received no real attention from the media. That probably explains why, just a few days later, he figured it was perfectly safe to advocate sending deportees back to Mexico with “a little bag of nuclear waste” and telling them it’s a “tortilla warmer.”

I’m not defending Don Imus’ comments — quite the opposite, in fact. I’m just pointing out that he wasn’t the first or the last radio broadcaster to make an entirely inappropriate statement on the air. The First Amendment may protect our right to say stupid, awful things, but it doesn’t guarantee us a nationally-syndicated radio forum in which say them.

Thanks to such inconsistencies, I contend that radio personalities as a whole aren’t being held to a higher or tougher standard than their peers in television and print. Some are fined after making an offensive comment, others aren’t. Some attract a media circus, others don’t. Of course, it wasn’t the FCC that sacked Don Imus; it was his employers, CBS Radio and MSNBC. Did he face a harsher penalty than a newspaper reporter or television commentator who demonstrated dubious judgment and questionable professional ethics might have? Ask former New York Times reporter Jayson Blaire. Or former CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

In conclusion, I find that there is no consistent standard of professional conduct applied in today’s media environment. The Imus firing generated such an over-the-top media frenzy in part because it was the exception — not the rule. Other radio broadcasters have said and continue to say much worse on the air without facing any consequences whatsoever. Therefore, claims that radio personalities are being held to a standard any higher than their counterparts on television and in print are based on the inherently faulty premise that a consistent standard exists within the medium of radio. The question of whether Don Imus, Opie and Anthony, or whoever else is being held to a higher standard than their peers in other media must be determined on a case by case basis.


In the current media environment, are radio personalities being held to a different and tougher standard than their peers in print and on television?

I’m going have to say yes they are generally held to a tougher standard. However, I believe it is because of the environment and history of radio that makes it that way. Yet, there is another factor we have to consider too. Unlike TV and movies, there isn’t a rating system in place for radio. There are only FCC guidelines, which vary. Yet, given the live nature of radio, I don’t see how there could be. Do we really want more regulation from the government on what can be said and not said on the radio? Can we trust the government to oversee this?

Radio personalities do seem to take more flack than say your run of the mill cable network people.

Let me dig a little deeper.

The Shock Factor

After Howard Stern blew up, every radio station wanted to get their own shock jocks. That’s mainly because radio doesn’t know how to create new ideas, and simply clones whatever is marketable. I like raunchy and dirty humor as the next person, there does come a point when it does cross the line.

When the shock factor was then marketed and cloned throughout the US, It would be only a matter of time before someone caused some major trouble.

The Imus Factor

When the Don Imus controversy erupted, I was just a little angry, but as I heard more about the situation. I remember hearing about it not from the Internet, but a local hip-hop station. The DJ, who was a black woman, was really angry, and I understand why. Yet, even after the Imus thing started to settle down a bit, there were discussions about what could be said and what couldn’t.

Looking back on the entire situation, I wished the networks didn’t fire him, not because he was right, but because now anyone can come under fire and lose their job for a mindless remark. Being a black man myself, I know fully well how hurtful the phrase Imus made really was. The remark is generally a way to belittle black women, almost as much as the N-word. Yet, Imus probably should have never lost his job, because I don’t think he was fully aware how cruel the remark was. Imus should be held responsible and apologize, and watched what he said in the future.

Here are some general notes

1. People should demand better radio programming than some of the mess that is out there in the radio industry. We should demand a higher standard of programming.

2. There needs to be a wider range of entertainment and news on radio. When Imus was considered daring and shocking, you know there needs to be better programming. You want to shock people? Force them to think and discuss issues.

3. It’s time to clean up radio, not in content, but by bringing in new blood to change the way radio is run.

Internet notes

The Greaseman Incident.

Opie and Anthony church incident: Why did they think this would be funny? Does this even have an entertainment value?

Howard Stern: Just read his bio.

So the verdict is: Yes, radio personalities are held to a higher standard.

Pop Culture Supreme Court Ruling 2: In the current media environment, are radio personalities being held to a different and tougher standard than their peers in print and on television?

Radio is an interesting media, almost more diverse than television it informs and entertains with interactivity that television does not and cannot have. Radio has gotten a lot of attention in the last few months thanks to the FCC & others charging some pretty high-profile shock jocks of obscene show content.

The overly hyped Opie & Anthony were fired from WAAF Boston for reporting that a local politician had died in a fiery car crash. The story was fictitious, an April Fools bit gone bad, but the FCC prohibits the broadcast of knowingly false information if it causes public harm and apparently many believed this story. Who does that? Who believes the word of two stupid shock jocks over respected news outlets? How do these same people handle watching programs such as The Daily Show or reading The Onion? I suppose these people think that James Gandolfini Shot By Closure-Seeking Fan or that The Federal governments has three branches, that Dick Cheney is the fourth.

Seth at Dispatches From the Intelligentsia has this to say about the responsibilities of the FCC “When the FCC was originally created, its job was to make sure radio and TV stations didn’t overlap and squelch each other. It has grown into a dangerous anti-free speech arm of the government that arbitrarily determines what we should all hear and see.” And he’s right; if we give up some of our freedoms who’s to stop them from taking more?

The highest profile of the obscenity cases involved Don Imus. On April 4, 2007, Imus referred on-air to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s”during a discussion about the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. Calls for his dismissal from an angry public started pouring in that day, the media jumped on the bandwagon shortly after and finally reached it’s apex of attention on April 9th when Imus appeared on activist Al Sharpton’s radio program to discuss the controversy. Sharpton called the comments “abominable”, “racist”, and “sexist” and called for Imus’ termination. Despite an apology Imus was suspended on April 10th and his show was taken off the air on April 11th.

I think most of us can agree that what he said was indecorous but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have the right to express himself freely. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey put it best when he said, “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” And that’s what we have here; one man expressing his opinion. says “as a country, we are losing the will to fight for our freedom of speech; to have the right to hear the “words” we want to hear.” He also goes on to say we are “…sliding into an era that the opinions and sensitivities of a few dictate what “words” the rest of us can choose to hear.” and this is definitely true of the Imus incident. But aside from the freedom of speech issue here is the hypocrisy that once again TV gets away with identical behavior, sometimes worse.

Jennifer Feng finds that Hollywood does nothing but perpetuate the Asian stereotypes of the Foreigner and the Geek which diminishes “the self-esteem of boys and introduces an internalized racial self-hatred where one associates one’s racial identity with limited personal and social success.” Anastasia Goodstein says racism abounds on reality television and is a true thermometer of the racism in society. “It started years ago with The Real World, where racial tension seemed to be a prerequisite for casting. And in the past year we saw Survivor attempt to divide its teams according to race and Ice Cube attempt to have black and white families swap identities in Black. White. There is the unnerving minstrel quality to Flavor of Love, and we even see mixed race couples on Wife Swap.” If these racially charged television shows had been on radio would they have been received so calmly? Could they have even discussed some of the same topics as openly as they could on TV?

I can’t listen to the radio…and I am a talk radio junkie…for more than an hour these days without one of the hosts trying to skirt around a semi-adult topic because of the FCC or fear of audience lash back. Lou Guzzo thinks that “With regard to the obscenity issue, the FCC’s overly stringent regulations violate a historic constitutional doctrine — one stating that laws should be applied fairly and uniformly to all. If a federal agency tried to regulate newspapers, magazines, and books, as the FCC has controlled radio and television, the print media would have scuttled it in a day.”

“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do we really live in this kind of an Orwellian society? If so how long till TV or music or print media is censored because some people don’t like what it has to say…or the government doesn’t like what it has to say. I pointed out a few extreme instances of radio censure but it happens all the time now and it’s just not right. If you don’t like something…change the channel.

“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of all censorships.” George Bernard Shaw

Remakes are the scourge of Hollywood, a crutch for lazy writers and directors, a simple way for producers to turn a quick buck by betting on a sure thing. There artistic risk is minimal as the previous box office results are there to see – the filmmaking equivalent of tracing.

And just as copies of copies tend to lose their definition, remakes often dilute the original artistic intent. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita was a brilliantly dark film about an unlikely assassin, but the
sin was that it was filmed in French and had to be subtitled for North American audiences (“eww, reading!) When the movie was remade a few years later we got the sunshiney Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return, turning it into a generic thriller.

The same occurred with the Dutch film The Vanishing, a chilling film about a mysterious disappearance and the obsession of one man’s search for a missing loved one. The ending was so pitch black that when director George Sluizer remade the film in English he was forced to alter the ending, destroying the impact of the film.

This travesty isn’t limited to foreign films. Witness the atrocity that was Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Burton is a talented director, but his greatest folly was taking a sci-fi cult fave, dropping millions on it and making it dull and uninteresting. The list goes on – Gus Can Sant’s pointless, shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho; Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away.

Based on the previous examples – and the legion of others – it seems a slam dunk to say there should be a moratorium on remakes. But it’s not that easy. On the whole, I’ve seen more good remakes than bad. George Clooney & Brad Pitt’s Ocean’s 11 was great fun and full of style. Was it better than the Rat Pack’s version? I don’t know, I didn’t see it. Al Pacino’s Scarface is so well known that few people even realize that it is a remake. Again, I haven’t seen the 1932 Howard Hawks original. Same goes for The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Should I see the source material? Sure. Have I? No.

And that is the crux of the problem. It is easy to say that everyone should see the original films, that they should forgo the new release sections at their local video store and get to know their film history, but it’s not going to happen. For better or worse, film is not a static art form, where once the images have been committed to celluloid they remain untouched and treasured for all time. Much like plays are reinterpreted year after year, films of the past will always be a source for its present.

A bad remake can destroy an original vision, but the best remakes can rescue good stories from obscurity. If remakes are must be made (and it appears that they are) perhaps the best we can hope for is that directors don’t plunder the classics, but help repair flawed work. It’s a long shot, but there is always hope.

The task at hand is to determine whether a moratorium shall exist where Hollywood Remakes would be either disallowed or limited by some length of time between the original and the remake. If time limits were determined, who shall preside over the implementation and enforcement of said limits. Before such decisions can be made, our case and ruling is hereby presented for the Court’s review.

Emotions in Motion
Just like musical covers, film remakes evoke strong emotions in those who fell in love with the original presentation of the artwork. Even video game remakes illicit rousing discussion, as exhibited in Kotaku’s Great Debate of 2007: Remaking the popular video game Speedball 2. So one might presume that a pop culture judge for instance, who experienced their own coming of age during the John Hughes heyday of the 1980s, might have certain emotions attached to those films that would render him or her incapable of coming to an unbiased ruling. However we are here to set those emotions aside and weigh the arguments to a final decision.

The Good the Bad and the Unnecessary
Like all movies, remakes come in varying degrees of quality. Cinematical writer Bob Sassone has compiled a very convincing list of seven remakes that he deems better than their original counterparts. This analysis makes a strong case in support of the remake: you might end up with something better. However, most remakes are mediocre or worse than awful, they’re completely unwatchable. Fortunately, taste in films is individual and varied and thus we are not here to debate the quality of a remake but rather its ability to exist in the first place, bad or good.

Anything You Can Do I can Do in Color
Another argument for direct remakes is the advancements cinematic technology. CGI and Color are impactful and compelling draws for the younger movie-going generations. See illustration labeled Exhibit C (for color and CGI). These young movie fans are surrounded by color and effects and have been since birth. For these fans it is a difficult challenge to be forced to imagine the color and realistic effects into a film. It distracts them from checking email and texting while watching a movie. Therefore they cannot enjoy the experience as much as they would when the color and explosions have been pre-placed in the film. Hollywood Studios and their wallets production teams know this and have taken a strong stance vowing to remake any film that doesn’t meet today’s technological standards.

Exhibit C

Great American Profiteering (GAP)
Remakes are good for the economy. Just like shopping! Imagine if you will, the tens of thousands of tween girls cruising MySpace, deprived of any prior knowledge of film and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn. We’re talking about a generation of girls left without an Audrey Hepburn Myspace page layout. It is simply an American tragedy. Left to their own devices they might be forced to use Julia Roberts for their MySpace page layouts, who’s not even dead and was never even filmed in black and white. Unless you were to include that pathetic Frankenstein movie which you really shouldn’t. Totally not cool.

The remake of Sabrina in 1994, starring Juliet Binoche and Greg Kinnear inspired millions of future MILFs to seek out the original film starring Audrey Hepburn. Years later after having spent their own tween years sketching Audrey Hepburn on their Pee Chee folders and wearing pencil thin black leggings, these “cool moms” passed this knowledge onto their daughters. And thus the MySpace Audrey Hepburn page layout revolution. So, like totally cool.

Now take all of those MILFs and tweens and recall the GAP ad featuring Audrey Hepburn dancing to Back in Black [exhibit G].

Exhibit G

One could argue that had there not been a Sabrina remake in color, that campaign would have failed even more miserably. In 2002, Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News reported that Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart were negotiating the purchase rights to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and planning to take on the lead roles themselves in what would surely have been hotly debated remake. Nothing has come of that rumor but imagine the impact would have had on sales at the Gap. OMG.

Final Judgment Day
Having taken into consideration the previous analysis and the economic impact of Hollywood Remakes, we have come to our decision in support of the Hollywood Remake. Remember, you don’t have to watch the remake, and it may draw new fans to the original. That being said, regardless of our final ruling here today, we would like to communicate this message to the studios in Hollywood: please keep your grimy money-hungry paws away from the John Hughes films, and Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally.

Should there be a moratorium on direct remakes in Hollywood?

When talking about the lack of original ideas left in Hollywood, most people tend to cite the flood of remakes that seem to hit cinemas on a fairly regular basis. From The Getaway to The Longest Yard, it seems as though Hollywood just can’t seem to make the remake work — but is that really true?

People are too quick to cite examples of bad remakes and tend to gloss over all of the good over the years. As well, people tend to neglect how much of our television media has successfully remade British programming over the years. From Three’s Company to The Office, a great majority of successful US sitcoms are direct remakes of BBC productions. Two of my most anticipated new shows over the next few years will be the US remakes of The Thick of It and Life on Mars — two of the best shows on TV anywhere in the world, being remade for American TV by Mitchell Hurwitz and David E. Kelly respectively.

Considering the appeal of the different US and UK markets, one could argue many of these shows are adaptations rather than remakes. They may be right, but does it matter? Is there really that big a difference between a remake and an adaptation? Aren’t they both just different approaches by different artists on the same material? Does it really matter if the medium differs? And can you really place a moratorium on one without placing it on the other? If we do go so far as to place remakes and adaptations in the same boat, we would have never had recent classics like Sin City or A History of Violence, not to mention big budget films like Harry Potter or the Batman franchise. Placing a moratorium on one creates a slippery slope in which remaking any form of media into a film could be placed in jeopardy.

In the end, it really comes down to one simple fact — Hollywood makes good movies and bad movies, and judging by the evidence at hand it would seem that the ratio of good to bad is no different with remakes than it is with any other niche. The only thing a moratorium would accomplish is limiting the exposure a younger generation has to classics of the past (or world cinema) that they otherwise may never have explored. Some remakes may be better than the originals (The Thing, Scarface, Dawn of the Dead) and some will be worse (The Departed, The Omen, Psycho) — but they’re all films that can be judged on their own merits — and gaining exposure to a different take on a familiar story can be just as fascinating as a film with a completely original story.

Should Hollywood place a moratorium on film remakes? In other words, should filmmakers be forced to wait a certain number of years after a movie’s release before they’re allowed to remake it?

I firmly believe that such a moratorium would do little to address the actual problem we face today: putting a stop to awful, ill-conceived Hollywood remakes. I believe that the number of years that transpire between the release of a movie and its eventual remake has little or nothing to do with how well the remake turns out. Instead, the success of any film remake is the product of the skill and vision of the creative forces involved and the quality of the source material itself.

That’s not to say that remaking an earlier film is usually a good idea. MSN Movies’ list of the worst remakes of all time drives home that point rather clearly. Remaking a television show into a semi-watchable movie is even more difficult, as demonstrated in
AOL Television’s list of the eleven worst movies based on TV shows.

Do terrible film remakes like 1998’s Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick (Rotten Tomatoes score: 25%), 2002’s Swept Away starring Madonna (Rotten Tomatoes score: 5%), or 1998’s Psycho starring Vince Vaughn (Rotten Tomatoes score: 37%) suggest that Hollywood should implement a mandatory waiting period between a film and its remake? No, they do not. Time is a red herring; poor filmmaking is the true culprit.

Consider Sam Raimi’s cult classic, The Evil Dead (1981). For all intents and purposes, Raimi remade this film as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn six years later and improved on the original in almost every way imaginable. Yes, many fans still maintain that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel rather than a remake. If you ask me, though, when a director makes two movies in a row that feature the same main character going to an abandoned cabin in the woods where he battles various demonic forces with a chainsaw after someone inadvertently unleashes them by reading from the Necronomicon, that sounds an awful lot like remake. The point is, however, that Raimi waited only six years before remaking The Evil Dead, yet the remake turned out significantly better than the original. Consider also The Magnificent Seven, released a mere six years after Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

On the other hand, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was released a full 72 years after 1933’s King Kong. With a little over seven decades of turnaround between the original film and its remake, even as skilled a filmmaker as Peter Jackson was unable to create a movie that didn’t suck monkey ass. Waiting an extra ten years or even an extra fifty years isn’t the answer. Making a decent film — remake or not — is the answer.

For every regrettable remake like 2004’s Alfie or The Stepford Wives, there’s a worthwhile effort like 1991’s Cape Fear or 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven. Time, however, is not the driving force.

Therefore, Hollywood should not place a moratorium on film remakes as it would not address the actual problem of craptastic retreads of old favorites. Instead, Hollywood should consider instituting a system of harsh punishments for filmmakers who release bad remakes. I’m thinking maybe repeated forced viewings of Tim Burton’s “reimagined” Planet of the Apes and Ron Howard’s live-action version of The Grinch. Then again, that probably violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

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