Monday, December 08, 2008

Bill O’Reilly Leaves the Radio Air Waves.

“…Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice 'cause they think that it's treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio.”
From “Radio, Radio”
-Elvis Costello, 1978

Elvis was singing about punk bands being cut off the radio in his own England, but I’ve always thought these words had broader relevance.

I don’t like looking at fellow living human beings as though I were an anthropologist, but it’s hard not to get analytical about the “punditry cults”.

Bill O’Reilly is an interesting case. He differs from his colleagues at Fox News Channel like Sean Hannity; who presents himself as a “Conservative news analyst” who is there to “balance” the assumedly Liberal/Left/Progressive slanted mainstream news media. Sean Hannity purports to give opposing viewpoints “thorough” examination. Hannity feigns debate with calculated theatricality against Alan Colmes, who offers no real intelligent opposition to any argument. Alan Comes “wins” arguments for Sean Hannity and his Conservative audience by presenting weak arguments that ensure “victory”. But at the very least Sean Hannity identifies himself as a “Conservative”… for all that it can mean in today’s America.

Bill O’Reilly is another horse, of another color, weight and heft. Bill O’Reilly claims to be the independent voice that could conceivably look at any side of a question without ideology or agenda and fairly decide the morality and truth of the matter and give you his “unbiased opinion”. One is supposed to believe him, after all, what does an “Independent” have to gain by leaning toward one side or another?

The answer is “plenty,” if said “Independent” is in fact a Right-leaning ideologue.

I say “Right-leaning” because Bill O’Reilly is not as relentlessly doctrinaire as other notables in Fox News Corp.’s roster. He supports a woman’s right to choose in regard to abortion and he is against the death penalty. While these are not the traditional stances (They are in fact deal-breakers for most Social Conservatives) they are not positions that he ever articulates or devotes entire programs to, as he does other subjects such as identifying people he sees as enemies of America for example, or a danger to American culture. Claiming to be an Independent with a couple of unconventional stances that mark him squarely out of the mainstream of mainstream Conservatism allows O’Reilly to push this charade of “independence” with a straight face, and it allows his audience to pretend they are not being manipulated, but rather informed by a non-partisan analyst.

Bill O’Reilly is registered as a Republican voter. Who in the world really believes this man is an Independent after his “coverage” of the Bush administration?

Bill O’Reilly’s appeal is one of the more fascinating phenomena of the contemporary news media age. It is the manifestation and manipulation of the desires of the suburban working class blocks that I have written about at length, but it is also something more…

Americans have always been a culture that at once feared and loathed intellect and yet never has felt as smart or sophisticated as it felt it should. Decades of Americans playing caddy to European culture and ideological movements are evidence of this, regardless of the actual some time pre-eminence or irrelevance of those self-same achievements in European arts, culture and sciences. Most Americans have always wanted to be smarter, yet we loathe information, facts, math or data that isn’t tied to organized sports or some form of entertainment. Nobody knows the jobless rate in their state, the APRs on their credit cards or the size of the national debt. Everybody knows the ERAs of the pitchers in the starting rotation of their baseball team, the batting averages of its lead off batters and how much each of those players signed for.

The Dark Knight has grossed $500 million at the United States box office as of September… I don’t know the jobless rate in the state of New York but Alex Rodriguez batted .302 with 103 RBIs in 2008

Yes. Yep, me too. Guilty as charged. I wish I was smarter too. Everyone wants to be. But most of us will settle for just feeling smart. This is where Bill O’Reilly comes in and metastasizes in the public square. His booming voice fills the vacuum of insecurity and public ignorance of policy and history. People listen to Bill O’Reilly not to gain new information, but to be buoyed by a fellowship with someone they perceive as smart. If an intelligent person shares your fears and your hatred, no matter how irrational you may suspect your own fears to be, you “feel” more secure in your worldview. Again, it’s only natural. When the late Stephen Jay Gould exposed the Bell Curve for the utter nonsense that it was, I certainly felt that much more secure in my own convictions, however independently reached. So it is with Bill O’Reilly.
That this kind of associative, transferred reckoning is a natural even instinctive impulse does not make it sound reasoning. It is “non-thought,” a kind of absent-minded mimicry more suited to parrots and other trained animals who repeat as they are instructed to, in hopes of some reward.

If you think I’m being too judgmental, tell me exactly what the purpose of the daily “Talking Points Memo” is?

Now he’s leaving the afternoon drive. Bill O’Reilly is abandoning that interstate thruway of misplaced frustrations and malleable hatreds. What will people who don’t have the nerve to think for themselves do now? The sound of their own voices inside their own heads will be deafening. All that time in traffic… thinkingquestioning… with no one to tell them how to feel and how to think. Who will tell them they’re “not uninformed”? Who will assure Americans that they are right about everything they want to believe?

There’s always Glenn Beck.


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