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    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    New Yorker on Bill O'Reilly

    When I first heard this Fresh Air interview with Bill O'Reilly, something about it really scared me. Maybe that goes without saying. Something else really scared me. And that something else was the way that Bill O'Reilly reminded me of myself. My knee-jerk reaction was that he must be mentally ill, as I am, but was not getting the proper treatment and that he needed to medicated. And that was true I'm sure. But then, reading
    this, I realized the other piece:

    Class—that is, class resentment—is where, for O’Reilly, politics, and everything else, begins. His first best-seller, “The O’Reilly Factor,” published in 2000, asserts, “Whatever I have done or will do in this life, I’m working-class Irish American Bill O’Reilly.”

    Class resentment, class RAGE more like. And further:

    As soon as he left home—to go to Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, New York—O’Reilly had occasional encounters with members of the fortunate classes, in which, inevitably, he was put down. At Marist, he longed for the girls from nearby Vassar, but “the Ivy Leaguers up from Princeton or down from Cornell got the dates; we were treated like hired help.” By O’Reilly’s account, wealth and fame have not changed the pattern. Even now, when he wanders within range of the “swells,” which he does surprisingly often for a guy who despises them, they sneer at him, just as they would sneer at any ordinary American.

    Even if you didn't feel that poor growing up in a poor neighborhood, coming to New York City big-time and being simply "middle-class", forget working-class, can be an exercise in biting one's tongue. I can't tell you how many times I have successfully "passed" into rich Northeastern company, only to be asked the wrong question or absent-mindedly pronounce "aunt" like "ant" or some small thing, and to feel (and I don't think this is my imagination, I really don't, though I know other people think I'm exaggerating) this distance set in between me and the people around me. But what O'Reilly says about the Vassar girls is one of the parts of sexuality I find most powerful and troublesome, in myself and others, a sort of Gatsby-Daisy desire that often doesn't align with one's politics. Certainly, the class mobility issue isn't all there is to it. In the case of plenty of rich kids, it's often the poor badasses who called them "preppy" in high school who trick their desire. And how often do we hear about the Jew-shiksa phenomenon?

    Which is why Lemann's article goes in what is, to me, a most fascinating direction:

    If what you know about “The O’Reilly Factor” comes mainly from its opponents on the left—from movies like “Outfoxed” and Web sites like Media Matters—and you watch it regularly for a while, you’ll be surprised by how little of the content these days is political. “The O’Reilly Factor” is, increasingly, not a conservative show but a cop show—“O’Reilly: Special Victims Unit,” perhaps—devoted particularly to sex offenders; the host, in effect, is Shannon Michaels playing Tommy O’Malley. Once, when Howard Stern was asked to explain his success, he said that he owed it to lesbians. O’Reilly owes his to child molesters.

    And, from earlier in the article:

    Olbermann has repeatedly conferred on O’Reilly the top place in a “Worst Person in the World” competition, and, probably more to the point, when discussing O’Reilly he often finds ways to work in the word “falafel.” That is a reference to a sexual-harassment suit that a former Fox News producer named Andrea Mackris filed against O’Reilly a couple of years ago.

    I know it's a bit old hat to assume that every conservative is just trying to punish everyone else for their own sexual desires, but I think there may be something to it in this instance. After all, Ms. Mackris was an Ivy-grad.

    Of course O'Reilly is fighting incredible rage over his thwarted desires ... he was punished for attempting to act on them.

    His passion for America, a country he views as ideally blue-collar and wholesome, not blue-state, blue-blood, and oversexed, makes perfect sense. He wants to rip from the powerful the most powerful thing they have: the authority to speak for this, the most powerful country in the world. Moreover, a country he feels has been usurped and aristocracied. Either that, or he realizes that through that narrative of usurpation, he can claim something for the "working-class" (and I think there's something legitimate about his identifying that way because IT DOES shape you, even if you end up a multi-millionaire, and there is something VERY different about coming from money and earning money) that was never theirs. Like Robin Hood.

    Now, Lemann doesn't take it there. It's the New Yorker! As zp says, always liberal, but never radical. And, besides, it would mess with their project: sympathetic-ish profiles of conservatives - aren't we so "fair and balanced"?

    2 Comments:

    Blogger zp said...

    Good one. I couldn't read the whole article; for aesthetic reasons but also because, I think, as far as O'Reilly is concerned I didn't have a face to put to the name. And I'm tired of the conservative profiles, too.

    Was it O'Reilly who hung up on Terry Gross a few years ago? Was that the show you heard?

    10:03 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    yep, that's the one.

    12:38 PM  

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