What’s happenin’, chums?
That’s right, people, we are in a mild and pleasant mood. We are not immune to the good times and the dancing feeling that broke out across this great land of ours late on Election Night as word spread that America had collectively come to its senses and decided to pass on another four years of Acting Stoopid when a Smartness Alternative had actually been advanced by a competent campaign. Here at Disquieting Modern Trends Plaza, we turned on the big sound system, got our psychedelic Peruvian pan flute band to play Stevie Wonder1, and then we took to our jetpacks and circled the sky as the paid help got its funk on.
And thus it is that we smile and actually applaud the good and proper direction of the land. Suddenly, a whole bunch of things are looking up.
Now, we can practically see your mouse-finger flashing to click off this page. What good is it to read the incisive prose of a couple of first-class complainers/disquieting-trend-spotters when they are elated and, thus, without edge? Soft! Dull! Satisfied! Worst of all: Happy!
The prospect of this horrifies us as much as it does you.
But, at least for this month or so, we will confess: It is what it is.2
And thus, with smiles on our faces, we suggest for this November 2008, several Encouraging Modern Trends.
The At-Long-Last Triumph of Katie Couric as a Network Anchor
O Katie Couric! O spunky newswoman who got a colonoscopy on the air!3 Once the sassy newcomer to Today, then the pioneering First Solo Woman Anchor for CBS, you had become a complex victim of wrongly raised expectations. But we always knew that you were mainly a prankster at heart, a Trojan horse, a cutie-pie wielding a switchblade. And with your Sarah Palin interview, you Mack-the-Knifed4 John McCain to his very quick.
We have to assume that the campaign chose the estimable Ms. Couric for this interview because it viewed her as harmless and short-skirt-wearing, a puff-piece purveyor, a pushover, a simp—in short, as precisely the derogatory female stereotype we’ve always known her not to embody. How delicious, then, that Katie took her ailing ratings at the CBS Evening News and jujutsu’d them into a naggingly fair interview that set the Republican campaign on its ass.
We care not whether Katie’s ratings are up or down. We only know that she single-handedly exposed the gooey-soft center of a presidential campaign that wanted desperately to be all left-hooks and gut punches. Our favorite moment, and there were many, is when she asked the Luv-Guv what “newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?” How delicious to hear Palin’s transparent dodge that she reads “all of ’em, any of ’em … that have been in front of me over all these years. I have a vast variety of sources.” This reminded us of nothing so much as the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets George a job interview at Pendant Publishing and Mr. Lippman asks him about his favorite authors. George invented the author Art Vandelay, an obscure beatnik writer who wrote Venetian Blinds.5 Palin, whose qualifications to run this country are pretty much Costanza-esque, was so flabbergasted that Katie pressed her for an answer, that she was actually less articulate than George Costanza. And thus are presidencies born.
The Maybe Coincidental, Maybe Not, But Still At-Long-Last Emergence of Female Journalists in Prominent Places and in Mushroomlike Quantities
And so all of a sudden they are everywhere: reasonably serious female journalists all over the TV—anchoring, reporting, commentating, looking great but not always required to do so, doing pretty much everything you can do in television journalism except working that CNN Fancy U.S. Map Thing, of which we’ve had our fill anyway, thank you.6 We assume that you have your own favorites, local or national, and will simply confine our praises to a few cable news sirens who make it seem a little less dumb to be watching TV in 2008.
On MSNBC in the morning, there is the fetching yet weirdly substantive Mika Brzezinski, who co-hosts the Morning Joe show with former Gingrich-y congressman Joe Scarborough.7 First, Mika is, in fact, the daughter of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.8 Cursory examination shows that she got a great education and is a real leather-on-the-pavement reporter who covered, among other things, the collapse of the towers on September 11th. But her place in our hearts was won on June 26, 2007, when she refused, on the air, to read the story of Paris Hilton being released from jail as the lead. She tried to burn the copy, then ripped it up and later shredded it while her co-hosts vaguely goofed on her making “symbolic gestures.” True, Morning Joe is a chore, with various panelists and hosts endlessly talking over each other like they were appearing in a particularly dull and poorly shot Robert Altman film, but we’ll watch it just for Mika, hoping that eventually she will give Joe a good hard slap.
Also on MSNBC is the weirdly hypnotic The Rachel Maddow Show, which comes on after (or is it before and after?) Keith Olbermann’s liberal polemic Countdown, during which the drama, of course, is in wondering if Olbermann—the former stentorian ESPN sportscaster and unabashed Edward R. Murrow–freak—is going to completely flip out with outrage and spittle. Maddow’s show is a similar send-up of conservative faux pas, except that Maddow has got this smart twinkle in her eye that makes clear that she’s just not very showbiz. A tiny bit of digging reveals that Maddow’s twinkle graduated from Stanford. She then got her D.Phil. from Oxford as the first openly gay American to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Which is just to say that we think, if through some as-yet-invented form of bizarre alcoholic technology, Rachel Maddow were to have a child with Karl Rove, that kid would be an unstoppable political force.
A few clicks away on CNN, we must give our propers to three female journalists. First, let us sing the glorious praises of Candy Crowley, whose blowzy face and vaguely annoyed affect covered the Obama campaign. Ms. Crowley turns 60 the day after Christmas, and we say Three Cheers for a TV reporter who has clearly decided that it simply does not matter if she looks either artificially young/hot/Palin-y or elegant/rich/surgically enhanced. No, Ms. Crowley is happy to appear both tired and grumpy in most of her reports—a look we imagine she comes by honestly given the absurd length of the election season. Might she have had four–five Twinkies for lunch? Sure, and who cares? Yet at the same time, her name—proudly—is “Candy.” And she maintains the hairstyle of a high school sophomore named Courtney or Alyssa. For these contradictions, Ms. Crowley, we adore you. Please don’t yell at us.
On weekend mornings, CNN boasts co-anchor Betty Nguyen. On the one hand, she grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas, so she complies with what we believe to be Texas state laws regarding the excellence and general size/shape of her coiffure. On the other hand, she is half Vietnamese, making her deliciously exotic even when she is engaging in harmless weekend-morning-anchor banter with her co-host, T. J. Holmes.9 This combination, it goes without saying, is very nearly the definition of what makes America the world’s locus for confusing sexual feelings.
And then there is Campbell Brown.
The physical argument breaks as follows:
Con: Campbell Brown’s hair, generously proportioned and flowing to be sure, is altogether too Farrah Fawcett. Too 1977. A set of wings to lift her from the CNN set and up to a bad, disco-themed party.
Pro: The hair is iconic. Its feathery voluptuousness is truly Beyond Hair, adumbrating the majesty of no less than the Madonna’s and commanding similar adoration in all lively hearts.
Con: There are no discernible lips. Ms. Brown’s questionable takes on political history and election trends emerge as from a terrifying gash in her wide face. As if a great egg were suddenly to crack.
Pro: Her graceful lips echo the well bred Southern refinement of her heritage10, a culture in which I need not tell you lip width and other features are coded socially as much for what they are not as for what they are.
Con: Her elongated eyebrows each curve like swan necks into the bend of her nose and then the creases beneath the cheeks to form a pattern looking precisely like a closing parenthesis and a opening parenthesis, in that order. Must my news anchor remind me so much of grammar?
Pro: The eyebrows—well, she is not to be held accountable for her eyebrows in this age of pluck-and-raise, who could be? Her beauty is beyond fashion. In a dream state of flowing locks and loosened, Princess Anne gauze—as yet yearned for, as I now yearn—her brows would again assume their God-given shape, crenellating her mischievous eye with sparkling girl-reporter pixie dust as she glides through the forest effortlessly as a sprite.
Con: The dreaded “Witchy Chin”! Let’s put it this way. If I had a small dog and I lived in Kansas, I wouldn’t let Campbell Brown come within 50 yards of the pooch.
Pro: Ah, the chin! Those qualities you name “witchy”—presumably, the slight pronouncement, the hint of cleft—holds the key to her transcendent power: a whiff of masculinity that reminds how she, Athena-like, is the equal of a man while also embracing her role as his naughty, naughty plaything. Stretch your ken, open your heart! Let her speak to you, as she has to me, as she has to millions. O come: let us adore her.
In the end, dear reader, we will let you make the call.
The At-Long-Last Payoff of Youth in Politics
Kids! Who needs ’em? With their Guitar Hero11 and their Facebook12 and their Jonas Brothers13 and their Twilight vampire movies14, these kids will never stay interested in politics! Right?!
Wrong and wrong. It turns out that young Americans actually will care about politics if there is a candidate who (a) is not full of it, and (b) can make a sly allusion to a Jay-Z song when discussing his campaign.15 Obama won something like 65% of young folks and an equal percentage of college-educated folks. Stoopid kids.
And so, for once, we smile. True, the U.S. economy continues its catastrophic collapse, but there is a sense of hope in the air. Here at Disquieting Modern Trends, we don’t endorse political candidates, but we happily hold some up for ridicule. And this month, our world seems slightly less ridiculous. Not that there isn’t a wealth of absurdity still building steam. But we leave that disquietude to another day when the post-election glow has worn off more fully or when Britney Spears starts making a sex video with one of the Jonas Brothers.