Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Recycled Bile

Can't face the papers anymore--if I never have to teach Antigone again, it will be too soon; it's really the Romeo and Juliet of Greek Drama--a B- play by an A+ author, used by lazy teachers because it's "easy." And, though nobody will admit it, "dull." Anyway, screw it. I need a break. And things are happening that I really can't deny others my brilliant commentary on. (Or my equally brilliant way with sentence construction.) Much of which follows arose from an e-mail colloquy I maintain with several friends, who are all just as smart and articulate as I am (maybe more so), but who have actual jobs and therefore can't be bothered with something silly like a blog.

Now. As much as I'd like to go on a riff on Bill O'Reilly's recent, um, difficulties, I just can't. It's too soon, and if it all turns out to be a lie, I'll feel just awful--well, not awful, but "disappointed that it wasn't true and shame-faced for allowing my desire for it to be true interfere with my dedication to the enlightened wisdom of empiricism." (By the by, for those of you who live in a world where you only pay attention to relevant news and ignore tawdry distractions from matters that affect you directly--here's what I'm talking about: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1013043mackris1.html - I'll wait here while you read it--it's lengthy, but well worth the time, particularly for the "falafel" gaffe.) Indeed, my hesitation to believe it stems from my desire for it to be true--I've always disliked O'Reilly because, having watched him interview people with whom he disagrees, he clearly is completely uninterested in anything they might have to say. I remember a special he aired on Fox (the "Fox" of "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "Futurama," and "Arrested Development," by the way--if you want to curse Rupert Murdoch, you need to remember that if not for him, our popular culture would be a poorer place...) It was supposed to be Bill taking on the evil forces assaulting our children--which seemed to consist of the marginal-at-best Insane Clown Posse and the already-past-his-15-minute-mark Marilyn Manson--and I actually wanted to watch because, unfamiliar with O'Reilly's work (I only watched CNN back then, with occasional dips into MSNBC for the car-wreck/hilarity factor of their rampant tabloidism ), I thought it might be good for someone to challenge these swill peddling chuckle-heads. But damned if he didn't let me down. He asked Manson and the ICP and others essentially the same question: "How dare you sell this filth to kids?" And they all answered--in remarkably lucid, intelligent language--you'd never know it from their lyrics, but these guys have a pretty wide vocabulary!--"Well, Bill, actually, we don't. Our material is intended for older teens and adults, and kids shouldn't be exposed to our stuff. That's why we really don't have a problem with warning labels and TV ratings and such means of parental control, because we believe that, while we have a perfect right to say and do what we want as artists, we also have a responsibility to make it clear to parents that we're not for the kiddies. And if the kiddies are still getting our stuff, well, Bill, I think we need to consider the possibility that their parents might not be quite as involved in their kids' lives as they should be." I listened--and was, with reservations, convinced. O'Reilly didn't, and wasn't. He simply repeated his accusation that they were filth peddlars and wanted to know how they could live with themselves. And these folks would, again, patiently and calmly explain again that they had no problem with parents refusing to let their stuff in the house, and indeed, encouraged them to do so. And O'Reilly repeated his accusation that they were selling to kids, and should be ashamed. And so on. I left this show thinking not that Manson and ICP and so forth were a**holes, but that O'Reilly was a terrible journalist. Which, of course, just goes to show how naive I was. I actually thought he was a journalist.

Flash forward a few years, and I've come around to the relatively wide-spread conviction that he's a mean-spirited bully who claims to be politically unaffiliated, a title he deserves as much as Bush deserves his title of "a uniter, not a divider." (Think what you will about Bush, pro or con, he has not brought this country together. And you may blame the left for this, but hey, if he couldn't deliver, he shouldn't have made the pledge. If I pledge to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together, and I don't because they're both incalcitrant jerks, that's not my fault, but I am to blame for making a promise I never had any chance of fulfilling.) And now he's been accused of horrible, horrible behavior. (Well, OK, let's keep this all in proportion--'horrible' behavior--Michael Jackson has been accused of 'horrible, horrible' behavior. And for a real dose of reality, the Sudan is witness to genuinely horrible behavior. We're such silly people, Americans. If the allegations are true, though, O'Reilly is a toad.) But we don't know if they're true--admittedly, the detail of those recounted conversations give a strong, strong whiff of "on tape"--and because I want them to be true, I must force myself to be skeptical. Francis Bacon pointed out that science is never so prone to error as when approached with one's mind already made up. So I'm going to wait on this one before I mock. Stay tuned.

Now--the other issue: http://slate.msn.com/id/2108346/ My hero, Jon Stewart visits Crossfire and, in his own words, refused to be Tucker Carlson's "monkey"--refused to turn on the joke-machine when he was clearly furious with these guys and what they've done to political discourse. I'm no blinkered idealist who looks back to a golden past that never was (if I were, I'd be a Reaganite), when people conducted themselves with perfect decorum. But the shouting on TV these days is utterly beyond the pale--watch similar 'panel' shows from the '50s-'70s if you doubt me--and it's really become about volume rather than substance. Nasty partisan hackery there has always been--the Johnson campaign's "Flower Girl" ad is easily the lowest below-the-belt blow of 20th century politics--but it wasn't called "news analysis"--it wasn't considered a necessary addendum to the news--we didn't have to have the news explained to us on a nightly basis. And so I'm behind Stewart all the way on this one.

Besides which, it seems to me that Stewart isn't Kerry's "butt-boy" as Carlson (whom I usually rather like--as conservative pundits go, he's generally calm, dispassionate, and even when he's wrong, his un-O'Reilly-like willingness to listen and respond to the other side is quite disarming, given the overall offensiveness of his venue) put it. (Carlson, by the way, was the victim of a harassment suit similar to O'Reilly's, which was ultimately tossed out when it was proved he quite literally had not been in the same state at times the plaintiff claimed he'd assaulted her. That sort of thing--that blatantly false, insanity-motivated kind of lawsuit is what makes me draw back from tarring O'Reilly just yet.) But Carlson's wrong on this one--yes, Stewart tossed Kerry soft-balls--largely because I'm convinced Stewart still thinks of himself, rightly, as at best a 'talk-show' host, not a 'newsman.' And besides, I've seen Stewart make fun of Kerry on the show quite a few times, and he makes a point of bringing on prominent Republicans and conservatives--hell, he had O'Reilly on last week and treated him quite politely! I do think he mocks Bush quite a bit more, but then, that's because Bush is the friggin' President. That's the job of the so-called jester--to make fun of the King, not the pretender to the throne. Because Bush, as President, is a symbol for the status quo--he's the guy we voted into office, he's "what we want"--and therefore he's the best means we have to make fun of ourselves. And let's face it, Bush is, to paraphrase Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam, "a man screaming to be made fun of." Kerry's not perfect, but his flaws aren't quite...I don't know...laughable. Or as laughable. He's stiff, and robotic, and he talks slowly and very carefully. All of which may be legitimately mocked, just as one might mock his policies or past political/personal actions, if one is so inclined. But he just isn't as funny as Bush--not yet, anyway--and to suggest that Stewart--who at the end of the day gets paid to be funny--should ignore the funnier of the two men out of some kind of bulls***, unwritten 'equal-time' rule is just silly. Plus which, Stewart's right about shows like Crossfire--I don't understand why his diatribe shocks anyone who watches the show. For God's sake, the show largely exists to mock the media itself. You watch the segments where Stewart as anchor plays 'straight-man' to the reporters and commentators doing their brilliant impersonations of stupid, lazy, and/or biased talking heads and if you can't figure out that CNN, MSNBC, and FOX are all being royally reamed, you're just not paying attention.

Sigh. I will say that calling Tucker a "d--k" goes over the line, in my view--it moves the ground from Ad Hoc to Ad Hominem--though Tucker initiated the slide with his remarks to Stewart--"I do think you're more fun on your show. Just my opinion, " said Carlson, to which Stewart replied, not without wit: "You know what's interesting, though? You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show." But I actually don't see any hypocrisy in Stewart's harsh criticism of the media and political culture with his claim to be "just a comedian"--I think his point is that he shouldn't have to be the one to do this kind of political analysis/criticism--he is, after all, "just a comedian"--that someone else, someone more important--someone, say, of the level of Mencken or Murrow or Cronkite should be out there ripping this whole mess apart. But no else will step up, so Stewart does. And he is funny--I think Dana Stevens's idea that this appearance will "cost him fans" is outright stupidity--the people who are his fans are his fans precisely because this is the sort of thing Stewart does--because this is the attitude Stewart conveys. The Daily Show is, much like Limbaugh, a format and an attitude that struck a deeply responsive chord in an otherwise ignored sector of the population--in this case, those with a nascent sense of just how much bulls*** our media discourse is made of. That the discourse is dominated by conservatives right now is simply a reflection of the current administration, so of course Stewart goes after more conservatives than liberals. If Kerry gets elected, trust me, he'll get the same kind of treatment from Stewart...


Post a Comment

<< Home