LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: "Her performance of the Rachel figure!"

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2017

Interlude—Grand finale tomorrow:
We've very very very sick of our ongoing report, of our discussion of Janet Malcolm's weird and endless profile of Rachel Maddow.

At the end of last week, we decided to continue our discussion into this second week because we were fascinated by Malcolm's reference to Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure." You can hardly blame us for that!

What exactly did Malcolm mean by "her performance of the Rachel figure?" What did she meran when she referred to "Maddow’s TV persona—the well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show?"

We still think those are fascinating, important questions. But we're truly sick of reading that ludicrous profile, which appeared in our brainiest upper-class magazine.

Our initial question remains the same. What does it mean when a profile which is so inane can appear, at such mammoth length, in an upper-class, allegedly high-IQ publication like The New Yorker?

What does the publication of such transparent nonsense say about our upper-class journalistic culture? What does it say about us liberals? Those are still very good questions.

We also think it's interesting to consider Maddow's alleged "performance of the Rachel figure." What did Malcolm mean by that? We think it's well worth exploring that question.

That said, we'll wrap the whole thing up tomorrow. We just can't face it today.

What is involved in Rachel Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure?" We've been watching that play for the past nine years. Tomorrow, we'll mine Malcolm's profile for clues.

Some examples of what we were talking about!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2017

Does this presentation make sense:
Every morning, the New York Times presents an array of riddles. As one example, did you understand yesterday's takedown of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance?

The takedown came in an op-ed column, but the Times chose to publish the piece. Our question:

Do you understand the logic behind the highlighted presentation?

RICE (10/17/17): [D]espite lamenting racism in the criminal justice system, Mr. Vance perpetuates worrisome racial disparities. A 2014 Vera Institute of Justice study found that black and Latino defendants prosecuted by Mr. Vance’s office were more likely to be detained at booking, compared with similarly situated white defendants. And last year, 51 percent of marijuana cases involving black defendants in Manhattan ended in conviction, while only 23 percent involving whites did.
Does Vance's office engage in discriminatory practices? We can't answer that question. Nor do we understand why the Times thought that highlighted presentation supported this serious charge.

Consider:

According to this op-ed column, way more marijuana cases ended in convictions when the defendants were black. Do you understand why that would mean that Vance and/or his office were discriminating against blacks?

We ask that question because juries dole out convictions, not prosecutors, or at least they do on TV. And by the way:

If way more whites are escaping conviction, couldn't that possibly mean that Vance's office has been overcharging whites?

As presented, we'd have to say that passage didn't make obvious sense. But so what? The New York Times waved it into print anyhoo. Such confusions are routine in the Times.

Does the Vance office discriminate against blacks? If you click the relevant link in the column, you'll be taken to a source report where the logic of this charge at least becomes clear.

You still won't know if the charge is fair. But you'll at least be able to see why the logic of that presentation isn't completely screwy.

Unless you're actually Cyrus Vance, that was a relatively minor point of confusion. At the same time, Michelle Goldberg's op-ed column in yesterday's Times struck us as a walk down a familiar hall of mirrors, one which is very unhelpful. (Unless you're the type of "Janet Malcolm liberal" who mainly wants to feel good.)

Tribal liberals most likely won't see what we mean. But here—you can give it a try. We may revisit tomorrow.

Thoroughly bollixed this morning: On this morning's page A3 (not available on line), this was one of the the "Noteworthy Facts" in the persistently low-IQ feature, Of Interest:
"Last year George Soros, the hedge fund manager and major Democratic donor, lost about $1 billion betting that Donald J. Trump would lose the presidential election."
We'll be honest—that struck us as a slightly weird-sounding claim. We decided to check the news report which was cited as the source of this "noteworthy fact."

You can check that report by clicking here.
As you'll see, page A3 had omitted a potentially significant phrase from the original claim. (Page A3 does such things all the time.) But even after reading the source report, we still don't understand what Soros is said to have done.

This stuff lards the Times every day. It's the way our mainstream press corps rolls.

In part, this helps explain how Donald J. Trump ended up in the Oval. The evidence tells us again and again; our nation's upper-end mainstream press corps just isn't transplendently sharp.

LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: Malcolm [HEART] "the Rachel figure!"

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2017

Part 6—The joy of performance art:
Janet Malcolm likes the Maddow Show. In fact, she likes it a lot.

Malcolm, "the nation's best magazine writer," penned an endless profile of Maddow for the October 9 New Yorker. She opened with gushing praise for Maddow, who she watches every night, by whose performance she's "mesmerized."

The key word may be "performance." According to Malcolm, she isn't mesmerized by Maddow herself, or by her the content of her reports; more accurately,she says she;s mesmerized by Maddow's performance.

Nor is she mesmerized by Maddow alone. She's also "mesmerized" by the Cialis and constipation ads she says she "stays and dumbly watches" each night as she waits for Maddow to come back from her commercial breaks.

In the second and third paragraphs of her endless profile, Malcolm describes this process of mesmerization. She also describes the Maddow Show as "a piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show." According to Malcolm, the show is "TV entertainment at its finest," designed to make liberals feel good.

We've already asked one basic question. How have we as a nation have reached the point where such transparently dotty nonsense can possibly appear in an upper-class, upper-end magazine like The New Yorker? That's a question for David Remnick, who put this manifest nonsense in print.

Based upon these opening paragraphs, we'd have to suggest that Malcolm, who is 83, may have lost a few steps. That said, she notices many things about the Maddow Show which we have also noticed down through the years. It's just that she approves of sleight of hand, while we've long complained about it.

Malcolm seems to be thrilled by the sleight of hand! Today, let's focus on the ways Malcolm claims that Maddow is staging some sort of nightly "performance."

As she opens her endless profile, Malcolm correcrly states that Maddow "is the current sweetheart of liberal cable TV." From there, she proceeds to her confession of mesmerization.

We've posted this remarkable confession several times. Today, as we endure it again, let's note the way Malcolm says that Maddow is staging a performance:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): Maddow is widely praised for the atmosphere of cheerful civility and accessible braininess that surrounds her stage persona. She is onstage, certainly, and makes no bones about being so. She regularly reminds us of the singularity of her show (“You will hear this nowhere else”; “Very important interview coming up, stay with us”; “Big show coming up tonight”). Like a carnival barker, she leads us on with tantalizing hints about what is inside the tent.

As I write this, I think of something that subliminally puzzles me as I watch the show. Why do I stay and dumbly watch the commercials instead of getting up to finish washing the dishes? By now, I know every one of the commercials as well as I know the national anthem: the Cialis ad with curtains blowing as the lovers phonily embrace, the ad with the guy who has opioid-induced . . . constipation (I love the delicacy-induced pause), the ad for Liberty Mutual Insurance in which the woman jeers at the coverage offered by a rival company: “What are you supposed to do, drive three-quarters of a car?” I sit there mesmerized because Maddow has already mesmerized me. Her performance and those of the actors in the commercials merge into one delicious experience of TV. “The Rachel Maddow Show” is a piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show. It is TV entertainment at its finest. It permits liberals to enjoy themselves during what may be the most thoroughly unenjoyable time of their political lives.
Try to ignore the embarrassing confession concerning the pleasures of the Cialis ads. Focus instead on the praise for Maddow's "performance," for the "sleight of hand" which turns an apparent cable news show into what it actually is: a "delicious experience of TV," "TV entertainment at its finest."

To us, the fact that the Maddow Show is actually "TV entertainment" explains why its host should be thrown down the stairs, out the door across the sidewalk and into the street. To Malcolm, this sleight of hand is a source of vast simple-minded pleasure.

That said, Malcolm expressly says that Maddow is staging a "performance." How many ways does Malcolm say this?

Let us count the ways:

Malcolm starts by referring to Maddow's "stage persona." She says that Maddow "is onstage" when she does her show, "and makes no bones about it."

She compares Maddow to "a carnival barker." In our view, this description more aptly fits the persona this channel's corporate suits have imposed upon Steve Kornacki, especially when he's perched before "the big board" and told to talk double-fast, hunched over, with sleeves rolled up, as he hands us repetitive reams of feel-good polling data.

That's feel-good entertainment for gobsmacked liberals too! Also, it's an imposition on Kornacki, who seems to be sane and is perfectly bright, well-informed.

Back to Maddow:

As she continues in that opening passage, Malcolm refers to "her performance," explicitly pairing it with the performance of the actors in the moronic TV ads she also thoroughly loves. In paragraph 4, she quickly refers to Maddow's "artistry."

That said, it isn't until a good deal later in her profile that Malcolm offers her most pregnant description of Maddow as something like a performance artist. Maddow seems to accept the framework. This is the intriguing passage to which we refer:
MALCOLM: Maddow’s TV persona—the well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show—suggests experience in the theatre, but Maddow has had none. “I am a bad actor. I can be performative. But I can’t play any other character than the one who appears on the show. I can’t embody anyone else.” To keep herself in character, so to speak, Maddow marks up the text that she will read from a teleprompter with cues for gestures, pauses, smiles, laughs, frowns—all the body language that goes into her performance of the Rachel figure. “My scripts are like hieroglyphics,” she said. I asked her if I could see a page or two of these annotated texts. She consented, but then thought better of it.
Should we regard that as strange? Malcolm refers to Maddow's "TV persona," defining it as a "well-crafted character."

Maddow seems to accept this structure. She says that, unlike an actor, she can play no character other than "the one who appears on the show." As Malcolm describes the detailed ways Maddow preplans her trademark grinning, laughing, mugging and clowning to "keep herself in character," she issues her slightly puzzling, definitive statement:

This body language all goes into Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure." Should that be seen as a strange description of a TV news program?

What does Malcolm mean when she refers to Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure?" What does she mean when she refers to Maddow's "TV persona" as "a well-crafted character?" And whatever Malcolm might mean by these terms, is anything actually wrong with such a performance?

We'd be inclined to say the answer is no—unless the performance results in a "sleight of hand," a con in which a cable news program is turned into delicious "TV entertainment."

Make no mistake: we liberals are as dumb and ineffectual as any group who has ever drawn breath on the planet. In part for that reason, we've now been forced to notice the fact that Donald J. Trump is our president.

According to Malcolm, Maddow is staging a nightly sleight of hand. It's designed to make us liberals feel good at this horrific time. She's doing this, in large part, through her presentation of that "well-crafted character"—through "her [mesmerizing] performance of the Rachel figure."

What goes into the well-crafted character described as "the Rachel figure?" In the next few days, we'll ransack Malcolm's endless profile looking for nuggets and clues.

For today, we'll only say this: Malcolm seems to be describing the process we've long referred to as "selling the car." We've long suggested that Maddow is a highly skilled con man, a slippery salesman who's constantly selling the model known as The Maddow.

Malcolm seems to have noticed the same darn thing—but she seems to say that the con just feels so good. Like when Rachel put the lid of that baby-poop-colored canister right smack dab on her head!

What goes into "the Rachel figure," the well-crafted character you will encounter tonight? Tomorrow, we'll start to answer your question. On Friday, we'll wail and moan as Malcolm buys the latest con from this corporate TV star, a self-adoring figure who often makes us think of Donald J. Trump.

Tomorrow: Quite a bit more special than you

Lustily, the analysts cheered!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017

At Slate, Peters gets it right:
Lusty cheering by the analysts woke us early this morning.

The youngsters had read the start of this piece by Justin Peters at Slate. Soon, we were lustily cheering too. Peters had introduced an important framework, one which is rarely employed:

"These are remarkably stupid times."

These are remarkably stupid times! Peters was working from an important framework, one which is rarely employed.

Are these remarkably stupid times? Let's take a look at the trigger for Peters' accurate statement:
PETERS (10/16/17): These are remarkably stupid times. For a glimpse of why, consider the daily patter of Fox & Friends—or, rather, consider that I am even asking you to consider Fox & Friends. The show is by now known for being terrible television, something that is neither entertaining nor informative...
Long ago and quite far away, we described Fox & Friends as the dumbest show in the history of TV "news." We're going all the way back to the day when E. D. Hill was the blonde woman on the couch between the two dull-witted boys.

The program is still that stupid today—stupid, and influential.

It's true! We do live in remarkably stupid times, and Fox & Friends is dumbfoundingly stupid. But it's also true that The Stupid is found all over the modern press. For ourselves, we're struck by The Stupid every day when we read the New York Times.

The sheer stupidity of this era is its most striking feature. That said, when we liberals spot and discuss The Stupid at all, we tend to spot and discuss it Over There, among Those People, and pretty much nowhere else.

In the last two mornings, we've spotted The Stupid all over our own tribe's pitiful work, but especially in the New York Times, where The Stupid starts on the reimagined page A3 and then spreads out from there. Our culture is dying from The Stupid, and it isn't all located Over There, within the other tribe's tents.

Sorry. That's not even close.

Our tribe is soaked in The Stupid too. In the next few days, we'll offer examples.

That said, a modern nation can't run on The Stupid. At what point will we liberals be willing to scope our dying culture and admit that this statement is true?

Justin Peters got it right. These are remarkably stupid times. Our tribe's a big part of the problem.

LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: Baby-poop-colored lid on her head!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017

Part 5—"The Rachel figure:"
How many ways does Janet Malcolm love the Maddow show?

It's hard to count the ways. That said, in an endless profile in the October 9 New Yorker, Malcolm mentions only three specific Maddow programs from this calendar year—and in one of those specific programs, Malcolm says a Maddow show "failed to please." That was "the notorious show of March 14th," in which Maddow turned the uninformative contents of Donald J. Trump's 2005 tax returns into an endless tease and a song-of-self.

Malcolm describes only three programs from this calendar year. Somewhat oddly, without real explanation, she also mentions a pair of Maddow shows from October 2014. It seems fairly clear that Malcolm saw something significant in these programs, which aired on October 29 and 30 of that long-lost, long-ago year.

Malcolm seems to see great significance in these programs—but why? Her description of those back-to-back programs begins like this:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): The [October 29, 2014] show began with Maddow placing on her desk, one by one, a graduated set of ceramic kitchen cannisters. “Here in our offices at 30 Rockefeller Center, in our office closet, actually, we have, sort of randomly, a really hideous complete set of kitchen cannisters,” she said, drawing them to her with an impish smile. “A full set of mushroom-ornamented, baby-poop-colored, made-in-China ugly kitchen cannisters. They take up a lot of space, but I can’t get rid of them. We bought these hideous kitchen cannisters when a producer on our staff stumbled upon them while out shopping and realized—photographic memory—that these were an exact match to one of the best campaign-ad props thus far in the twenty-first century. Look.” A picture then appeared onscreen, showing a woman sitting in front of a display of the same mushroom-ornamented cannisters that live in the office closet at MSNBC. The woman was Sharron Angle, a Nevada Republican, who had tried to make a political comeback after an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Harry Reid in his Senate race in 2010.
We'll interrupt Malcolm's essay here. Throughout, we'll use the double-N spelling of "cannister" which The New Yorker seems to prefer.

Let's summarize what we've heard so far about the first of that three-year-old pair of programs. We've heard that Maddow started her program that night with "an impish smile." She then began discussing herself, or at least she began discussing the internal dynamics of her show, which she referred to as "we."

According to Maddow, her show had purchased a set of "hideous kitchen cannisters" at some time in the previous few years. According to Maddow, a producer had "stumbled upon them while out shopping" and had realized that they were "an exact match to one of the best campaign-ad props thus far in the twenty-first century."

The show's producer had a photographic memory, we were inevitably told. For undisclosed reasons, Maddow told us that the hideous, unused cannisters "live in an office closet at MSNBC" but she "can't get rid of them.

This is all part of the Maddow Show style, in which viewers are perhaps made to feel that they're being treated to an insidery view of the workings of a cool club. Along the way, we were treated to the inevitable low-IQ touch. The hideous cannisters are "baby-poop-colored," we were inevitably told.

As it turned out, the hideous, baby-poop-colored cannisters matched a set which had appeared in a campaign ad for Sharron Angle, who lost a high-profile Senate race to Harry Reid in 2010. The hideous cannisters had appeared in a campaign ad in 2011, when Angle launched a run for a seat in the House, a campaign she later abandoned.

As Maddow continued this night, she linked Angle and the hideous cannisters to a campaign which was then underway—to the 2014 Iowa Senate race of Republican Joni Ernst. Maddow offered some critical commentary on Ernst's campaign, which Malcolm briefly summarizes in her New Yorker piece.

This was just the beginning of Malcolm's treatment of those Maddow shows from October 2014. As noted, Malcolm discussed only three shows from this calendar year in her endless profile of Maddow. As such, the cannister shows from 2014 constitute a full forty percent of the Maddow shows she chose to discuss in her recent piece.

It's fairly clear that Janet Malcolm saw some sort of significance in those cannister shows. It must also be said that it's hard to discern what it was, or why the three-year-old shows were ever discussed at all.

Back to Malcolm's profile. According to Malcolm, Maddow closed the opening segment of that first show by making yet another disparaging reference to those "hideous kitchen cannisters." This led to a segment in the next night's show, a segment Malcolm chose to describe, for unknown reasons, at considerable length.

Malcolm devoted a good chunk of time to the events of the following night (October 30, 2014). Here's the way her manifest piddle began:
MALCOLM: The next night, an unsmiling Maddow addressed her audience thus: “O.K., so last night I may have crossed the line. I went a little too far and said something that offended some of our viewers, and rightly so. It was not my intention to offend. So we’ve got a Department of Corrections segment coming up. Anybody who likes to watch this show because you like to yell at me while I’m on the screen, you will like this next thing that I’m going to have to do. Mea culpa on the way.” Sitting in front of a sign that read “DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,” Maddow recapitulated her narrative of the page Joni Ernst took from Sharron Angle. “Tonight, I have a correction to make about that. I will tell you, though, that this correction has nothing to do with Joni Ernst.” In fact, the “correction” was not a correction at all. Maddow had made no factual errors. She had merely betrayed her youth. She had not lived long enough to know that you do not mock people’s things any more than you mock their weight or accent or sexual orientation. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” William Morris wrote in his famous dictum. Morris knew very well what was hideous. But he knew enough about human nature to insert that inspired “believe.”
There's so much piddle in that paragraph that an observer barely knows where to begin. Yet this plainly is the way Maddow staged one segment that October night, and this is the sort of brain-damaged dreck which now appears in The New Yorker.

Let's run through what Malcolm has said about that program so far:

For starters, few readers will have any idea who this William Morris is, or why he would have offered his "famous dictum" about what you should have in your house. Let us fill in that blank:

According to the leading authority on his life, Morris was "associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement" of the 19th century. As such, "he was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production."

None of this has much to do with Maddow's presentation that second night, in which she apologized, or pretended to apologize, for the previous night's misconduct. In real time, we commented on the sheer inanity of this ridiculous, time-wasting segment. That said, we assume the segment was at least largely tongue in cheek, a possibility Malcolm doesn't seem to have considered.

In Malcolm's apparent view, Maddow had actually offended some viewers the night before with her comments about the hideous cannisters. In Malcolm' apparent view, Maddow was conducting a serious attempt to apologize for her bad judgment, which Malcolm attributed to Maddow's youth.

Just for the record, Maddow was 42 years old at the time these programs aired. At any rate, as Malcolm continued, she described Maddow's supposed mea culpa:
MALCOLM (continuing directly): Maddow’s disparagement of the mushroom cannisters brought her a torrent of mail. She read aloud from it: “I was insulted that you referred to the cannisters as ugly, as I had bought that set many years ago. I wish I still had my cute, adorable cannisters.” “Hey, Rachel, my mother has a set, too—we could use a matching set.” “If by hideous you mean the most awesome cannisters of all time then you are correct.” More messages appeared on the screen: “hideous??? What ever do you mean?” “Those were my grandmas mushroom canisters! She had matching pots, s&p, spoon rest, napkin holder and a wall clock.”
We'd assume that these complaints were largely tongue in cheek. We'd make the same assumption about Maddow's silly resort to her DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. But as she journeyed back three years in time, Malcolm seemed to read things differently.

She seemed to think that Maddow had really apologized for really offending an actual torrent of viewers. She continued along, describing what happened next:
MALCOLM (continuing directly): “I have been aesthetically swayed,” Maddow said, setting down the sheaf of letters. “Yes, I once believed that those mushroom cannisters were hideous, in the context of threatening armed violence against government officials, à la Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joni Ernst in Iowa. I also do still kind of think they’re hideous here at my office. But in real life, on your shelf, on your kitchen counter, in the recesses of your childhood memories, the Merry Mushroom cannisters your mom bought at Sears in the seventies—which also happened to match your Merry Mushroom curtains—those mushroom cannisters really aren’t hideous. They are lovely. So thank you for fact-checking me on this. I sincerely regret what I now believe is an error. I love your mushroom cannisters and your kitchen—I love all of it.” She had been hugging the biggest cannister. Now she removed its lid and put it on her head. “Sorry.”
Yes, that actually happened. Also, this was the end of Malcolm's treatment of those shows from 2014.

Yes, that actually happened. After Maddow finished her pointless discussion of the aesthetic worth of the cannisters, she removed the lid of the biggest cannister of them all and deposited it on her head.

"Sorry," she said, as she mugged and clowned about this inane, stupid topic. This was part of "cable news" in the last few months before Donald J. Trump launched his drove toward The Oval.

Reading Malcolm's endless profile of Maddow, we can't tell you why Janet Malcolm devoted so much time and so much space to these cannister shows from October 2014. She seemed to think that Maddow was conducting a real apology for a genuine offense—an offense which reflected the 42-year-old TV star's youthful failure of judgment.

In our view, it's important to know how we've reached the point where such inanity can appear in The New Yorker. For today, we'll offer this one suggestion about those Maddow shows, and possibly about Malcolm's reaction to them.

We don't know why Janet Malcolm included those shows in her endless profile of Maddow. Having said that, we'll offer this:

In those two programs, it seems to us that Maddow was engaged in what Malcolm calls "her performance of the Rachel figure." Tomorrow, we'll start to make a pair of suggestions:

This repetitive type of performance art is a major part of Maddow's popular program, which Malcolm approvingly describes as "TV entertainment at its finest" and also as "sleight of hand." It's also part of the way our culture has been dumbed down to the point where Donald J. Trump is now president.

What does Malcolm mean when she refers to Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure?" Your question strikes us as very important. We'll start with that question tomorrow.

Tomorrow: "The Rachel figure?" What's that?