Part 3—Found humor, real life, The Crazy: On the one hand, the opening to the pundit's third memoir can be viewed as found humor.
For the record, the pundit in question isn't just any pundit. This pundit is Mika Brzezinski, "co-host" of the influential show, Morning Joe, at least on the mornings when she actually shows up.
Yesterday, we listed the titles, and the secret subject matter, of the three memoirs in question. According to Brzezinski's second memoir, the books were written as part of a deal to provide her with the high income she so richly deserves.
As noted yesterday, Brzezinski's third memoir bears this title: Obsessed: America's Food Addiction—And My Own. In the book, Brzezinski says that she has been tormented by obsessive over-eating, and by a concomitant addiction to exercise, ever since she was 13 years old.
As such, this third memoir gives us a look at a deeply troubled bit of real life—at years of torment which began when the author was still a child.
Of all our pundits, we'll have to admit, we find it hardest to empathize with Brzezinski, for a list of reasons we may yet find time to discuss. But this story starts with a 13-year-old child who doesn't feel at home within her own high-achieving family—whose mother still ridicules her lack of smarts, in public settings, even now, when the unhappy child has become an adult.
(Page 28, Obsessed: "After two years at Georgetown I transferred to Williams College. My mother likes to tell people that I had the lowest SAT scores of anyone who ever got into that college.")
Decent people don't want children to suffer. That said, the opening to this third memoir almost insists on being seen as found humor, even after the reader knows the story of the lost child.
In this book, Brzezinski says she's finally going "to come clean" about her life-long struggle. That said, the book begins in a way which is so tone deaf, in so Brzezinski-esque a way, that it must be cataloged as a type of unintentional humor.
How can someone as skinny and hot as Brzezinski be writing a book about over-eating? That's the question with which the author struggles as she opens the Introduction to this third book. To set the scene, we'll start with the first three paragraphs of an unintentionally comical five-paragraph passage:
BRZEZINSKI (page 1): As I have moved through the process of writing this book—drafts, edits, revisions, etc.—I’ve sought the unvarnished opinions of friends, colleagues, and family members to answer a question that has troubled me from the beginning: How does a person who is not overweight write about her lifelong obsession with overeating without sounding like a narcissistic, woe-is-me skinny girl with an overinflated image of herself, particularly to those who share her obsession with food but happen to be overweight, or even obese?Poor Mika! She starts this book with the air of grievance which animates much of her punditry. People will call her a "privileged skinny bitch" for writing a book of this type! Her opinion won't be welcome! Given how hot and slender she is, there's nothing she could possibly do to get around this problem!
I can report back to you that the answer to my question was almost unanimous: you can’t. No matter what you say or how you say it, you’re going to sound like a privileged skinny bitch with food issues. Oh yeah, and a TV show. And a woman who was born into a wonderful, prominent family and has a blessed life.
None of that suggests any kinship with the legion of suffering women whose debilitating relationship with food actually shows when they stand in front of the mirror in their closet. Yours doesn’t, so your opinion is not necessarily welcome here.
You'll note that we've already been told, two separate times, that Mika is very thin. As the opening passage continues, we're rewarded with the world-class unintentional humor:
BRZEZINSKI (continuing directly): So here’s the deal. I get it. I am acutely aware of the eye-rolling derision with which many may view my role in this book. I stipulate up front that a good degree of my success in life was gained through my appearance. I did not earn my genetic makeup, any more than I chose the family I was born into.Mika is just so freaking hot! To read the full passage, click here.
I am a lucky woman, and I know it.
Due to her genetic makeup, Mika is so freaking hot—and so thin! That said, she understands how lucky she is to look the amazing way she does. It's all because of those fabulous genes, the genes that keep her thin.
She shouldn't get credit for being so thin and so hot. It's part of her "blessed life!"
We'll call that passage found humor. And just in case anyone thought the reference to those amazing genes was some sort of slip, she restates the point two paragraphs later, modestly saying that her low weight—115 pounds, she suggests—can be attributed to "fortunate genetics."
Mika is a lucky woman, and very thin, because of her wonderful genes!
If an American Museum of Tone Deafness is ever built on the National Mall, the opening passage to this book should be featured right there in the lobby. Even as she talks her tough talk about being viewed as a "skinny bitch," Mika seems to be working overtime to earn that (unfortunate) label.
The tone deafness here is remarkable. That said, Mika litters this book with testimonials to her own incredible hotness—testimonials from many others, and from Mika herself. Even though an unfortunate, real-life story is playing out beneath the surface, it's hard to read this tone deaf book without chuckling at the sheer persistence of the unintended humor.
Mika's incredible hotness is a persistent theme of this book. Sometimes Mika describes the hotness herself. Perhaps more often, she quotes other people doing it.
By page 14, she explains what happened when, in a remarkably ill-advised episode, she waits until she's in the middle of Long Island Sound, in a small boat with her cowering children, to tell her best friend, "co-author" Diane Smith, that Smith isn't just fat, she's obese.
Did we mention the fact that Mika dropped this bomb out in the middle of Long Island Sound? As the girls cower in the small boat with their father and with Smith's husband, Mika and Smith go at it. In this passage, Mika shares one part of what was said by her angry, embarrassed best friend:
BRZEZINSKI (page 14): "Oh please, Mika! You sit there in your Daisy Duke shorts looking incredible, and you tell me how hard your life is? Why don;t you try talking to me when you start wearing size XXL stretch pants—then you can complain. Any woman I know would kill to look like you. You really can't look me in the face and say that you struggle."As any journalist would do, Mika is simply recording Smith's remarks on the day which eventually led to this book. At any rate, two paragraphs later, Smith's tribute to Mika's amazingness continues:
BRZEZINSKI: "Seriously, Mika, what would you know about being fat?" she continued. "You won the freaking lottery: great job, perfect body, and an amazing life. You walk into the room and every overweight woman dismisses you as a skinny bitch. Do you have any idea how how women who look like me feel about women who look like you?"Did we mention the fact that these are best friends? At any rate, Mika is back to being an incredibly hot "skinny bitch" in this passage. (The b-bomb is part of the bracing "tough talk" at various points in this book.)
These testimonials to Mika's hotness are found throughout the book. On page 21, at the start of Chapter One, a United States senator is conscripted into service. Chapter One starts like this:
BRZEZINSKI (page 21): If you struggle with weight, I know what you're thinking.Mika goes on to say that her "outspoken stance on obesity" has subjected her to tons of abuse on-line.
Really? You, Mika? What can you possibly know about my problems?
That's what Diane thought, and it's what Senator Claire McCaskill thought, too. The Democrat from Missouri said that right to my face; blurted it out in front of a thpusand people on stage at the Annual Congressional Dinner of the Washington Press Foundation. "Mika, you look so beautiful sitting there in your size two dress. We have all noticed . . . your strong and consistent message of better eating and more exercise. And I would like to say, on behalf of all the middle-aged overweight women in America, JUST . . . SHUT . . . UP!"
These testimonials to Mika's hotness continue all through the book. They're mixed with testimonials to her tremendous skills as a journalist, and to her "brains and ability" (Donny Deutsch), even to her "brilliance" (Margo Maine, a nationally known specialist in eating disorders).
Also mentioned is the very hot wardrobe for which Mika seems to believe she is known. ("I am known for wearing body-hugging sleeveless dresses with very high heels on TV," she writes at one point. In 2012, though, she says she was "not wearing my trademark sleeveless dresses as much" because she'd gained some weight. You can see this, Mika reports, if you watch the videotape from TV.)
The tone deaf quotient is so high that this third book could probably fill that museum all by itself. And yes—behind these tone-deaf songs of self, there lies the struggle of a 13-year-old child.
That said, it's impossible to read this book without being overwhelmed by the world-class, humorous cluelessness found in the endless string of comically tone deaf remarks. The child's story seems to be very sad. The adult's writing is unintentionally comic.
Whitman celebrated himself; Brzezinski does so too. Behind her song is the pain of a child, but the pain of that child has given issue to an incredibly tone deaf adult.
It seems to us that the adult is also blind to the shape of her own life. On page 1, we're told that Mika has "a blessed life." Instantly though, on page 3, though, a reader is also told this:
BRZEZINSKI (page 3): This is the book I have been afraid to write … terrified actually. It deals with an issue that is radioactive for me. How I eat, diet, and look has tied me up in knots my entire life, and I know I am not alone. I have been held hostage by food since I was thirteen years old. My body started filling out more than the figures of other girls in my class, and that set off what has become a thirty-year battle with my body image. Food has been my enemy. My determination to be thin has led me to extremes, and I’ve done damage to my body and my mind in the process.By any normal standard, the person who wrote that passage hasn't exactly led "a blessed life." She's done damage to her own body and mind. At age 46, after thirty-three years, her battle still wasn't over.
It has taken me a very long time to find a way back to health and balance, both physically and emotionally. I’m not there yet, but I’ve come a long way, and it’s time that I have the guts to talk about it...
Brzezinski's three memoirs are full of puzzling anecdotes, peculiar claims, and entertainingly instant self-contradictions. That said, the largest contradiction lies right there, in the opening pages of this third (3rd!) memoir.
Perhaps because of her apparent addiction to money, fame and external success, Brzezinski is able to think that the decades of torment she describes constitutes "a blessed life." This same peculiar calculation animated her first book, in which she instructs young women to do as she did, after several hundred pages which seem to describe a type of hell on earth.
For this reason, we'd say there are at least three ways these revealing books can be read. Yes, they come to us straight from real life, from a difficult life whose torments began when the author was 13 years old.
These books can also be read as Whitmanesque samplers of inintentional humor. In the end, the most sympathetic reader has to put these books down and laugh at the tone-deaf presentations and weird stories which appear throughout.
Here's a third possible reading:
Brzezinski seems to have a very hard time seeing the outline of her own life. Along with all the anecdotes which don't seem to make sense, there is this persistent failure to see the overall shape of these real-life events.
This leaves us with a question:
How can the person who wrote these books possibly be a major political analyst? It's almost like this is another part of The Major Crazy which lies behind our failing discourse, from Sally Quinn's hexes on down.
Tomorrow: Loving Trump, 2015