Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Audacity of Dopes, Pt. 2


1) I really wasn't going to post anymore today, especially about the fractured and Douglas Sirkian hysteria of the primary coverage (both in the MSM and the blogosphere) over the last two days. Then, I made the mistake of flipping over to MSNBC to watch Countdown's coverage a moment ago.

And I saw Tom Brokaw.

I like Tom Brokaw-- he's smart, experienced, and a refreshing throwback in the age of reportobots like Brian Williams. Plus, anyone who's a friend of Robert Redford's has to have something going for him.

But...

Tonight, Brokaw was in full "thoughful gaze" mode, the kind of "squint, furrow the brow and look down with pursed lips" faux thinking perfected by Joey Tribbiani on Friends. He mouthed pablum about "the lengthiness of the process," what Clinton's possible win means for the Obama campaign, about what's "good for the country." Some of this strikes me as true, a lot of it strikes me as the kind of generic talking points that Brokaw and his cohort have been rehearsing for decades. It has nothing to do with this campaign, or these candidates, and everything to do with maintaining the conventional narratives of American politics and, more important, news coverage of those campaigns. The revulsion I feel is enhanced when the show goes split screen, and the odious image of Tim Russert, his Randy Quaidish cheekbags glowering, appears next to Tom. If anyone is addicted to the pompous, Mean Girls bullshit of the Beltway, it's Russert, confidant of Dick Cheney, reporter who believes sources are off the record unless they say they're on the record, the man who Mary Matalin identified as an easily manipulated mouthpiece for the Bush administration. Thankfully, I came in too late to hear what Tater had to say: he mostly nods with inverted, 'serious' eyebrows, desperate not to shift his facial expression, as if posing for the NBC Mount Rushmore.

They cut to Andrea Mitchell (wife of Alan Greenspan), who reports the shocking news that, after weeks of media fluffing, McCain is projected to win the NH primary. Scarborough and his roundtable of pundit dwarfs follows, praising how great it is for the country that McCain won. Maybe, maybe not (I vote not), but could y'all at least acknowledge your complicity in his rise? Howard Fineman (who wrote a mournful Newsweek column following the '98 midterms about the collapse of Newt Gingrich, and who was a reliable mouthpiece for Kenneth Starr througout the Lewinksy imbroglio) makes a weak defense of Rudy Giluliani. I note how they all sound like campaign managers for the candidates. Katrina Van Huevel tries vailiantly to inject some facts into the bloviating by mentioning how much money the Swift Boat forces have given to McCain. Scarbot, sensing the agreed-upon narrative is getting lost, makes an ad hominem remark about James Carville, and falsely states that there's "Swift Boaters on both sides" (well. No. There's negative campaigning, but only one side has an actually organized, multimillion-dollar group of businessmen (hi, T. Boone Pickens!) and political operatives set to slander and attack). Chris Matthews is tweeting and looking perplexed ("must-- THINK?!?") whenever Keith Olbermann makes the mistake of asking him a probing question. I often wonder if Olbermann wants to slit his wrists when he's forced to share set time with folks like this. I love the look on Tweety's face just before they go to the ad, as Olbermann notes that the Democratic primary isn't actually settled yet, and Tweety glances off-camera, like he's looking for his pizza delivery or something.

2) Is it just me, or does New Hampshire look like a middle finger, as it sticks out on the MSNBC map in red and blue?

3) This is exactly what I'd expect from a Kathy Griffin Fan: Can someone explain James Wolcott's anger to me? Yes, of course the misogynist attacks against Clinton are wrong (although Wolcott and the normally poetic Tom Watson do as much damage as good with their blogpieces, which obscure the issues Steinem and Digby explore so thoughtfully with a lot of over-the-top rhetoric and disturbingly paternalistic head-pats towards Obama), and should be criticized. And of course we should be careful to not let enthusiasm over Obama obscure the very real attacks he's sure to face if he makes it to a general election. But that frankly seems less the point of Wolcott's bitter binge than an implied fear of hope itself; Wolcott's a witty and sometimes gorgeous stylist, and I often agree with his politics, but he's disappeared so far into his persona as a neo-Addison DeWitt that he can't seem to break free from the position of snotty disdain that the persona engenders. I'm glad Clinton looks like she'll be in the race for awhile: I think she's an interesting candidate, I admire her tenacity this week, and I'd like my Ohio primary vote to count for something, but in defending and supporting her, I wish many bloggers would not be cavalier in dismissing Obama, dismissing the racism that his candidacy has already attracted, and not be so damn addicted to losing (and to martyrs like Nader or Kucinich, the latter of whom at least had the good sense to run in the primaries and try to affect the message). Of course, "the audacity of hope" isn't enough by itself, but it's still essential, and not something to be sniffed off on our way to plugging another tired Law & Order franchise.

4) Watching some of ABC's 6:30pm coverage, they did a cheesy but fascinating graphic, with percentage numbers dug into the snow: 75 (the percent who want change from Bush), 92 (percent of NH Dems opposed to the war), 53 (% of Repubs frustrated with Bush). I kept thinking the carved-in-snow numbers had other significations: 92 (the year Bill Clinton came to NH, finished second, and ended up winning the Presidency, with a similarly mocked "Man From Hope" message), 53 (the year Eisenhower ended 20 years of Democratic White House control, ending his presidency with a warning against exactly the kind of "military-industrial complex" we're now embroiled in).

5) Jeff blogged the other day about how "Iowa doesn't matter":

We’ve long reached the state where there is no politics. Or, I suppose, we’ve always been in that state. The age of new media foregrounds the point for us. It shows us that we are not engaging in politics (as if we ever were). We engage screens. Screens projecting screens. The insanity surrounding Iowa pretends politics matter. It gives us a screen, a show, a series of performances. Of course, we know this. Still, it needs to be said. Iowa doesn’t matter. Caucuses don’t matter. Politics doesn’t matter.

If I understand Jeff correctly, he's speaking of a rhetorical mode (or series of modes), he's speaking of media and writing and metaphor, as much as policy or day-to-day occurances; I'm not sure Jeff literally means "there is no politics." I've thought about the post a lot lately, and find myself agreeing and disagreeing with it. After all, what am I doing in this post but "engaging with screens"? (As I say this, Gomer Huckabee appears live to talk to his supporters; someone holds up a sign that blocks his face, a white sign that literally looks like a movie screen that Huck's voice comes through; a few minutes later, McCain takes to the stage with the Rocky theme blaring in the background). I'm not even sure that bothers me-- I write about film, after all. And yet, what those screens project still matters intensely to me, for personal and public reasons. Maybe it's the lingering effects of my political science training; maybe it's my love of arcane polling numbers and historical factoids (poll-ophila?); maybe it's my love of The West Wing, a desire for some sort of larger national narrative, one that's not the authoritarian patriotism of the right or the mao-jacketed socialism of friends on the left, but something more, well, cinephiliac: textured, fragrant, surprising, sensual, working at both the margins and the center, mysterious, both fragmented and unifying. Maybe it's that jumbled desire that makes me frustrated by the master narratives of resigned nihilism that I find on political blogs and those of opportunistic disingenuousness that seem so common on networks like MSNBC. Or maybe I just want the kind of country Bruce Springsteen envisions:

It's an ongoing dialogue about what living means. It's not like a one-on-one dialogue. It's more what you feel back from them. You create a space together. You are involved in an act of the imagination together, imagining the life you want to live, the kind of country you want to live in, the kind of place you want to leave to your children. What are the things that bring you ecstasy and bliss, what are the things that bring on the darkness, and what can we do together to combat those things? That's the dialogue I have in my imagination when I'm writing.

6) On the other hand, only John McCain could make "Thank you, New Hampshire, from the bottom of my heart," sound so oily, pedantic and condescending. "They don't send us to Washington to stroke our egos"-- no, John, that's what you have the press corps for.

6 comments:

Jeff said...

Well, of course, I really like your explanation, which is, no pun intended, very filmic. No disagreement there.

Maybe what I mean (somewhat) can be captured by the "change" metaphor. Your typical reporter to news anchor: "Charlie, it seems change is on the minds of voters this year..." and then clips of candidates emphasizing the word change. "I'm the candidate of change..." Each repeats the phrase. I'm the candidate of change. etc.

As if.

What was really interesting in some weird breakdown kind of way was an ABC flashback tonight to Bill Clinton saying the same thing in his first run! Change!

I wouldn't call this politics. I'd call it....repetition. Like a sitcom script. You know you've seen this show before...a few years ago on a different show....same script though.

Jonathan Lapper said...

That's quite a post for someone not about to write another one. Well I said it below and I'll say it again: I'm for Obama at this point although I will surely vote for whoever the Dems put up.

Now correct me if I'm wrong but are you implying with the "addicted to losing" line that Obama is destined to failure should he get the nom? I'm honestly asking because I'm not sure if that's what you're saying or not. Personally I believe Clinton is destined for failure should she get the nomination. She stands no chance at all in the South or Midwest. I think we disagree here but I shall wait until tomorrow when I have your reply to elaborate further. I have been extremely busy at work lately and I have to go to bed now. 'Night.

Jonathan Lapper said...

And, hey, sorry to be a pain in the butt because it's my fault for changing it in the first place but you could change the address for SynchFish? Sorry. I won't change the name and address again I promise.

Cinephile said...

Jonathan,
Just changed the SynchFish link, so that should be all set. The "addicted to losing" thing was specifically a reference to the defeatism I sensed in Wolcott's post. I don't think the Dems are doomed if Obama gets the nom (or Clinton, for that matter, although I agree with you that she faces a tougher road, not only in conservative areas but also among her own political constituency, many of whom, as a friend noted tonight, are sick of her husband and distrust her centrism), but I get the sense that a number of bloggers do. But in a broader sense, I also think that too often, folks sometimes think, "Well, it's ok if we lost because four/eight years of such-and-such will bring on the revolution," or "it's ok because we lost as long as we kept our ideals pure," or that we've become so inured to losing that working from a position of defeatism becomes our default position (it's a kind of fetishizing of marginalization). One of the things I like about Obama is his challenging of this position-- laugh about "the audacity of hope" if you want, but it's not a bad position to start from (understand, I'm using a general "you," not referring to you specifically).

Cinephile said...

Jeff, I love that Bill Clinton example, and totally agree-- this unwillingness on the part of both candidates and media to break away from the set narrative can be really frustrating. I find myself wanting to throw stuff at the screen when pundits appear and act so "sage" while just repeating shibboleths. Colbert is on right now, and it reminds me that he's so good at playing with that persona: his interviews are funny because they're modeled on that Brian Williams sort of pomposity, but then within that framework, he's tossing out surreal questions to his guests.

Jonathan Lapper said...

That clarifies things greatly, thanks. And I personally have grown so weary of the "it will bring on the revolution" mantra that you bring up. I think to myself, given the last eight years - stomping on habeaus corpus, extraordinary rendition, illegal wiretapping, Attorneys General (whether coming or going) unwilling to admit waterboarding is torture, hostility to science, contempt of the environment, a congress unwilling to pursue impeachment despite the fact that articles of impeachment require a simple majority (and as George McGovern outlined in The WashPo on Sunday the crimes are extensive) - if the revolution doesn't happen now it's not going to.

A President with a paper thin (dimpled chad thin?) margin of victory took the events of September 11, 2001 and walked around like he had an overwhelming mandate from the people. And the congressional Republicans gave him what he wanted as if he had won every state (I'm still trying to decide which is worse, the Repubs in control of Congress or the Dems).

So I want to see a Dem victory in November if only to shift the balance of power for a bit. Although it will be a tough road for whoever wins as the economy and it's caretakers will soon be knocking at the door to collect past debts. And then the 2008 winner will look like the one to blame. I have a post I'll be putting up soon on SynchFish about how that happens and how it's happened before. But anyway, I should wrap this up now. I have lots and lots to do at work today but soon my load here will subside (calendar year fiscal adjustments and crap like that - boy I wish I taught film like you but no I had to take my arts degree and go into mind-numbing administrative work - Gosh I'm dumb).