First lady should set sights on targets other than Spears

October 10, 2003|By Michael Olesker

IN A REASONABLE world, nobody takes Kendel Ehrlich's words too seriously. The governor's wife says she would like to shoot Britney Spears. She only means this metaphorically.

The question is: In the same poetic spirit, would the first lady of Maryland also like to shoot Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rush Limbaugh for outrages far beyond any committed by Spears?

Or would they get a pass because they're Ehrlich's kind of cultural criminals?

The other day, Ehrlich chose the strange forum of a conference on domestic violence to declare, "Really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would." And then she laughed.

In a reasonable world, everybody knows it was not a sinister laugh - the laugh, say, of a woman whose husband believes the unrestricted sale of guns is a fine thing in a state bloodied by gunplay. No, no, this was merely a ladylike laugh to indicate a puckish sense of homicidal humor.

(Though, to be sure, network TV seemed to miss that fine comic sensibility. "Yeah, I almost fell out of bed when I saw the Today show reporting it," says Frederick News-Post city editor Doug Tallman, whose paper first reported the story. "I was just disappointed they didn't give us any credit.")

Ehrlich's office first issued a formal statement that stopped short of apology. Then, under increasing fire, the state's first lady apologized, called her remark "inappropriate," and let it be known that she is pregnant with her second child.

In fact, her office said, it was Ehrlich's "concerns about the negative influences that the entertainment industry can have on young children and teenagers" that prompted her comment.

Swell.

In a reasonable world, everybody understands such concerns. In a telephone interview, the News-Post's Eric Slagle, the only print reporter covering Ehrlich's remarks, said, "People laughed when she said it. Maybe there was a clap or two. Most of the audience seemed to approve of what she said."

This is because they live in an unreasonable world. The television vulgarity permeates our living rooms every night. Much pop music today is a cacophony of coarseness, and the mainstream movies leave everyone blood-spattered in their seats.

Britney Spears' specific crimes in such a cultural atmosphere? Well, she posed topless for Rolling Stone magazine and, during the MTV music awards, she planted a kiss smack in the middle of Madonna's expression.

Some people find such gestures a liberating hoot. One might even say, comic. Ehrlich finds them worthy of gunplay, metaphorical or otherwise. She is not alone. Sex used to be considered a private matter instead of a calculated career move shoved into people's faces.

Fortunately, Ehrlich, like everyone else offended by public displays, has options: Turn off the set. Don't buy the magazine. Stay out of the movie theater. Such vulgarity is strictly optional - unlike, say, the actions of the newly elected governor of California.

But put aside the sexual-groping allegations against Schwarzenegger, which have not (yet) been proven. His movies have been out there for years now: raw epics in violence and gore, the stuff that has putrefied the culture and darkened the American image around the globe.

In a reasonable world, might Ehrlich save a few rounds of verbal fire for Arnold, who's in the news far more than Britney? Or does he get a pass because of political affiliation? (Ehrlich isn't saying. Repeated calls seeking an interview have been ignored.)

The same question holds for Limbaugh, after remarks he made on ESPN about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb is black. Limbaugh felt it important to point this out to anyone who might have missed it, or might care about it, and to opine that McNabb isn't really that good - that he's overrated because of his skin color. Limbaugh resigned under fire. His defenders call this political correctness run wild and wish to make poor Rush a victim.

Please. What Limbaugh did was leave his usual world - the back pocket of the Republican Party - and enter a world where competitors are judged by their abilities. He offered judgment by race. It's the athletic version of his usual baiting about affirmative action. The implication was: McNabb's an example of liberals shoving black people in places where they don't belong.

Why aren't there more black quarterbacks? The old racist slander was that they weren't smart enough. Having had that lie thrown in their faces, the cheap-shot artists like Limbaugh would now say: Well, maybe they're good, but they're not as good as that conspiratorial "liberal media" would have you believe.

For the first lady of Maryland - or her husband, who made the long-overdue grand gesture when he chose a black person as his running mate - it might have been a nice moment to fire a few verbal gunshots at Limbaugh for invoking the old, divisive racism in an arena that seeks to put such nastiness behind us.

But, in our unreasonable world, nobody at the State House said a word. It's easier to take shots at Britney Spears. For Arnold's violent movies and Rush's racist remarks, not even metaphorical blanks are fired.

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