Optimists don’t mind if you eavesdrop on them. They welcome it, in fact, because it helps them spread their fiendish gospel. Here is what the one behind me in the supermarket line told her morose teenager:
“Stop saying you’re fed up! You’ll never get anywhere that way.”
Oh, I don’t know. I’ve done pretty well as a professional fed-up. The tools of my trade so far have been irony, tongue-in-cheek mockery, and supercilious contempt, but these are highly civilized weapons designed for 18th-century French salons. If you are fed up with 21st-century America you need something sturdier, like a meat cleaver.
So much fed-upness, so little space. Where to begin? How about white men of all socioeconomic levels ostentatiously using “dude” or “man”: “What do you think about that hedge fund, dude?” . . . “Man, I’m going to my Groton class reunion.” The NASCAR set frequently uses both in the same sentence: “Dude, where you goin’, man?”
Here we have the worst descent into political correctness yet. It’s purity-through-words. It’s ’Enry ’Iggins overdosing on Ebonics, a quick ’n’ easy route to false equality and a shameless eagerness to take for oneself the image of supermasculinity long deplored as a black stereotype. It’s completely phony, yet millions of Americans obediently register it on their brains and take it as proof that Our Great Diversity really is working. Nobody will accuse you of racism if you hang out in a linguistic tanning box, but for me to admit that I am fed up with stockbroker dudes and trust-fund mans probably puts me on a watch list perused by Jane Velez-Mitchell, who opens her HLN show by stating, “Racism is a sign of mental illness.” My bad.
As you know, columnists must follow the news carefully in order to write columns. This particular column falls under the newish category of “culture watch,” which, stripped of its lofty name, means I have to watch all of the news all of the time whether I want to or not. I do this religiously on two TVs, one in the kitchen next to the liquor shelf, and another in the living room next to the wet bar.
The cable-news channel I watch least, because I know what they are going to say, is Fox, and also because Greta Van Susteren’s timing could take ten years off my life. She must be a terrible dancer; her rhythm is so far off that she can’t absorb the ebb and flow of speech. She and her interviewee fall into a staccato recitation of “When did . . . who was . . . I didn’t . . . it’s . . . where they . . .” until both fall silent and take turns saying “You go ’head” and “No, you go ’head.”
I got fed up with her and now stay mostly with MSNBC, with forays into CNN. At first I loved Way Too Early with Willie Geist, whose question, “Why are you up this early,” was a snap: I was still up. I enjoyed this show because Willie was alone, but soon the MSNBC tropism took over and other people started drifting in. It turned into a tidal wave with Morning Joe, which, I suppose because of the name, started to resemble a college coffee shop with people sinking down at your table uninvited. Now it really is a college coffee shop, complete with the timeless cast. There’s Joe, the Big Man on Campus, holding court and out-smirking George W. Bush; Mika Brzezinski, lovely and blonde and intensely locked on the strongest male — Joe — until she decides to shift her loyalties; joined by campus clown Mike Barnicle; and rounding it off, Pat Buchanan as the genial, democratic prof who always sat with the kids because they made him feel “with it.”
The others I can stand but I’m fed up with Pat Buchanan. He started a splendid magazine called The American Conservative, but instead of running it himself, tossed it into the laps of a hired staff and then took off on his mavening, stormy-petreling rounds, speaking here, appearing there, writing books, and generally toning himself down (soft-“peddling”) to make sure he would be welcome as commentator on mainstream TV shows. The ferocious “Buchanan brigades” of his presidential run now consist of agents, publicists, and program schedulers, and “lock and load” has turned into cut and paste.
Back in the early feminist years when women began to seek careers in TV it was said that women lacked the necessary “authority” to report on serious matters, and that the few who had it would be seen as “threatening” by both men and women because they would trigger images of the dominatrix, the femme fatale, and other deadly sexual creatures. It didn’t happen. Women are all over TV now, but they are so unthreatening that the only thing they dominate is the news. We don’t see Delilah, Cleopatra, or Mata Hari up there. There is no Hedy Lamarr waiting to seduce, no Theda Bara waiting to devour. Just Bonita Granville and Gloria DeHaven.
With very few exceptions, the women of cable news are interchangeable cute girls: long straight hair parted in the middle and hanging down like spanielesque dewlaps, with comely but not beautiful faces and good but unthreatening figures. Their grammar should be so unthreatening; their similes so comely; their sex appeal so spanielesque. In this they match their guests, other cute girls who are running for national office, like the Minnesota Democrat Tarryl Clark, the one with the dimples who can make them flash like S.O.S. flares at sea, the one with a smile so fixed that for a blessed moment the viewer can hope that tetanus has set in and she will be unable to speak. But no, she speaks, and a river of key words runs through her; “resources,” “outreach,” “community,” “mentor,” and of course, her “status”: She’s a “mom.” What did you expect? There are no “mothers” left.
Let’s face it: “Threatening” people are the only interesting people around. The unthreatening are, by and large, competent mediocrities who take lemming-like aim at careers in television.
– Florence King can be reached at P.O. Box 7113, Fredericksburg, VA 22404.