Bill O’Reilly is probably not as big an asshole as he appears to be, but one thing is certain, he does a terrific job playing one on radio and television. For years, Americans have contended with “entertainers-cum-pundits” setting frames around policy debates. O’Reilly’s, Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s and Beck’s characters are most likely amplifications of the personalities lying beneath them, and that’s bad enough; though, if true, it allows us to hold some hope for their immortal souls. Most actors who plays Iago are not villains off-stage, and may even hold real jobs, or lead otherwise productive lives.
O’Reilly has made his brand (and Fox News’s, it must be admitted) by promising unvarnished straight talk to, and about, “secular progressives,” (read Jews, Democrats, urbanites, gays, mainline protestants, the educated, agnostics, atheists, women, men, writers, scientists, artists, musicians, teachers, people in Minnesota, the 5.5 billion people living outside the U.S., the literate, ad nauseum) for and on behalf of, “you.”
When simply acting the provocateur, O’Reilly and his ilk can be amusing; for instance, a segment on “the failing public schools,” might be followed by an “historical expert” on “religious freedom,” viciously agreeing with O’Reilly that America was founded on an explicitly Judeo-Christian basis. One suspects O’Reilly, in that case, wouldn’t intend to prove his initial point so completely, with himself and his guests as the primary examples.
Yet, one wonders after the evolution of the characters these men play, and what spurs a new turn, and what it must be like, as in the case of Bill O’Reilly, when enthusiasts demand explicit escalation in what has already become a carnival of slander. O’Reilly’s knuckle-dragging fans dislike “secular progressives,” and believe by refusing to admit nuance, and ceding the superiority of the scientific method over speculation based on hearsay, bigotry and reduction, they are somehow forming a bulwark against America’s long, slow slide into effete Europhilia.
That the past twenty-years of Triangulated Democrats and Compassionate Conservatives has literally bankrupted the U.S., demoralized the population, and brought us to the brink of a new Western Dark Age compounds their frustration: why, if not by nefarious means, does reality keep letting them down? O’Reilly’s answer seems to be, if one threads his ouvre into a narrative, that an “elite” of “secular progressives” who hate America, and who control the mainstream media, intend to sneak their programs past the majority of the slumbering populace by lies and manipulation.
Of course, Obama and his wife number among the damned. Obama represents something horrible for the professionally piqued: he has refused, stubbornly, to play along with the established horse-race narrative, for one. For another, he has said the unsayable: America is broken, its federal government is broken, and it must be fixed for America, as a people–in the singular–to survive. Michelle Obama, ever the modern candidate’s wife, is at her husband’s side, if only metaphorically. Physically, she’s usually off by herself, urging voters to support her husband.
Recently, she said something true and rude, though rude and true are often synonyms.
“For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”
America’s media, drawn from its Britney-inspired masturbatory frenzy, took enough time to disseminate the quote; not because it was untrue, not because it was irrational or nonsensical, but because it was something that might offend the kind of people who have made O’Reilly a millionaire many times over. Let’s consider the quote–what, exactly, is wrong with what Obama said? Nothing. In fact, it’s more of the inspired honesty that seems to forcing an end to the era of Clintonian doublespeak and Bush malfeasance.
Michelle Obama is in her 40′s. She’s a Gen X-er, born at the generation’s 1964 vanguard. Since her birth, data show America losing steam in most metrics that actually matter. While the media ooh and ahh at the high priests waggling a stock-market fetish[link], real wages have declined. Total jobs have grown, yes. That’s good, because most Americans have, and need, three of them, as well as a deck of credit cards, to survive. A succession of bubbles set in motion in 1970, by Richard Goddamn Nixon, promise to sink the ship of state, and perhaps the world economy; while it lists and lowers, those who understand loot the infrastructure. Globalization and the free-trade casino reduce once-proud workers to call-center flunkies and Wal-Mart greeters. America projects its awesome military commonly without reason, and often without right. Lone gunmen assassinate prophets, virtually and physically, to the benefit of established interests. Debates on healthcare focus on profit, neglecting people. Americans are dumber, fatter and meaner.
Pardon me, but what the fuck should Michelle Obama be proud of? Some things, surely. But she has plenty of reasons not to feel proud of her country, in her lifetime, and has every right–and perhaps a duty– to say so. This week Bill O’Reilly gave her another reason to store hope in her husband, and to contrast Obama’s inspiring aesthetic with one that has saturated and denuded American society.
O’Reilly showed his largesse by refusing to “go on a lynching party” after Michelle Obama until all the facts were in. It was another case of unintended irony that in serving up an audience-host spit-swap of recumbent poison, his word-choice, in one swipe, reminded viewers of racial difference, recalled slavery, alluded to Jim Crow, invoked white supremacy and the KKK (America’s first terrorist organization), suggested dire violence, lowered the level of discourse, insulted viewers, demeaned whatever “ideas” O’Reilly purports to promote, and tickled his audience’s prejudices pink by violating that newest of taboos, the noose.
It’s what happens when one refuses to work within the narrative provided by the mainstream media–flak starts popping, and not-so-subtle reminders of how tenuous one’s place in the scheme of things really arrive at the speed of light, or sound. Michelle Obama should be proud to not be proud. It’s O’Reilly, the other shouting heads and those who follow him who should beware: this movie’s already been written. It’s called Network. Network, a movie released at this nation’s bicentennial, featured a news anchor, Howard Beale, whose firing precipitated a kind of truth-telling madness. He begins a nightly populist rant instead of reading his tele-prompter, and his once declining ratings begin to soar. His audience turns his catch phrase–”I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”–into a national mantra. Projecting its rage on Beale, the country turns him into a messiah of rage and ultimately, Beale decides to kill himself in a reflection of their angst. Beale looks like Lou Dobbs, but he’s got O’Reilly’s soul; in any case, he’s the mold into which Limbaugh, Hannity, et. al, were poured.
Michelle Obama, a class act, will survive, and if she and her husband are true to their rhetoric, they may change America. It’s O’Reilly, sitting in Howard Beale’s chair, who may find his masters and his minions keep requiring him to up the ante until he has little left to do but consume his own essence, and be left less than a man.