Friday, May 04, 2007

IMUS Sides 3:

"Welcome to the Edge"

In the showbiz world, over the past 10 years or so, you’ve heard one word, or a variation on it, oh-so many times: “edge.” (see also: “edgy”)

As in, “she’s a soccer mom, but with an edge,” or “he’s an edgy Jimmy Stewart”.

Edgy—a little dangerous, certainly not sentimental. Busy pushing toward goals, not worrying about how everyone feels about it. So there.

That gradually became,” “the bleeding edge.” Clearly, more dangerous than just the edge, because the cutting edge can just sit there and be edgy, but now we’re talking about blood, so dangerous bordering on creepy.

Even if folks were talking about toilet tissue (which is notoriously soothing) or theme music for a talk show (rarely involved in direct combat), we’d talk about getting on that edge and staying there.

How’d the culture get to the edge?

Maybe it was the half-century of “biggest nights in television history,” “number ONE car dealers,” “happiest places” in our hyperbolic ads. Or maybe it was the treacle of easy resolution to problems on our tv shows.

A new generation of media savvy kids were burned out on happy by age 7. They needed new stimulation. So, the edginess. Or maybe they were edgy already from all that sugar. No matter. Here we are at the edge.

The formula for edge goes something like this: take your content—screenplay, song, tv spot, what have you—and remove the compassion, ratchet up the selfishness, and if you can manage it, threaten your audience.

If you can actually injure others, that’d be sweet, too, but most importantly—be indifferent to the pain of others. There! Now you’re in the zone!

Which is where Mr. Imus was, or believed he was, making his living. On the edge. Quite an achievement for a guy from the Moxie generation.

For Imus, the edge came from several sources—his generations-younger alpha male staff, (including show producer Bernard McGuirk, who brought up the word “ho” in the first place,) from Imus’s own cranky (as in “why the hell did you kids wake me up for this”) demeanor, but most valuably, from Imus’s deep well of skepticism about the powerful.

Imus’s regular audience loved his raucousness, but they also loved his conversations with politicians, journalists, and other opinionators, because he had zero tolerance for windbags. The famous and powerful, accustomed to having their behinds smooched, understood that in this one interview, there’d be someone slicing through their boiler plate baloney. And for a few minutes, they’d have to account for themselves in public.

Which we vitally need in an age of “mistakes were made” “we’re making real progress” and “you’re doin’ a great job, Brownie.” That part of the cynicism—the impatience with bloviators, that’s the part of the show that has real nutritional value. The rest is just

Maybe, on Implosion Day, April 4, 2007, Imus, edgy cantankerous Imus, heard the word “ho”, and responded with the meanest crankiest thing he could think of.

Because it’s 2007. He’s getting older every day. And he can’t afford to lose his edge.


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