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Sharing Mana‘o

My parents raised me to always think before talking, and to never speak out in anger. I learned to keep my darkest thoughts to myself and to spill my fury onto paper, either in my diary or in letters that no one but me would ever read. I’ve followed those practices all my life, resisting the temptation to use my radio shows, my storytelling gigs or this column to rant and rage. OK, maybe I’ve groused a little and grumbled a bit, but always with tongue in cheek and a punch line at the end.

This past weekend, my principles were severely tested by the appalling behavior of those iHeartRadio Honolulu DJs who mocked and bullied Paula Fuga during an on-air fundraiser for the Hawaii Foodbank, after she spoke candidly about being homeless and hungry as a child. I spent Sunday night and much of Monday writing a carefully worded column, expressing dismay rather than outrage, and choosing to not name the DJs, nor repeat any of their comments. I felt pretty good about this column, especially since the incident has spurred some very positive reactions.

Then I opened Tuesday’s Maui News to see the headline “Theft leaves mobile hygiene unit for homeless ‘inoperable’,” and instantly, again, anger and sadness engulfed me. According to the article, the door locks had been drilled and the mobile unit gutted, right down to the copper pipes and shower head bracket. Water heaters, toilet, air conditioner, all taken by someone who apparently felt they needed these more than the homeless do.

So, before resuming the original text of today’s column, I just have one more thing to say about this atrocity. For months now, I’ve watched and read the news about the political polarization of our country, the simmering rage and outbursts of violence, the spewing of hatred and prejudice, and I’ve been able to somewhat console myself by saying, “Thank goodness we’re not on the Mainland.” Thank goodness it’s different here, thank goodness for the aloha spirit, for Maui no ka oi and the people who make it so. I realize that a good deal of the anger and despair I’m feeling comes from the reluctant realization that even an abundance of aloha does not immunize our community against evil.

Evil is not a word I’d use to describe the DJs who dissed Paula; ignorant, insensitive, immature, yes, but not evil. Paula herself hit it on the head during their on-air exchange: jerks.

Radio shock jocks and morning show zoos have been around for decades, long enough to be considered one of the many genres of comedy. But true comedy, of all kinds, is serious business. It’s an art form that requires intellect, perception and empathy. The greatest comedians, past and present, put a tremendous amount of thought and sweat into their craft. They make it look easy, often fooling the audience into believing that it’s effortless. Unfortunately, they’ve also fooled wannabe comics into believing that all they need is an irreverent attitude.

Insult comedy is one of the most difficult humor genres to pull off, because there’s a fine line between barbed wit and blatant meanness. And the difference between comedy and bullying is much wider, more like a brick wall than a line. The iHeartRadio jerks learned about that wall when it came crashing down on them in the form of public backlash.

More than 8,000 shocked and disgusted viewers signed an online petition demanding accountability and reprimand. Two of the three DJs involved are no longer on the morning show, though it’s unclear whether they’ve been fired, suspended or moved to other positions. On Maui, an anonymous donor has pledged to match donations to the Maui Food Bank, up to $10,000, if the donations are made specifically in response to the incident.

On Monday, Paula and iHeartRadio jointly announced they would be partnering on a statewide campaign to end hunger, details to be revealed in coming weeks. In a separate statement, iHeartRadio also issued a public apology to the beloved singer and anyone who was offended by the insensitivity of their DJs. I’ll admit, until they spoke up and took action, I was calling them NoHeartRadio. Now, that’s funny.

On social media, Paula posted her gratitude for the outpouring of public support and stated, “I hope this becomes a teachable moment. One that incites heartfelt generosity and genuine compassion for the families and especially the children of Hawaii. . . . I survived a lot worse than bullying throughout my life and wish no one any ill will.”

No anger, no vindictiveness, just pure aloha. I (heart) Paula Fuga.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her e-mail address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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