Friday, January 21, 2011

True Ambivalence: Deuces, Olbermann.

A while ago, I was talking with my friend Erin at work and I said I was ambivalent about something. Her husband - who also works at the company - was passing by and was like "O RLY?" He reminded me that ambivalence is actually the experience of having positive and negative feelings at the same time; I was using it more like apathy, which is a total bad colloquialism [insert angry rant about decline in lingual precision here]. Needless to say, I spent the next couple days dwelling crankily on the correction because I am a neurotic weirdo and don't like being wrong about language, but he actually did me a huge favor, since I'll remember to use it appropriately until I am old and/or dead.

I thought about that conversation today, when I heard that Keith Olbermann had left MSNBC suddenly in the middle of his four-year contract. I don't like Olbermann. I find him deeply irritating and bizarre, and I particularly dislike the shift he has made to "Shame Finger Wielding Declarer of Moral Turpitude" and hyper-media-liberalism* that he adopted during his tenure at MSNBC. Because I don't like him, I don't watch him often, but whenever I do, I am struck by the dearth of serious analysis in his ranty program, and that feels to me like contributing to the dramatic and horrifying downslide of "news" programming. I'm not sorry to lose the Olbermann brand, but I AM sorry to lose a strong and easily identifiable voice on the left side of the media.

There's still a lot of talk about the Liberal Media, and while I think many of the off-air leaders in the industry are probably quite liberal and the bulk of entertainment programming is more liberal than not, it seems to me that the dominant voices that people are responding to in what is categorized as news (whether or not that's an appropriate designation is a different conversation for a different day) are largely conservative. This isn't really new. Conservatives proved they're fantastic at developing and pushing a unified message during the Republican Revolution of the early 90s, and have only improved their game since. That's okay, by the way - a lot of these same voices complain that they're just wee little underdogs when it simply isn't the case. Rising to market dominance isn't a strike against you.

Olbermann was one of the bigger voices in the field, even if I didn't like him. Just because his hysteronics didn't resonate with me doesn't mean they didn't provide some kind of counterweight to the conservative voices. I don't know who could be said to be replacing that weight; Rachel Maddow is on the rise, and The Daily Show is a bastion of liberal views, but they don't have the same quality to them that Olbermann did. A certain part of me is glad for this; I find the invective of Limbaugh, Beck, et al. to be alarming in the extreme, not because of their rightist views, but for the "...and then we're ALL DEAD!" tone. I believe that politics aren't solvable; the most essential part of them is the discussion, and constantly Godwin's Lawing every conversation into complete panic cuts that conversation short. Politics is the business of things people have been talking about for millennia. We're not going to strong arm our way into solutions humanity has been working on all that time. Again, that doesn't mean we can't disagree, it just means we need to have a calm discussion.

There's another angle to this, what I'd call the Just War Theory of Modern Politics. Many JWT scholars mention that your actions in war should not be so extreme and brutal that peace will not be possible after hostilities have ended. There's a good reason for this; if you're fighting your neighbor, you're still going to live next to him once the fight is over. We all have to live with each other after every bill and policy. Vilifying each other is not going to help us move forward towards the kind of country we want...which we CAN, because the beauty of the American system is that everyone can access it and everyone can make their voice heard.

I would like two things from my political media. First, I'd really like to see a distinction drawn between news and commentary. I think most people would like this, actually...I get the sense that people are getting fed up with this blurring of the lines. There's an important place in society for commentary - as I said above, politics is about conversation, so we need to, you know, converse - but it does no one any good when it's sold as news. Not everyone has time to research opinions and parse out the news from the commentary, so people should have an option for simple, no frills news. Secondly, I would really, really like a decent primetime talk show from a liberal perspective that's not full of outraged flailing. I don't want the Glenn Beck of Liberals, I just want someone discussing the liberal perspective inan accessible way. Olbermann didn't fit that bill, Maddow might, Stewart's a satirist, but I'd like an option.

*I originally wrote this as "hyper-neo-liberalism," but I don't think that adequately portrays the phenomenon. There is plenty of neo-liberalism that isn't offensive to the thinking human, but what Olbermann et al. are throwing out is a horse of an entirely different color.

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