It feels pretty strange to have made that offhand comment at the end of my last entry, and then to see it come to pass last night. I was actually watching "The Woman in the Window," Fritz Lang's noir femme fatale opus with Edward G. Robinson. Libby came in and said Keith Olbermann just signed off his show. We were both pretty stunned for the rest of the evening, and I never saw the end of "Window." My first thought was that it didn't take even a week. But it may be that Comcast is too early to be a factor at all. Certainly there have been other similar moments where effective, engaging television personalities have abruptly left the stage. Dave Chappelle, for example, shocked his audience by basically disappearing. Back in the day, Jack Paar shocked his devoted viewers at least twice with resignations. (He was the guy who did the Tonight Show before Johnny, kids.) Paar was a lot like Olbermann, come to think of it. Politics was just as brutal then, but Paar was willing to talk politics, and more than that, willing to be open-minded and run his show at a level that would be interesting to people able to read good novels. His guests included a reformed heroin addict/comedian who had written a book called "May This House Be Safe from Tigers," and who argued on the air that the problem with heroin wasn't the addictive nature of the drug, but the fact that it was, in it's illegality, a source of much crime and destruction. There was jazz. There was (I'm guessing, but I'll bet I'm right) Norman Mailer. And this was back when the politics was submerged--Eisenhower was President when he started, and JFK when he left--'57 to '62. Hedy times.
The first thing I did when Libby told me Olbermann was dark was to click over to Fox. Sure enough, Hannity was still there. It wasn't some kinder gentler space beam focused on the industrial/media complex by our Martian overlords. Olbermann's departure will sorely damage the pundit lineup of shows at MSNBC. While Maddow has many nights done wonderful work, her interviews with Pelosi and Steele have been little different from interviews Brian Williams or even Chris Wallace might have accomplished. (Wallace would of course have been more grating.) Pushing Ed Schultz to 10 pm is unfortunate, and he made reference last night to being unwilling to change his tone, which might be a hint of things to come. Cenk, who now appears in Ed's former slot, I personally find boring. O'Donnell is sometimes excellent--his argument with the gun fetishist this past week was worthwhile if little more than a shouting match--but he's what is called a "Villager." Same with Matthews--it depends on the segment. Olbermann was dependable: and one of the most important things he did was to offer resistance to the constant pressure applied by the right wing pundits towards the end of the Big Lie--a pressure which is effective as we can see, and which is so powerful that it's gotten to the point that a Democratic Tennessee congressman can't even point out that Goebbels perfected the science of it without being called down and forced to apologize for bringing the Nazis into the conversation.
Once when I had a tooth pulled the anesthetic seemed to have a depressive effect on me for a few days. Suddenly my whole life seemed dark, a series of failures and pointless efforts towards nothing. I constantly felt like weeping. And, after about 48 hours, this emotional cloud simply lifted and vanished, and things looked pretty much as the do, day in day out. Which was how I determined that perhaps it was the effects of the anesthetic, added to the small fact that losing a tooth is in some ways a sad moment, because after all, we are familiar in the most intimate way with our teeth, and do not really think of them as having shorter life-spans than, well, "us." Anyways--my immediate sense after the Olbermann departure what that this is the tip of the iceburg of corporate dominance of our political life here in America. Certainly it is in a large if vague sense corporate power that funds the Big Lie of Right Wing punditry. Certainly the FCC in this merger has ruled on the side of contentless "business," versus considering that the Right Wing "noise machine" might need to be countered by a voice like Olbermann's. As far as the teevee business goes, probably a large majority of viewers would be delighted with sports, "womens shows," late night soft porn, and a weather forecast now and then. Break in for the thrice a year serious disaster coverage--the tsunami, the hurricane, the outrageous rather than commonplace multiple murder--that's all most viewers really want, and what most viewers will accept. I have relatives who keep the telly on during all waking hours, tuned to Fox, sound off, the constant scroll of horrors at the bottom of the screen a backdrop to whatever conversation or task is occurring in the somewhat overheated kitchen-living room smelling faintly of cabbage where they live their lives of quiet desperation. I presume these nice folks to be pretty typical Americans. The Supreme Court has already ruled that corporations are citizens, and can give unlimited funds to political campaigns. The idea that money is power is possibly a tautological truth. Already many interesting ideas are utterly marginalized politically, no matter that they may now and then be considered in the museum of the college graduate seminar. James Galbraith's notion that we should lower the age of social security eligibility so that older workers can retire and open jobs for younger folks is so intelligent it is never even seriously mentioned by politicians--and certainly not by Republicans. Not to mention that over the Reagan decades, social security has been made so pitiful that actually living on it in retirement is now pretty much impossible. We can, however, afford two wars and plans for more wars, and a tax cut for the richest amongst us.
It should be understood, at least, that there really are two worlds in the US of 2011. In the world of those top two percent, everything which in an ordinary person's is a subject of budgeting planning, of endless payments on time, of choosing this essential or that, all of this stuff is, practically speaking, FREE. Oh, it's possible for a millionaire to actually blow it. Now and then it happens. Mike Tyson pretty much blew his fortune through endless stupid decisions. So did Joe Lewis. One can always put the whole kielbasa on red 23. But the fact remains. Life at the top, given some common sense, is life free of financial worry. Need a car? Get one. Need a place at the beach? Ditto. Health care? The worry is that some sort of governmental "interference" might somehow rock your boat, that including the entire population in some kind of health care insurance plan simply because they are citizens will cause some kind of inconvenience which at present isn't on the radar.
Money is power. Mr. Olbermann is, quite suddenly, silent. It's hard not to draw conclusions. It's the same kind of conclusion drawn with regard to the general over-heated gun-rhetoric and the happenstance of a Tucson Massacre. It's in the water. Yet it's also true that on a chilly day in January, two days after I turned 68 and celebrated with a big bowl of fat shrimp and a cold beer and my arm around a wonderful wife of 27 years who loves me, plays music with me, and generally makes my world full of light and happiness--I have to say that we just don't yet know what the year will bring. I lived through the most interesting '60s, and the most interesting '70s as well. The one thing we all should keep in mind, as a constant, is that whatever progress gets made, there are now vast numbers of people who will be of a mind to turn the clock back. It is no longer a viable option to just come out and vote in one big election and then go back to sleep. We have the choices we have: Democrats and Republicans. Same as it ever was. One major underlying emotional factor in the political emergence of the Tea Party is the fact that there's a black man in the White House--same as it ever was. It may be that corporate power is simply not going to brook any real change in the American status quo, and that in the lame duck tax compromise which Mr. Obama accepted with reference to "hostages," he was referring to himself as much as anyone else. The year, nonetheless, remains young. Winter has its beauty. There are no ticks.
Update. A commenter asks me to pick the most "interesting" event of the '60s-'70s era, as though eras were lists of events. He omits the two, let's call them "thangs", I'd pick--Watergate, and the Warren Commission's in plain sight coverup of the JFK assassination. I have no books listed in my profile, but I'd recommend Peter Dale Scott's "Deep Politics," Seymour Hersh's "Dark Side of Camelot," the magnificent work on Vietnam "A Bright and Shining Lie," and anything by Noam Chomsky, including his work on the deep structure of language.