I’m up to my ears in research paper-writing, so this will be quick and probably very scattered, but this article from Newsweek brought up several interesting points, I thought.
First of all, I really like Rachel Maddow and watch her show whenever I can–she may represent a younger generation, as the article implies, but not in the annoying way that that description so often hints at. She’s not self-impressed, she’s not too over the top. She’s really intelligent, quick on her feet, and just really warm and engaging, but not in a way that allows her guests to walk all over her. I still find it somehow strangely thrilling to watch Maddow, who, as the article states is a self-described “butch dyke” having a friendly, respectful back and forth with crotchety old Pat Buchanan, the man who once tried to get a New York Gay Pride Parade canceled and wrote in a syndicated column that women are “”simply not endowed by nature with the same measures of single-minded ambition and the will to succeed in the fiercely competitive world of Western capitalism.” Of course I know that they are both civilized adults and it’s not exactly Nobel Prize worthy for them to be able to hold a conversation. But they seem to genuinely like each other and whenever I catch them bantering back and forth, I can’t help it…it warms my cold, cold heart a little bit.
Anyway, the first interesting thing that the Newsweek article mentioned was the question: “how does a liberal, left-leaning “Rachel Maddow Show” behave when a left-leaning president is elected?” I am sure MSNBC and Rachel Maddow with it will be just fine. But, it is sort of an interesting and somewhat unfortunate consequence of having a two-party system that whenever one party is in power, the opposition party strengthens and with it the media that are more closely aligned with that party. The Republicans have proven particularly adept at exacerbating this phenomenon, with such fallacious constructions as “liberal media bias.” One of the most fascinating books I’ve read in the past few years was “Blinded By the Right,” David Brock’s sociopolitical autobiography about his decades spent toiling for the far right media machine and his political conversion (spurred, interestingly, by his research for a would-be smear book on Hillary Clinton…long story short, he ended up kind of liking her). Anyway, the book is really fascinating in its belly-of-the-beast perspective of the world of conservative journalism and politics in the 1980s and 90s and one of the things he talks about is the rhetoric which is so skillfully employed by the right. This idea of a liberal bias in the media is one specific example he discusses, but more on that another time.
The other thing that struck me about the Rachel Maddow article was her assertion that she has no idols, no heroes. She says that “If you’re 35, you don’t have heroes. Watergate and Vietnam sort of killed heroism.” It’s interesting to hear that because I actually think that my generation, which is less than one generation behind Maddows, is pathologically obsessed with heroes and heroism to the point that I think we’ve forgotten what that word means. If 35 year olds had Watergate and Vietnam, my generation has, well, for starters more or less everything about the Reagan administration and the Gulf War, if you keep going to the young kids today, they have 9/11, Iraq…but for my generation and the next, we haven’t abandoned heroism, we cling to it–we seek it out, desperately. I say “we” slightly disingenuously. The whole “heroism” thing makes me a bit uncomfortable. The word is so liberally applied that its meaning has been more or less obliterated. One reason I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch the show “Heroes” (even though I love Kristen Bell) is because the show is not about heroes–it’s about superheroes, and that is not the same thing, and I find calling the show “Heroes” misleading and annoying. Maybe this is a personal pet peeve, but I think there’s something about the coverage of “heroes” that doesn’t make sense. A fundamental part of “heroism” has always been doing something incredibly selfless and not seeking any recognition for it. And I think the second part of that description is very important. If Peter Parker had gone around in the streets being like “guess what I did last night!” and then gone on Oprah to cry it out in front of a studio audience, he wouldn’t have been a hero. He would have been a jerk with special powers. So, when I see “heroes” who do something legitimately amazing and then go around on the talk show circuit and rehash the story a hundred times, it sort of cheapens the whole thing, makes a spectacle out of something which should have been a private moment of human triumph, bravery, connection, love, or whatever. Interestingly, I now find myself back to that idea of the media and modern narcissism I was talking about the other day. In fact, I think Montana Miller’s words are completely apropos in this context as well–“If it’s not recorded or documented, then it doesn’t even seem worthwhile. For today’s generation, it might seem, ‘what’s the point of doing it if everyone isn’t going to see it?'”