Late night talk show legend Johnny Carson died early Monday morning, Jan. 24, but why should Arab and Muslim Americans care?
Carson hosted the Tonight Show on NBC Network television for 30 years, before handing it off to Jay Leno in 1992.
Carson had succeeded Jack Paar, another very popular host of the show in 1962.
Carson reigned in an era of television civility.
Although Hollywood had opened the floodgates on programming that demonized certain minorities like Indians, Mexicans, African Americans, Chinese and, of course, Arabs and Muslims, the Iowa native never engaged in racist stereotyping to promote his humor.
These days, nearly every talk show host on an American network competes to outdo the other in how racist they can be in vilifying minorities, especially Arabs and Muslims.
I was nine years old when Carson first stepped on the Tonight Show stage as its permanent host. My parents had loved Jack Paar because Paar, too, was a professional and a “gentleman.”
They quickly fell in love with Carson, too, who relied on a wit that didn’t need a victim to make the sitcom a hit.
These days civility and gentlemanly behavior have been replaced by ugliness, viciousness and demagoguery.
Hosts like FOX Network’s Sean Hannity, MSNBC’s Don Imus and ABC radio’s Paul Harvey are just among the tip of the iceberg of haters and bigots who regularly spew anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred in their talk show reports.
Of course, when Carson reigned, most of the opinions were in the newspapers, or on local television stations. These days, opinions often mean more than factual news, and they drive audience ratings and the almighty advertising dollars.
It’s profitable, these days, to bash Arabs and Muslims. There are even people who are not Arab or Muslim exploiting the Arab and Muslim suffering for their own successes including several stand-up comedians and even pro-wrestlers.
I don’t recall my parents ever reeling in anger over a comment that Carson made. These days, everything is fair game for Leno, whose jabs are gentler than Hannity’s and his coterie of network haters.
The people who spoke to America during Carson’s time were fundamentally good people. Red Skelton. Even several Jewish American talk show hosts didn’t browbeat their views against Palestinian statehood, for example, on the American public.
Today, many Jewish and non-Jewish hosts including Dennis Miller, Larry Miller and others have enhanced their careers on bashing Arabs with crude jokes mainly because they know that in today’s environment of intolerance against Arabs and Muslims, they can get away with it.
Maybe it was Carson’s kindly attitude that help mold an American society, during his reign, that was seemingly more tolerant. Maybe by demonstrating respect for all, Americans learned to tolerate and respect those who are different, too.
They say children are not born with racism. They learn it from their parents or their friends. In a way, Carson was to many Americans a respected relative, and definitely a good friend.
Although he left the Tonight show more than a decade ago, things have progressively worsened. His death only reminds us of what it was that he really stood for.
Carson’s death must have touched a nostalgic nerve with Americans who, deep down, are not racist at all. They just don’t speak out against bigoted blatherings, unless they happen to hit at home.
“Heeeeeerrrreee’s Johnny,” the introduction proffered at the start of every Carson show by his side-kick Ed McMahon has been replaced by a less stated but equally loud, “Heeeeeerrrreee’s Hatred” in today’s America.