Friday, October 22, 2010

Ad Hominem Three-fer

Let's face it, it's not like I have much mojo to lose here. I look around and think that I'm clearly doing it the hard way, too few naked links and too many big questions that I address in too poor a generalizing manner. Reviews of unpopular books, and of literature above my reading level. Science for dummies. The ticket to this blog thing, where the big bucks really start to flow in, is in baseless opinions, mercurial little eels that they may be, and in current events, the dynamic national equilibrium, as it were, where the sum total of all that sound and fury really gets together to signify nothing. Well, why can't I be that idiot?

Obviously, instead of beating up on myself, it's healthier to go after deserving targets. Research is difficult though, and getting accurate details of these actors is only going to end up revealing them as challengingly human, or else frighteningly reptilian, and who wants to go to either of those places. It's a lot easier to speculate and embellish, to create characters out of them, than it is go into the subtle territory of really knowing someone. It's not as though they're insufficiently loathsome. For your reading pleasure, here is the newest edition of my nasty book:

1. Chuck Todd
Elections are sort of like the holiday season of the television networks. The whole dynamic of reporting changes: festive bunting rolling across the screen, and there's a certain cheer in the air. The Nooze is in its most energetic element when there's a campaign on. There are observances to be kept, rubber chickens to consume, and cash bars to be swarmed. Powerful people pay attention to the reporters for awhile, and the new kids get a chance to clamor for the freely given facetime, and some cynical old Scrooge or other may choke up with emotion on election morning.

Reporting is never easier than during an election. They might smugly get a "fact-check" or two in, but by and large, it's a business of monitoring ad campaigns, speculating about murky polls, retrofitting the same contest stories yet again. A reporter is called upon to demonstrate his vast knowledge of left/right stereotypes and faux demographic and geographical niches. The guy or gal who comes up with this year's "Soccer Moms" ("Twitter Youth?" "Working Hispanics?" "Heartland Knowledge-Voters?" "Medicare Patriots?") gets some kind of prize. The truly great thing about elections, for reporters, is that the most ludicrous campaign-related crap counts as newsworthy, and any analysis that's not based on utterly unquantifiable garbage like compellingness of narratives, resonance of platforms, or feelings about ideologies can be safely avoided. It's not a discussion of facts, not even of reasoned arguments, but of weighing opinions, which gleefully can never be refuted. Cost analysis? Historical context? That shit's for suckers, and where's your campaign spirit anyway?

It seems unfair to single out Chuck Todd for this, not that he doesn't deserve it as much as anybody (one may remember Glenn Greenwald embarrassing the little guy in an argument a while ago). It might be because he (Todd) is my age, and I feel like I could place him in one of my old homerooms. He was that dim but eager little fellow who'd occasionally become animated in class with an idea, jaw slightly adrop, and eyes flickering, as if the lightbulb were struggling for an audible crackle or two, and invariably ask a stupid question to which he'd fail to understand the answer. I don't want to confuse that kind of enthusiasm with energy or animation (and certainly not with creativity), but more a kind of a benign and unresourceful persistence, the basically happy kid who wouldn't lose interest, no matter how many times things were repeated. He once called himself a news junkie (not a historian, demographer, etc, "oddly excited" as Peter Sagal put it) in a way that did bother me, for which those character traits must be his major qualification. He probably watches it for hours and claps like a three-year-old parked in front of Sesame Street. Fuck, maybe he's my generation's legacy of being babysat by the tube.

Anyway, this otherwise harmless dude would be perfectly tolerable if his job wasn't to inform me of stuff. Hell, in other circumstances, I'd be more appreciative (or jealous) of his ability to happily pretend. There, but for self-awareness, go I. He's avoided my radar screen since the Greenwald thing, and I'd actually forgotten that he was NBC's head Washington correspondent, but now it's mid-term elections, and there he is again, dully unflappable, opining about the Commuter-rail Grandpas, or something like that, on the morning fare that even news junkies must find insipid, and my teeth grind. Thank god the sound was off.

2. Virginia Thomas
When my daughter was a little younger, she'd storm around the house in certain moods (usually after we'd been asking for a week that she do some avoided chore), performing inconsequential services, and growling out a "You're welcome!" after every one.

"C—, could you hand me a pencil?"

[pause, scowl]

"Uh, could you hand that to me?"

[glower, thrust] "You're welcome, Daddy. I said, you're welcome!"

It's textbook passive aggression, perhaps not rare in seven-year-olds, and of course you could imagine how the exasperated requests to stop screaming at her sister tended to go. I've never been the sort of parent to demand insincere apologies (which has to count for something in the cosmic balance), but it's not exactly a stretch to extrapolate how they might have gone.

It's just not how you normally go about mending fences. "Hey Anita, I know it's been twenty years since my husband allegedly harassed you, but I thought I'd call and give you the opportunity to apologize for nearly ruining his prestigious career of shaping the Republic."

"Um, is this..."

" You're welcome."

What do you suppose the interior lives of the Thomases is like? Ginny is the acerbic sweetheart that dresses up in a foam Statue of Liberty hat, breaking out as a would-be star in the currently popular role of inciting the rubes, fomenting angry cognitive dissonance. Clarence is the guy in perpetual danger of a broken nose should Antonin Scalia ever stop suddenly, and would surely be adjudicating with a faceguard were not both men so amply padded. I imagine Clarence and Ginny as either incredibly frustrated sexually, taking it out, in their respective ways, on the American public, or else as totally uninhibited freaks, pursuing their passions outside the boudoir as much as they do inside it, a lot of dominance play, insults (which is fine among the consenting, don't get me wrong, but where's my safe word when the cops are rifling the closet at gunpoint), nasty porn flickering on the big-screen. Either would be consistent with their antipathy for women, or for people with less power than them. Since this is America, and they're conservative, I'm voting for the frustrated perversion. For Clarence, there's testimony to the fact.

3. Juan Williams
I've never been a fan of this guy as a commentator. On NPR, his job was to report, in the usual boring sort of both-sidesism, the conservative point of view in a reasonable-sounding but unconvincing way. On FOX, (best I can tell with the mute on, anyway) his job is to do the same thing describing a liberal point of view. By this, I conclude that (a) he has no point of view of his own, and (b) he is generally unconvincing. I guess that leaves reasonable-sounding, which is everything you need to explain his NPR career. Good riddance and all, but it was pretty hard this morning to stomach the always-gloating Fox and Friends as they struggled to find NPR stories that proved who the real bigots are. Or that Everybody Does It, or whatever the fuck it was that they were trying to scold. Why, one time Public Television weighted a discussion with panelists who were against the Israeli commando raid on peace activists, which makes them total hypocrites, not like those gentlefolks at FOX. (They also did not decline the opportunity to shit on the continued employment of Nina Totenberg, a little revenge ploy no doubt too subtle for their viewers.) Assholes.

I wanted to call out Williams' chief sin as hackery (I mean, uninspired careerism is endemic to the biz, but I'll take ten Helen Thomases over that schmuck), but that's already been done better than I was about to. Maybe if their hands are digging among the pink slips, they can finally shitcan Mara Liasson as well? (Dammit, beat to that one too!)


Aaron said...

The take on Juan Williams seems the most genuinely unfair, as you seem to be dunning him for actually being good at doing at what you say he was being paid to do. If you're going to poke someone for being good at their job, as you describe their job as being, it seems that you also have to speak to why the job shouldn't be done well (or at all).

Keifus said...

It's true, I'm complaining more about NPR's (and FOX's) editorial policy than I am about Williams' professional skills. His sympathizing with Bill O'Reilley's bigorty, and now taking the jump to be the next Alan Colmes on the network, doesn't scream integrity, though. But then every one of us working people can enjoy being whores and sellouts if we want to eat. It's how the social order remains unchallenged.

Michael said...

I'm waiting for Juan's hurried book release. The time to make hay is right now, whether you've been elevated as the queen of the tea party, or condemned by those who hate the tea party. Juan's honesty (about his bigotry) will make him more money in the next 2 months than he would have made in 20 years of boring people to death on NPR. (See: Laura Ingraham's Obama Diaries) It's the new business model.

Keifus said...

I don't know how long his calm-voiced style is going to support a big Fox paycheck--he'd definitely be wise to strike out now with the book deal, while everyone's paying attention.

Cindy said...

I think I may work on chiseling your take on Ginny and Clarence into a stone. Absolutely lovely.

As far as I"m concerned you can Ad Hominem away. :)

Keifus said...

I feel guilty, but it's a cathartic sort of guilty.