Comic relief—The three faces of TV: When Dorothy peeked behind the curtain, she spotted a music man. Flawlessly, the leading authority has described this famous event:
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard delays granting their requests. Then Toto pulls back a curtain and exposes the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man who has been projecting the fearsome image; he denies Dorothy's accusation that he is a bad man, but admits to being a humbug.When the curtain was pulled back, Dorothy was able to see that the wizard was no such thing. All along, he'd been a music man!
The music men are numerous in our modern "press corps." Unfortunately, career liberals have long agreed—this curtain must never be drawn back, not Over Here on our side. In part for that reason, we liberals have proven unable to spot our own tribe's music men.
One such person may be Rachel Maddow. As a bit of comic relief, we thought we'd review the wonderfully comical, three-part tale which we'll offer under this name:
"The three faces of Rachel's TV"
In order to understand this story, you must be willing to accept a few unfortunate facts. Despite the marketing built around her, Maddow has proven to be a bit of a full-blown circus clown.
Also, a person who isn't obsessively honest. Also, a person devoted to selling the car, where the model in question is the car called The Maddow.
Dorothy saw a middle-aged person of little distinction perched behind that screen. Behind our own curtain sits a clown—and a devoted car salesman.
Does Maddow understand the extent to which she toys with facts? We would guess that she doesn't. But when the rewards become so vast, disordered people are drawn to the guild, and decent people get lost.
Within that framework, for comic relief, let's review the three faces of Rachel's TV:
Episode the first
It all began with a defining story. Rachel was the TV star who didn't own at TV!
Rachel began to host her own show in September 2008. By that time, NBC News had pioneered the use of the defining story with its big major stars.
Tim Russert was the unassuming son of the garbage collector from Buffalo. This pleasing story kept us from drawing back the curtain on other parts of his life.
Brian Williams was the kid who hung out with the volunteer firemen and always loved NASCAR. Eventually, other "defining stories" about this star brought his career to a halt.
Did the suits invent or select the story about Rachel's TV set? We have no idea, but the story became the go-to, defining tale in the early profiles of the new cable star.
Rachel was the TV star who didn't own a TV! Not that this made her smarter than us, she would add, thereby suggesting the opposite.
In truth, it wasn't so much that she didn't own a TV. Rachel couldn't own a TV! She was so fey, so "Little Prince," that she couldn't do that. Here's the way the story was told to the San Francisco Chronicle, Maddow's hometown newspaper:
GAROFOLI (9/11/08): Armed with self-deprecating humor and an impressive intellect, Maddow is the newest marquee commentator on a network that finds itself in the middle of controversy about blurring the line between political commentary and straight reporting...Maddow wasn't like you and me. Unlike you and me, she had a constitutional weakness. It wouldn't allow her to own her own TV.
Maddow won't touch the turmoil, saying she doesn't follow media issues. She might be the only TV talk show host who doesn't own a television—she hasn't since she left her folks' house to attend Stanford University.
“It's not like 'Oh, I am too righteous for television,’” Maddow said over lunch recently during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. She lives in western Massachusetts with her partner of nine years and maintains an apartment in New York, where her nightly (6 p.m. Pacific time) show is produced.
“I have a constitutional weakness in which I am very easily distracted by flashing lights. If there is a TV on in the room, I can't have a conversation with you. I won't eat, I won't sleep, I'll just meld with my couch.”
If you've watched Maddow selling the car, you'll recognize the play. Maddow is skilled at noting her lack of control as a way to define her uniqueness, her status as Our Own Patricia Pan.
She makes us rubes feel that she needs our help. She plays a highly skilled game.
At any rate, the defining story had been established. Rachel was the TV star who didn't (and couldn't) own a TV. Not that she's better that we are!
Episode the second
Uh-oh! In April 2009, a minor problem arose. It turned out that Rachel Maddow had actually bought a TV. This would require some skill and some hustle, selling The Maddow-wise.
Unintentional comedy followed. Donald J. Trump wasn't president yet, so "nos morituri" could still enjoy such self-adoring plays.
Rachel Maddow had bought a TV! The word went forth in various venues. Here's how Politico broke the news on April 8 of that fateful year:
TV host buys TVJust for now, we're omitting the comical part of the tale. But Maddow had broken the news during an interview with Dossier, "an independently published and owned bi-annual arts and culture journal" which may still exist.
Rachel Maddow has said in countless profiles that despite hosting a show on MSNBC, she doesn't actually own a television.
But Gawker, quoting an upcoming interview in Dossier magazine, points out that Maddow will soon be able to watch the broadcast networks—if not yet cable...
Alex "Kid" Pareene had grabbed the story over at Gawker. "TV host buys TV," Politico's headline then blared.
The humor came as Maddow explained how the purchase happened. In this case, the humor was transplendent.
On Olympus, the gods were roaring with laughter. Below, you see the transcript published by Dossier. Did any humans, down below, really believe this tale?
DOSSIER: On a lighter note, people love to talk about the fact that you are on television and yet don't actually own a television.We'd be inclined to call this play "maintaining the Little Prince pose." To wit:
RACHEL: Oh no, I got drunk last Thursday and ordered one on Amazon! (Laughs) Susan and I ordered takeout Chinese, and I made cocktails and then somehow it just happened. I mean, it wasn't like we were on some total bender or something—it was a weeknight—but I woke up the next morning, and there was the confirmation e-mail stating that we had indeed bought a $400 television. Of course, since we were drunk, we had it shipped to the wrong place, so now we have to get this giant box all the way to NYC from our place up in Massachusetts and figure out how to install it. Neither of us have had a TV in years and years. The last time I lived in a house with the TV was in 1990, when I moved out of my parents' house to go to college. Now there's a giant box with a TV sitting in Susan's art studio waiting for us.
When other people get blackout drunk, they engage in drunken sex play. When Rachel gets blackout drunk, she weirdly orders a TV set and sends it to the wrong place! She awakes to the paperwork!
Let's be fair! Rachel didn't tell Dossier that she got blackout drunk. Clearly though, the claim seemed to be implied. When she and Susan woke up the next day, the printouts were all around them! It seemed they didn't have any idea how the score had occurred!
Who knows? Maybe Rachel got blackout drunk one afternoon and told Dossier this story! Unfortunately, when Access Hollywood asked the suits if the unlikely tale was actually true, "an MSNBC publicist confirmed to Access Hollywood that the tale of her cocktail-inspired TV purchase was indeed legit."
Did anyone believe that crap? As the gods rocked with laughter, we tried to calm the analysts down. We told them they should chalk it up to skill at selling the car, and to disordered desire.
Episode the third
First, Rachel couldn't own a TV because she was just so different. When she actually bought a TV set, she seemed to have found a way to maintain that defining pose.
Did anybody actually think that Rachel was actually telling the truth? Who knows? During that same time span, she told Charlie Rose that she pays so little attention to the business of cable news that she didn't even know who was in her same time slot at Fox and CNN!
Did anyone believe that claim? Charlie just let it go.
The third chapter in this comical story appeared in 2014. In its Spring Design issue, New York Magazine offered these perplexing headlines:
Spring Design 2014Say what? Rachel's allowed to do what?
Where Rachel Maddow Is Allowed to Watch TV
A bathhouse that is more than just a bathhouse.
In truth, this Spring Design photo spread squared a ridiculous circle. It wasn't just that Rachel had built a stand-alone bathhouse/TV room where she could bathe in her giant tub while watching her big-screen TV with her big fireplace going. To appearances, she allowed the photographer in, letting us see the way she now watches her great-big giant TV!
Not that there's anything wrong with it! There's nothing "wrong" with living the life of the corporate TV star. There's nothing wrong with overcoming your fear of cohabiting with a TV set.
That said, this three-part story captures the clownish culture which defines the persistent charade known as "TV news." Or so it somewhat comically seems to us.
Did Maddow buy that first TV because she was blackout drunk? Was she really unaware of the fact that she was competing with Sean Hannity over at Fox, and with Larry King Live?
Everything is possible! It's also possible that something may be a little bit "wrong" inside this persistent dissembler's self-referential head.
When the rewards become too large, it may be that the wrong people are attracted to this particular game. When stars become too rich and too famous, you may even end up with the low-grade dissembling which now typifies Maddow's devolving TV show.
That said, Maddow persistently serves us the comfort food we liberals very much like. As we wait for Mr. Trump's war, our tribe has been rewarding her for it.
When you pull the curtain back, some very strange people are involved in this devolving game. They're busily chasing money and fame. Their pitiful work reflects this destructive state of affairs.
The Others can't see through Sean, we say. As we complain, a fact becomes clear:
We can't see through Rachel!
Rachel is good at selling the car. In our view, she seems hopelessly devoted to the process, and to other cons:
She completely ducked Benghazi in 2012. She completely ducked Comey the God last year.
She praises Chris Matthews as a genius and friend. No one worked harder, down through the years, to defeat Candidate Gore, thus letting George Bush stage his war. No one worked harder, year after year, to make Candidate Clinton unelectable when push would finally come to shove, as it did last year.
As Matthews did those things, Jack Welch made him very rich—even let him summer on Nantucket. Matthews was Trump many years before Candidate Trump. Maddow is paid $10 million per year to sell you on his greatness.
(She loves Greta too!)
Persistently, we keep buying this fully-loaded, thoroughly ridiculous car. In this way, we're much like Them, the people we mock Over There.
Starting tomorrow: Curtain call!