Thursday, April 12, 2007
The Imus Thing
Our Pride and Joy
NEW YORK. Everybody's got this all wrong. It's not about race. It's about New Jersey. And I'm fed up.
New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and even tiny Delaware's parochial DuPont chattels all make sport of this state precisely because New Jersey is the only part of the northeastern U.S. that doesn't make overweening egotistical claims about itself. Philly is one of the worst run cities in the country, permanently cursed with an inferiority complex caused by its proximity to New York, and therefore consoles itself with the fact that it's just across the river from Camden, a much much smaller and poorer city which nevertheless produced a greater poet -- Walt Whitman -- than any in the whole history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. New York is even worse. Having used the northeastern corner of New Jersey as the perennial dumpsite for New York City's trash, New Yorkers look across the water at the one small stretch they have ruined and regard the whole state as an inferior and disgusting indentured servant.
Never mind that the smartest of Manhattan's workforce live quite happily in New Jersey, or that the vaunted football Giants play all their home games in New Jersey. New Yorkers to a man (and woman) insist on identifying the stinking five-mile segment of the NJ Turnpike closest to their prideful metropolis as little more than their own private latrine. And if you're looking for a flashpoint, look no further than the 2006 Rutgers football team, which finished the season ranked higher than any New York college football team in the last 50 years. How humiliating.
That's why Imus forgot his manners. Rutgers. New Jersey. The Turnpike State. Yuck. First, Rutgers football. Now, Rutgers women's basketball. Better than NYU, Hofstra, Columbia, Syracuse, Cornell, Rochester, blah blah blah. New Jersey. They must smell bad. They must be inferior, and ugly, and laughable. He would never have said anything as incredibly nasty about the CUNY women's basketball team. His universally shared geographic prejudice was so huge that it blinded him to the fact that he chose words which made his Manhattan bias sound racist.
And this is my only objection to the response made by the Rutgers basketball players. Of course they were insulted. Of course they should be offended. Their appearance on television demonstrates beyond doubt that they are attractive, smart, and poised -- more than I'd expect from the Lady Volunteers of Tennessee, to be brutally candid -- and they are entitled if they choose to confront Imus and demand an apology. But what they should be calling him on is not his racism, but his automatic contempt of the place they were born. That creepy old bastard didn't just smear black women who go to Rutgers; he smeared everyone in the state of New Jersey. How dare he trash our young people, our students, our beautiful daughters, our hard-working champions?
What they should say is not "Screw you, you nasty old rich white man," but "Screw you, you parochial Manhattan bastard. And screw all the New Yorkers who think it's okay to insult anyone as long as they're from New Jersey."
Here's the deal. New Jersey is the greatest state in the union. For so many reasons that it's impossible to list them all. Okay, I'll list a few, but there are many many more. New Jersey is:
The most topographically diverse of all 50 states, ranging from mountains to salt marshes and everything in between, including the best farmland in the world for growing vegetables, a beautiful and lightly populated bay shore that flows from one of the mightiest and most beautiful rivers in the country, one of the largest wilderness areas in the U.S. (the Pine Barrens), and horse country -- and horses, by gar -- on a par with anything you'll find in Kentucky.
An architectural treasure and time capsule containing houses dating back to the 1600s and some of the best surviving specimens of colonial patterned brick houses, Victorian gingerbread, and Industrial Revolution commercial buildings.
The only state in the union that honored all its treaties with the Indians.
The site of the colonial town (Greenwich) Rockefeller tried to buy before he settled for Williamsburg, Virginia.
The site of the turning point in the American Revolution, the Battle of Trenton, and the only history changing duel in American History, the gunfight between Burr and Hamilton.
The home of a cattle brand older than any in the whole state of Texas.
Home of a greater university than any in New York or Pennsylvania -- Princeton -- and the only state university in the country -- Rutgers -- asked to join the Ivy League conference at its inception because of the school's history and academic excellence. (Not to mention the fact that the first college football game ever played was between, you guessed it, Princeton and Rutgers.)
The birthplace of country music and, indeed, much of the recording industry. Jimmie Rodgers and numerous other artists cut their first albums at Victor Records in Camden.
The birthplace and/or home of numerous historical figures, writers, comedians, musicians, and actors, including Aaron Burr, Grover Cleveland, Molly Pitcher, Betsy Ross, Norman Schwartzkopf, Buzz Aldrin, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Dorothy Parker, Philip Roth, William Carlos Williams, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Bill Evans, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Bon Jovi, Queen Latifah, Ed Harris, Jerry Lewis, Ernie Kovacs, Eva Marie Saint, Meryl Streep, Ray Liotta, John Travolta, Bill Murray, Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Kirsten Dunst, James Gandolfini, Joe Pesci, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O'Neill, Derek Jeter, and Martha Stewart.
The only state in the union which eschews jingoism for humility. New Jersey people root for the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers and the New York Giants, Jets, Yankees, and Mets, and they represent in many cases the majority constituencies for these teams and don't even demand acknowledgment of their cross-state support from people who uniformly laugh at the mention of their state's name. They're the same way when they travel; people who have never been to New Jersey at all laugh immediately and scornfully pronounce the clicheed "New Joisey" trope that makes rubes from Nebraska to Alaska feel more sophisticated than they have any right to. New Jerseyans laugh right along with them, soak up what they have to offer, and ultimately move back to the greatest state in the union, where there are thunderstorms but not tornadoes, droughts but not uncontrollable wildfires, tremors but not earthquakes, rainstorms but not hurricanes, overflowing streams and rivers but not floods, and snowstorms but not blizzards.
Born to run. All of us. Boats, cars, bikes, and everything else. It's called balls. You New Yorkers could look it up.
We love you, ladies of Rutgers. But please stand up for all of us. Against the real insult. Which has gotten really really old.