Despite Limbaugh's past rancid bigotry that included naming people who died of AIDS while playing songs like “Kiss Him Goodbye” or “Looking For Love In All the Wrong Places," the conservative talk radio host was "just a normal celebrity" back in the 1990s, says Alex Pareene. That's why Limbaugh was able to guest-host The Pat Sajak Show on CBS in 1990 and guest-star as himself on network sitcoms like Hearts Afire and The Drew Carey Show. "If you weren’t around for it, it’s a little hard to explain how and why Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing broadcaster who died this week, was (very briefly) a member of the commentary crew for Sunday NFL Countdown back in 2003," says Pareene. "Nationally televised professional sports is a realm so allergic to controversy, and to any association with partisan politics, that television commentators are more likely to be suspended for getting political than they are to be hired for their politics. So how did Limbaugh—whose politics weren’t just incidental but the obvious core of his appeal—end up a Disney employee tasked with commenting on National Football League games? One reason is that he was, at the time, a more or less mainstream figure. Living in the present United States, where the conservative movement has effectively created an entire parallel media ecosystem that allows right-wingers to cut themselves off entirely from any other sources of news or entertainment, it’s hard to remember that in the not-too-distant past, right-wing media figures still largely depended on the 'mainstream media' for their platforms. And the mainstream media happily provided those platforms." The 1990s, says Pareene, "was a deeply reactionary mass culture in which certain figures could say anything so long as their targets were marginalized or powerless." He adds: "I don’t mean this to be an all-encompassing explanation for cancel culture or some skeleton key to the psychology of the aging centrist. But it’s a fact that Rush Limbaugh was uncancelable back in the 1990s when the newspapers politely euphemized his AIDS jokes. I invite you to decide for yourself if that was a freer environment for speech or one more conducive to open and honest debate."
TOPICS: Rush Limbaugh