Part 3—In search of our missing IQs: Janet Malcolm is enthralled by Rachel Maddow's storytelling.
We offer that, not as snark, but as a virtual quote. Malcolm's profile of Maddow in the October 9 New Yorker is entitled thusly: THE STORYTELLER. Throughout the piece, Malcolm enthuses about Maddow's "inimitable" storytelling.
Watching Maddow on TV is "an exhilirating experience," our nation's best magazine writer confesses at one point. Early on, she describes herself as "mesmerized" as she watches Maddow each night—though, it must be said, she also says, in a daft admission, that she's also "mesmerized" by the constipation and Cialis ads which pay the bills for Maddow's art, which she weirdly describes as "TV entertainment at its finest."
It's hard to know why a major journal would publish observations so daft that they're visible from space. That said, The New Yorker has chosen to do so—and all through her lengthy profile, Malcolm praises Maddow's storytelling transplendence.
She praises Maddow's "extraordinary storytelling," which is driven by the "acute storyteller's instincts" which let Maddow turn a New York Times report into "a lucid and enthralling set piece." According to Malcolm, Maddow "spins her elaborate tales out of the threads the news provides."
"Maddow's artistry is most conspicuous in her monologues, which can span as long as twenty-four uninterrupted minutes," the mesmerized magazine writer says, not just about those Cialis ads, but about Maddow herself.
In fairness, we ourselves have often said that Maddow's a skilled performer. We've offered that assessment as an offshoot of a larger critique, in which we've said that Maddow is exceptionally skilled at "selling the car," though she may not necessarily be obsessively honest.
We've sometimes praised Maddow for her "hand jive," the histrionic hand gestures she's developed over time. We've often mentioned the weird grinning in which she engages, along with the phony forced laughter.
We've assumed that these behavioral ticks, which apparently "sell" to the traumatized viewer, were the result of consultant training. It wasn't until this very week that we would have thought something like this:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): 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.Even with cues for frowns! Even we have never suggested that Maddow actually writes all that bullshit into the scripts she reads on the air. Mesmerized, Malcolm describes these "performative" affectations as "the body language that goes into her performance of the Rachel figure," "the well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show."
Is there something "wrong" with what Malcolm describes? Is there something wrong with performing a well-crafted character, in this case "the Rachel figure?"
Not necessarily, no! It all depends on the quality of the work which is being provided.
Malcolm, of course, has already said, perhaps a bit weirdly, that the work in question is actually "TV entertainment"—"a piece of sleight of hand disguised as a cable news program." She has already said that the work in question, this sleight of hand, is designed to let liberals "enjoy themselves" in this, our deeply dangerous hour of total political failure.
Mesmerized by the Cialis and constipation ads, Malcolm praises the sleight of hand. For some reason, her editors chose to publish these strange assessments in our nation's brainiest, and also dumbest, upper-class low-IQ journal.
How daft is our best magazine writer as she assesses Maddow's work? For today, lets consider her assessment of Maddow's first monologue of the year, the monologue which opened her program on January 2, the first Maddow Show of this deeply dangerous year, which is now being defined by the president's IQ wars.
How brilliant was Maddow that night? In paragraph 4 of her endless report, Malcolm begins to tell us, even revealing the segment's donnée:
MALCOLM: Maddow’s artistry is most conspicuously displayed in the long monologue—sometimes as long as twenty-four minutes, uninterrupted by commercials—with which her show usually begins. The monologue of January 2, 2017, is an especially vivid example of Maddow’s extraordinary storytelling. Its donnée was a Times article of December 31, 2016, with the headline “Trump’s Indonesia projects, still moving ahead, create potential conflicts.”According to both Merriam and Webster, a donnée is "the set of assumptions on which a work of fiction or drama proceeds." In fairness, Maddow's 17-minute monologue wasn't a work of fiction this night, though at moments it came rather close.
(To watch the performance, click here.)
At any rate, Malcolm feels that this first monologue put Maddow's artistry on display. As happens again and again in this piece, she notices things that we also noticed in real time. But she showers praise on these performances, while we saw them as points of concern:
MALCOLM: In Maddow’s hands, the Times story became a lucid and enthralling set piece. “This story is amazing and it starts with copper,” Maddow said at the beginning of the monologue, looking happy. She had already told us that she was glad to be back from her vacation and wasn’t disheartened by the election. People had approached her “with concern in their eyes” and asked how she felt about the coming year. “I found myself . . . saying, ‘I’m really excited for 2017.’ I am! My job is to explain stuff—and, oh my God, is that a good job to have this year!”As usual, Maddow had started this monologue by talking about herself. To Malcolm, the artist was "looking happy" this night. We thought, and still think, that she looked perhaps a bit manic that night, an unfortunate condition which Malcolm discusses later in her profile.
Needless to say, we were also struck by the self-involvement, bordering on narcissism, which animates so much of Maddow's work.
As of today, the possibility that Donald J. Trump is taking us to World War III is being openly discussed on a wide range of major news shows. Finally, major players are willing to say that they're flatly scared by Trump's behavior.
To anyone with an ounce of sense, the danger involved in Trump's election was already apparent on January 2. To Maddow, though, inevitably, Trump's election was cause for elation this night—for the giddy air which Malcolm records as happiness.
Appallingly, Maddow began the year by announcing to us that she was "really excited" looking ahead, because Trump's election meant that this would be a good year for people with her particular job. What would make someone say that?
What would make a person react in so peculiar a way? We've sometimes suggested that Maddow's remarkable self-involvement resembles that of Donald J. Trump. In her introduction to the new year, she helped us form that assessment.
As she continues, Malcolm describes the happy/manic affect Maddow displayed this night. She says that, as Maddow proceeded with her monologue, she was soon "laughing, almost chortling," and was "looking enormously pleased with herself."
(That is almost always the case. Discouraged members of our liberal tribe seem to enjoy it.)
Along the way, Malcolm describes another excursion by Maddow into the realm of a few of her favorite things. "I love it when a story doesn't make sense for a year and then all of a sudden it does," the artist is quoted saying.
Maddow was talking about herself again, as she so constantly does. Eventually, Malcolm explains, perhaps a bit daftly, how this particular monologue displayed Maddow's brilliance:
MALCOLM: As Maddow nears the end of her monologue, she mentions the Times story from which she got most of her material: “Donald Trump’s new real-estate deals, that golf course he wants to build . . . the Indonesian resort deals that brought this politician to Trump Tower in the first place, the Trump Organization has just confirmed to the New York Times, those deals are on, those projects are moving forward.” The reader who has been following my own lesson in comparative narratology will notice that Maddow has been sparing in her use of the Times narrative. Many characters that figure in the Times story are missing from Maddow’s, most conspicuously Trump’s Indonesian business partner Hary Tanoesoedibjo. Apart from the not negligible problem of pronouncing his name, Maddow understands the importance in storytelling of not telling the same story twice. The story of Donald Trump and Setya Novanto is enough. You don’t need the additional story of Donald Trump and Hary Tanoesoedibjo to show that Trump’s business dealings are problematic; nor do you need quotations from experts on ethics (the Times cites Karen Hobart Flynn, the president of Common Cause, and Richard W. Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer) to convince us that they are. By reducing the story to its mythic fundamentals, Maddow creates the illusion of completeness that novels and short stories create. We feel that this is the story as we listen to and watch her tell it.One part of that assessment is plainly daft. Will Malcolm's reader really "notice that Maddow has been sparing in her use of the Times narrative?" Will that reader notice that "many characters that figure in the Times story are missing from Maddow’s?"
Of course she won't! That reader doesn't have the Times report in front of her as she reads Malcolm's lengthy essay.
That reader will have no idea what has or hasn't been omitted from the original Times report. Everyone on earth will know this, except our nation's best magazine writer in our loftiest magazine.
No, this doesn't actually matter. But the manifest dumbness of that statement is a disastrous sign of the times.
At any rate, Rachel Maddow understands that you don't tell the same story twice! On this basis, Malcolm tells us that Maddow has brilliantly "reduced the story [in the Times report] to its mythic fundamentals." Only in this age of IQ failure could a nation's brainiest magazine present so fatuous a point. But we live in a time of massive IQ failure—and this failure is very strong in the tents of our self-impressed, upper-class tribe.
According to Malcolm, Maddow "created the illusion of completeness that novels and short stories create" as she happily told her story this night. That strikes us as a silly assessment, but we let it stand.
That said, before we show you one of the ways Maddow achieved this sense of completeness, let's consider that magic word "happy," along with its evil twin "manic."
You'll have to watch the tape of that monologue to see if you think Maddow looked "happy" that night as she laughed, almost chortling, where her script said she should. To our eye, Maddow looked manic that night, and she still looks that way on the videotape.
Here's what happened when Malcolm asked about that, later in the profile:
A few years back, Maddow told several interviewers that she has had a life-long problem with "cyclical depression." Assuming this statement is true, this is a very unfortunate fact. No one should have to deal with such a punishing condition.
At some point, Malcolm asked Maddow about this. We were struck by several things Maddow said:
MALCOLM: Maddow has suffered from depression since childhood, and a few years ago she decided to allow this affliction a place in her non-TV persona by speaking about it in interviews. “It was a hard call,” she said. “Because it is nobody’s business. But it had been helpful to me to learn about the people who were surviving, were leading good lives, even though they were dealing with depression. So I felt it was a bit of a responsibility to pay that back.”Maddow suffers from painful bouts of depression—but she doesn't take medication, and she's not interested in seeking therapy. We have no idea if she should seek therapy, but we were struck by her reasons for deferring.
The depression comes in cycles. She doesn’t know how long a bout of depression will last—it can be one day or three weeks. She takes no medication, but expects that one day she will have to—“I will not have a choice.” But she dreads the thought of “a change to the psyche.”
“Is there a manic side?” I asked.
“Yes, but much less than when I was young. That has flattened a bit.”
“Have you had psychotherapy?”
“Are you afraid of changes to the psyche it might produce?”
“No. I’m just not interested. I’m happy to talk to you for this profile, because I’m interested in you and in this process. But, in general, talking about myself for an hour—it’s not something that I would pay for the privilege of. It just sounds like no fun.”
First, a loyal viewer has to chuckle at Maddow's original statement. As we've often noted, "talking about herself for an hour" often seems to be very thing Rachel Maddow likes best.
We're not sure we've ever seen any news anchor talk about herself so much. Maddow loves talking about herself! That said, note her other statements in that exchange:
She thinks therapy would be "no fun." Also, she thinks this topic is nobody's business.
Radiation treatments are no fun, but people frequently take them. Maddow's emphasis on the concept of "having fun" has long been a puzzling part of her on-air persona, dating back to the time when she told David Frum that she didn't want a more grown-up public discussion.
That said, is this matter nobody's business? We'd tend to disagree with that, because of the way this unfortunate condition may affect Maddow's work.
Do Maddow's intermittent manic states perhaps affect her work? To our eye, she seemed a bit manic on this very first night of the year. This may have affected her work in a way our best magazine writer blew right past, without notice.
As Maddow discussed Indonesia that night, she mesmerized Malcolm with a reference the star writer cites three times. Mercifully, we'll only show you Malcolm's first citation:
MALCOLM: Maddow then explained the properties of copper. She showed pictures of the Statue of Liberty, pennies, and wires. She talked about the “massive global appetite” for copper electrical wiring, and about a mining company called Freeport, based in Arizona, which is the world’s second-largest producer of copper. One of Freeport’s operations is in Indonesia, where it extracts gold and silver, as well as copper, from a mine that covers almost half a million acres. Maddow showed arrestingly beautiful photographs of the mine’s crater—which is so huge that it is not just visible from space but “easily visible.”Those photographs were arrestingly beautiful! Presumably, this added to the TV entertainment. Along with the constipation ads, the photos had Malcolm mesmerized.
That said, is that Indonesian copper mine really "so huge that it is not just visible from space but 'easily visible?' " Malcolm mentions this claim three separate times, partly because Maddow made it again and again in the course of the happy report, during which she laughed and almost chortled.
Maddow said it again and again, but is it actually true? In reality, as opposed to in Maddow's short story, is that copper mine "visible from space" at all, let alone "easily visible?"
It doesn't make any difference, of course, but no, it pretty much isn't. Unless we're talking about photographs taken with high-powered lenses!
Can we talk? Except in the realm of Cialis ads, Indonesia is barely visible from space, let alone easily so. Meanwhile, the NASA site which provided this arrestingly beautiful photograph is a NASA site, for crying out loud!
Using the tools of that NASA site, Janet Malcolm's backyard birdbath is "easily visible from space!" But so what? As she cited Maddow's claim three times, it didn't seem to occur to our best writer that she was citing a claim that pretty much didn't make sense.
That said, Maddow routinely makes inaccurate, doctored, massaged and misleading claims. It's just exactly as Malcolm said. Routinely, her program is a cable entertainment product, designed to make us liberals feel good, through use of the tools at hand.
It's hard to know what makes a person want to dissemble so much, but we wouldn't rule out the possibility that manic and depressive states are involved in the behavior. Also involved is the failing IQ of the famous magazine writer who keeps repeating a pleasing claim which is slightly absurd on its face.
In fairness, Janet Malcolm knew enough to disappear one of Maddow's statements. As the narcissistic entertainer finished her glorious segment that night, she returned to outer space for one final fly-by. She was speaking about Carl Icahn:
MADDOW (1/2/17): This new key member of the federal government, for whom they have invented a job without a formal portfolio, he is the single largest shareholder in that mining company, whose mines in Indonesia you can see from space.Maybe she was joking. But by now, you could see that giant huge mine from Mars! No, this possibly joking remark didn't make any difference. But even Malcolm knew enough to leave it out of her tale.
The company that did not pay the $4 billion shakedown price to that politician who is personally helping Donald Trump get richer in Indonesia as president. And now that company will presumably be in an excellent position to do whatever needs to be done to benefit whoever needs to be benefitted. You scratch my back. I scratch a giant hole in the earth that can be viewed from Mars.
Maddow embellishes a fair amount of the time. In the broken liberal realm, we never fact-check her remarks. We just enjoy the ride.
Sometimes when she comes on the air, she looks, to us, a bit manic. Her judgment strikes us as rather poor a fair amount of the time.
None of this matters to someone like Malcolm, who's in it for "TV entertainment at its finest." In this age when we've come face to face with the dangerously low IQ of our failed elites, she is sitting in her home, mesmerized by a storyteller and by her Cialis ads.
Tomorrow: "Now she put it [the canister lid] on her head." Unvarnished praise for the stupidest show of the year