LESSONS CONCERNING THE FALL: The Rachel figure's baby-poop play!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2017

Part 4—How we got Trump-level dumb:
For the record, this week's reports weren't supposed to be about Rachel Maddow.

(Having said that, we aren't among the cable star's biggest fans.)

Instead, this week's reports were intended to be about Janet Malcolm, "the nation's best magazine writer." But mostly, they're supposed to be about the intellectual standards of a well-known upper-class publication, The New Yorker.

By extension, it seems to us that these reports concern a broader subject. They concern the intellectual standards which have obtained, in recent decades, all through our upper-end press corps.

Those intellectual standards have been extremely low. Last week, they led us very close to the place often described as "rock bottom."

They led us to an astounding assessment of Maddow's weeknight TV show. At the start of Janet Malcolm's ridiculous profile of Rachel Maddow, the nation's best magazine writer strangely and weirdly wrote this:
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.
Those are the second and third paragraphs of Malcolm's endless profile. We've posted those paragraphs three times now. We've done so, or at least so we hope, for an obvious reason.

Those paragraphs help create a record of the level of journalistic intelligence which has obtained during the era which led us, on a long and winding road, all the way down to President Trump. So far, we've asked two questions about those paragraphs:

First, how could any journalist, let alone "the nation's best magazine writer," possibly offer such manifest dreck?

Also, much more significantly:

How is it possible that any publication, let alone the lofty New Yorker, could even consider putting such manifest nonsense in print?

Speaking directly just this once, those paragraphs describe the TV viewing experience of someone who no longer seems to be cogent. She doesn't just say that she's "mesmerized" by the Cialis and constipation ads which pay the bills for Maddow's program, though that would be crazy enough.

She also says that the Maddow Show is a nightly "piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show." She says this putative cable news show is actually an entertainment product—"TV entertainment at its finest"—designed to let liberals "enjoy themselves" during these dangerous Trump-riddled times. Most astoundingly, she goes on to praise this TV program's multimillionaire host for working this sleight of hand. She praises Maddow for giving us this delicious experience, which has melded in the journalist's mesmerized head with those Cialis ads.

Stating what is blindingly obvious, that passage seems to have been written by someone who may no longer be fully cogent. This leaves us grappling with the larger question:

Why in the world? Why would one of the nation's loftiest journals choose to publish such work?

Our answer to that is rather simple; this is where things have gone. This is where the culture has gone in the twenty years which have passed since we started designing this site, a move we undertook because we were already astounded by the low intellectual levels on display within our upper-end press.

There was no President Trump at that time, though we already had Speaker Gingrich. When we watched the press corps spend more than a year trying to answer a certain question, we felt the system-wide intellectual squalor could no longer be ignored.

What question were they trying, and failing, to answer? The question in question was this:

Was the GOP proposing cuts in the Medicare program? Or were they proposing that we simply slow the rate at which the program would grow?

For more than a year, we watched our nation's reporters and pundits, performing on Crossfire, trying and failing to answer that question. Twenty years ago this month, we had already decided that we were appalled as Hell and just couldn't take it any more.

Twenty years have passed since that time, and now we have Malcolm's profile. She's mesmerized by Cialis ads, which she has committed to memory, and by Maddow's sleight of hand, of which she heartily approves.

At The New Yorker, David Remnick seemed to think this manifest inanity made sense.

In case you haven't noticed it yet, you simply can't run a large modern nation this way. And yet, if we might borrow from the poet, "And yet, this is us." It has been so for many years!

Originally, we thought we could critique Malcolm's essay in one week of reports. We've come to believe that there's too much of value in Malcolm's essay for us to quit today.

We want to consider Malcolm's treatment of two of the dumbest TV shows of all time—the TV shows Maddow aired on October 29 and 30, 2014. The sheer stupidity of those shows was truly a Thing 1 and Thing 2 for the ages—and Malcolm seems completely unable to see this.

That said, we also want to consider a phenomenon to which Malcolm approvingly refers. That would be, in Malcolm's words, Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure," an essential piece of the "sleight of hand" of which Malcolm approves.

Malcolm sees Maddow engaging in this "performance" during the time when she's on the air. Ir seems to us that Maddow may also have been "performing the Rachel figure" during her interviews with Malcolm, in ways which seem to have flown right past Malcolm's ear.

The "performance of the Rachel figure" is a basic part of the "sleight of hand" to which Malcolm refers. It's part of the "TV entertainment" which Maddow provides each night.

It's also part of the dumbing-down which has led our failing nation to its current perilous state. We're not sure if that dumbnified state is survivable at this point, but we think this ludicrous New Yorker essay helps us establish the historical record before Senator Corker's impending World War III quickly takes us all down.

Next week, we'll explore the various ways in which Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure" seems to pop up in this long, ridiculous essay. We'll start with the ludicrous pair of performances from October 2014 which Malcolm introduces 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.”
As Maddow favored us gullible liberals with that silly talk about the baby poop color, she was, of course, entertaining us. But unmistakably, she was also "performing the Rachel figure."

Along with the work of many other corporate employees, Maddow's performance of this figure has made us increasingly stupid. The work of these grabbers has made us so dumb that a magazine writer who's now 83 wrote the following manifest nonsense, which got published at the start of a very long essay in our loftiest mainstream journal:
MALCOLM: 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.
That was published last week in The New Yorker. Our question:

How did our nation ever reach this baby-poop-colored point?

We'll continue exploring that question next week. Given the way we humans are thrown, your lizard brain may offer complaints every step of the way.

Coming Monday: "She had been hugging the biggest cannister. Now she removed its lid and put it on her head."

36 comments:

  1. What Bob is noticing with Malcolm's article isn't new. I've been reading the New Yorker for a long time. For many years this magazine had contained intelligent, sensitive reviews, beautifully written fiction, and charming, insightful essays, but its political coverage was just dumb, hard left.

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  2. I don't know if ad hominem hurts or helps or hurts but it, is certainly the order of the day here and, with more sadness than sausage, it is impossible to escape, the fact, Bob Somerby's is an idiot.

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  3. "Why in the world? Why would one of the nation's loftiest journals choose to publish such work?"

    First, New Yorker is not one of the nation's loftiest journals. It is the place New Yorkers go to get movie reviews.

    Second, they are a weekly publication. That means they have a lot of pages to fill.

    Third, talented writers have a lot more choices about where to publish their work these days, with the increase in online media, just as readers have more places to go to read specialized info on topics of interest.

    Fourth, Malcolm is 80+ and writes for New Yorker out of a sentimental attachment. She doesn't intend her piece to be anything more than a puff piece about a popular cable celebrity. Treating it as if it should be more is inappropriate.

    Fifth, I can see criticizing the piece itself, but what on earth justifies Somerby heaping the kind of abuse on Malcolm, the person, the way he has this past week? That's obscene when you consider he is attacking an 84 year old writer who is past her prime but still trying to be useful in life. What a wretched person Somerby is!

    The difficulty for publications of all types is clutter. There is too much competing for people's attention. Few people read ads on purpose. You have to embed them in something else people will read. What attracts people's attention? Things that are fun, sexy, or appeal to them in some other way (ego enhancing, shocking, fear-evoking, etc). Malcolm tried for entertaining. What the fuck is wrong with that?

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    Replies
    1. In many ways Bob still thinks it is 1965, and the New Yorker is for highbrows. Or that there are still highbrows.

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    2. Silly rabbit -- the New Yorker is for cartoons.

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    3. Writers and aspiring writers really want to be published in the New Yorker, whether or not they writer fiction or non-fiction. If you are published in the New Yorker, it means you have made it and are taken seriously. The New Yorker is very provincial, but to be taken seriously as a writer you basically have to live in NYC.

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    4. Damn, that was masterfully written, truly. I couldn’t tell if I was being trolled, the jury is still out. I stumble when I get to this:

      “Fourth, Malcolm is 80+…” And then “…he is attacking an 84 year old…”

      Wait, is it 80+ or 84? Are you being paid by the letter, or the word? Damn, I would love that gig, whatever the scale.

      “She doesn't intend her piece to be anything more than a puff piece…”

      Some writers think it is a mistake to use the same word twice in one sentence, unless it’s meant for effect. I digress.

      Question: If it was a puff piece, why did it go on for 84+ paragraphs?

      “Malcolm tried for entertaining…”

      So goes our discourse.

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    5. If you are in training to be a Somerby intern you've got it nailed. No one else cares about nit-picking immaterial details in an off-the-cuff blog comment.

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    6. “If you are in training to be a Somerby intern you've got it nailed. No one else cares about nit-picking immaterial details in an off-the-cuff blog comment.”

      I actually thought he post was really well-written and thought out. And I know I have come off like a dick, especially since I didn’t focus on the things that really bothered me about it. Bob already did that, and I added nothing to the discussion. Guilty as charged. I will try to do better.

      But I loved this quote from Malcom’s piece:
      Maddow: “I think I am a liberal.”

      Hm. Reminds me of the Moody Blues's “In the Beginning,” where a disembodied voice says “I think. Therefore I am. I think.”

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  4. What probably bothers Bob is that Maddow, whether you like her performance ticks are not, is reporting on things that my take down Trump and save the Country, things others won't report on.

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  5. https://newrepublic.com/article/145277/bernie-sanders-isnt-winning-local-elections-left

    The shorter summary is that Bernie is stepping into these local elections and getting credit for victories that have been earned by grassroots efforts that have been a long time in the making. The author sees Bernie as the result, not the creator, of a leftward movement. One of the people the media is crediting as a Bernie win voted for Clinton in the primaries.

    This discussion seems to support the contention that a Bernie/establishment Democrat split within the Democratic party is more an invention of the media (and a few Bros) than a reality on the ground.

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    1. Actually the main reason Maddow is held in high regard nowadays is because she offers us to understand any more about life around us and about our own mental workings. She offers theoretical constructs for which there is no concrete evidence and the nature of her presentations are more revealing media itself than any of its viewers. She certainly served critical roles in allowing liberalism and Democrats to be where they are today but is no longer seen as infallably correct.

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  6. David, how well is Mr Trump managing our relations with Russia?

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    Replies
    1. You are laboring under the misapprehension that Comrade DinC gives a shit. He doesn't. Treason is just AOK with comrade DinC. We've been through this too many times already. DinC can cut the act finally, once and for all. He doesn't get to wear the American flag on his lapel anymore. He doesn't get to play the patriot card anymore. He has forfeited that claim from now until the day his sorry ass dies.

      Trump Just Blew Off a Deadline for Implementing Russian Sanctions He Approved

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    2. Caesar -- I have no particular insight or feelings about how Trump is dealing with Russia.

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    3. David, his name is Christopher Steele.

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  7. There's no question that Maddow wears a mask on camera and probably off too. This is the source of her depression. The mask hides her true self. She may not know who she is and may be afraid to confront it. This explains her dickish, dumb behavior. It is obvious to some of us and less obvious to others and of course many are oblivious. She will be set free when she confronts who she really is.

    I disagree with Bob. I think we will survive. Well, 'we' meaning rich people. The poor are in for a hell of a slog.

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  8. Why doesn't Somerby just rename his blog to "the daily anti-Maddow blog"?
    "Maddow bad, liberals bad, tune in tomorrow."

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    Replies
    1. I'm not above suspicion. I won't attack you but I won't back you

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  10. "How did our nation ever reach this baby-poop-colored point?"

    Why, what do you expect from a place where the inmates (liberals, that is) are running the asylum: Exclusive: Even Pokémon Go used by extensive Russian-linked meddling effort!

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    1. Russia doesn't like Mr Trump's Iran policy.

      http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-russia-ministry/russia-says-trumps-aggressive-stance-on-iran-doomed-to-fail-idUSKBN1CI2OH

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    2. Trump and his thugs are liberals?

      Time to return to the Farm for some re-education, Misha.

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    3. "the inmates (liberals, that is) are running the asylum"
      That would surprise the liberals. Somehow they manage to run things while having no power. Sounds like an insane statement, or one made by a sinister official from the Trump office of disinformation.

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    4. Your Russian paymasters are liberals, 'Mao' ?

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  11. "How did our nation ever reach this baby-poop-colored point? "
    I would suggest that it's not solely due to the mainstream media, if by "mainstream media" Somerby means mainly CNN, MSNBC, and The NY Times. There are other vast forces out there, which are ignored here by design. Thus Somerby's answer to his own question is likely to be incomplete.
    (How many more poop-throwing Maddow posts are there going to be?)

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    1. Check the archives. He's got a million of 'em.

      "So goes our discourse."

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  12. As far as I am concerned, Bob went insane back in 2000 or so. His anger over the press for attacking Gore in 2000 manifests itself in his attacking Maddow (who wasn't even involved in campaign 2000) and other NYC journalists incessantly. For some reason, he fails to attack Fox News. He defends Trump gallantly.

    So, instead of his oft repeated phrase 'We liberals', Somerby should say 'We Trumptards', since he is now a true Trumptard.

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  13. Bob Asks 'How we got Trump level dumb'. Simple -- because of people like Bob who think it's very important to attack Maddow and defend Trump.

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  14. One of the signposts on this road to ruin was the idiot - Brian Williams? - who said that before his newsroom made a decision on how to cover a story they always asked themselves, "What would Tim think"?

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  15. I think I've finally figured it out. Somerby refuses to acknowledge that Maddow is an entertainer, not a journalist. More, he objects to her being an entertainer. He is desperate to somehow change her into a journalist and his weekly rants are a desperate plea to a higher power to changer her into a journalist. You'd be better off patronizing a temple prostitute to gain favor with Baal. It ain't gonna happen. If Maddow offends you so much why do you keep watching her? Are you mesmerized? I would no more expect to get actual news from Maddow than I would from the bizarre Wossisname at Duck Dynasty. Same with the entertainment channel that broadcasts her. They are not journalists and they do not provide factual information; they are an entertainment enterprise and their sole goal is to make money. Accept it and decide what you want to do.

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