Sunday, December 31, 2006

They Write Books

Every Christmas in recent memory, I've received at least one of the latest batch of pop left-liberal books (Al Franken, Michael Moore, etc.). Apparently this has become the default present for me--and I suppose it's true that leftism and bibliophilia are two of my most prominent characteristics. I'm always glad to read these books, but perhaps not for the intended reasons. I never feel like I actually learn anything from them directly, but only at one degree of remove: I learn something about the projected image of leftish ideas in popular culture. Which is something worth knowing, of course.

In any event, I just finished this year's acquisition, Keith Olbermann's book version of The Worst Person In The World, based on the segment of his MSNBC show in which he runs down the most egregious atrocities of the day, which frequently involve Bill O'Reilly. I definitely enjoyed it; some parts literally made me laugh out loud, which is rare for a book. I even learned some things from it. I hadn't heard that an autistic kid from my district of birth, SE Portland, had been recruited for the Army. The recruiters earned the anti-honors, which were probably richly deserved; I'm not certain that all forms of autism ought to disqualify a person from all forms of military service, since some people with the condition can be quite functional, but still.

I did have a few qualms about the book. I hate to criticize Olbermann, whose show is the one shining light of reason in the darkness of cable news. But, as the Destroyer song says, you've got to stay critical or die.

From minor to semi-major:

1) This may be pedantic and/or unreasonable of me, but I find it somewhat annoying that Olbermann frequently awards the anti-honors to corporate entities--by which I mean not just commercial corporations like Coca-Cola, but organizations like FEMA and the DHS. Firstly, this annoys me because, Supreme Court notwithstanding, corporations are not people. Secondly, it seems like a cop-out, in a way. In every case of corporate/institutional malfeasance, there is some particular person or group of persons who is personally responsible. If you're going to give anti-honors on the basis of some FEMA fuckup, for instance, why not give them to the particular people responsible?

2) Many of the "worsts" hardly seem worst-ish to me. I realize that the main point of the segment is humor, but surely there was a worse person on that particular day than the woman who stole a parrot from a pet shop and traded it for a Kharman Ghia. The parrot was unharmed, and surely theft isn't a big enough crime to qualify for worstness. (The fact that someone, somewhere, once traded a parrot for a Kharman Ghia is truly wonderful, though; the whole thing sounds like something from a Pynchon novel.)

3) While I suppose the book is good for those (like me!) who have no cable, it's just about 100% redundant with the TV show; the text, apart from the intro, is literally just a straight transcript of the show. This seems a bit half-assed.

4) I worry a bit about Olbermann's obsession with O'Reilly. I find the Falafel Man as reprehensible as Olbermann does, but I wonder whether he's really worth all the effort. It's not going to change him, except for the worse (i.e., more defensive), or convert any of his followers. And it's only funny for the rest of us for so long.

5) Most seriously: I find it deeply vexing that Olbermann never gives top anti-honors to one of the most obvious and deserving candidates: President Bush. I can only guess about his reasons for this omission. I can think of two, neither of which seems sufficient to justify it to me.

Fistly, he might simply think that Bush's various transgressions aren't funny enough to put in the segment. He explains in the intro that the worsts detailed within aren't literally the worst people in the world, who would surely all be tyrants and murderers, but those who commit offenses against decency and good taste and civility, who are much more fun to talk about. This is fine, and might be a good reason not to talk, in this segment, about Bush's worst crimes, like waging aggressive war, authorizing torture and indefinite detention without habeas corpus, etc. But these are hardly his only offenses; Bush commits offenses against decency all the time, some of which are quite funny. Why not talk about those?

Secondly, he might think that it would be unpatriotic, inappropriate, or maybe even dangerous, to say on national television that the POTUS was the worst person in the world. I refuse to accept this as a legitimate excuse. If the president is, as is pretty clearly the case, one of the worst people in the world, it's the opposite of unpatriotic to point this out. Sometimes, presidents suck; it's important that someone point this out so that everyone knows that something should be done about it. It might be dangerous, in the sense of prompting outraged censure, and maybe death threats, from a substantial portion of the population. But that portion of the population is insane. Should we really hold back from saying things that need to be said for the sake of preserving the peace of mind of irrational people?

1 comment:

M.J. O'Brien said...

You ask: "Should we really hold back from saying things that need to be said for the sake of preserving the peace of mind of irrational people?"

Come to think of it, this is a fair description of the Democratic party.