Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Can’t you take a joke?

by Dennis Heaney

(From the May 24, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney I hope the firing of Don Imus has motivated many of us to question why we have put up with the whole genre of shock value entertainment for years. In the case of Imus, his audience of higher demographic listeners, combined with the endless list of notables he interviewed, seemed to give him special license to be insensitive towards anyone he deemed a target.

Imus in the Morning listeners would go through their day quoting the show’s very recognizable guests from politics and journalism, not even slightly apologetic about having listened to cruel and tasteless bits and skits, a big part of the show. That the program insulted a dying cardinal or made fun of Mother Teresa was overlooked because the interviews were so good; that is, until the day that a group of talented young black women athletes were mocked. This time, it was one bad joke too many.

We’ve allowed entertainers to use freedom of speech as a shield to be insulting and demeaning. This freedom to say the worst isn’t just on nationally syndicated shows. Most major markets have at least one shock jock show and, sadly, those shows usually have high ratings. Again, listeners laugh at the sexual innuendoes and crude remarks without reflecting on the message they send about their own listening habits.

I was at a national meeting during the Imus brouhaha and many conversations centered on whether or not he should lose his job. When he was fired, there was an almost palpable sigh that “he got what he deserved” and now it’s time to move on. That, however, it just what we should not do!

We’ve put up with a steadily declining sense of civility in our society and accepted it. A boorish movie, passed off as excellent social commentary, won a number of prestigious awards last year and was even nominated for an Academy Award. What has happened to our sense of decency, not to mention humor, that we find the lowest common denominator award-worthy?

Not long ago another radio “shock jock” received an $80 million bonus for the listeners his programming supposedly brought to the network. At the same time, shows with spiritual and inspirational messages have a tough time getting air time and listeners. Doesn’t there seem to be a gross imbalance between our alleged values and real actions?

The role of freedom of speech in our society must be respected, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to degrade or unfairly portray another. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious preferences should not be targets for put-downs. Yet many of us make fun of others in our own conversation, telling ourselves that we don’t mean anything personal. That’s just a rationalization of our cruelty.

Now we have an opportunity to make the Imus incident a turning point by restoring civility in our own conduct and, by extension, in our society. We can start by eliminating attempts to get laughs by insulting another person’s background, beliefs or looks.

It’s certainly true that laughter is good medicine. We’re told that people who laugh a lot are healthier and even live longer. However, if it isn’t kind, fair or just – don’t say it, don’t watch it and don’t listen. It isn’t funny; in fact, it’s downright mean. And no excuses will make it anything else.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Say it with Love,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

Inland Register archives

Home | Bishop | Communications | Parishes | Catholic Charities

© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved