Throwback Thursday: All About Keith Olbermann and His Ilk

imagesThe Cable Gamer has always been a fan of James Wolcott. Of course, Wolcott is no conservative in the partisan political sense, but he does seem to have an instinct for excellence and justice of a kind. And as Plato explained 2500 years ago, that’s the true test of a virtuous conservative.

So while nobody likes snobs, snobbery has a larger social value if it serves to uphold and enforce standards. Every month in Vanity Fair, and just about every day in his blog, Wolcott, in his own sly style, seeks to elevate the best and execrate the worst. And so obviously, Wolcott has no sympathy for the likes of Keith Olbermann, or any of the rest of the mean-spirited left-wing yakety yaks at MSNBC. But hey, don’t take my word for it—here’s the proof, from his latest column in the June issue of VF (yup, the one with Miley Cyrus inside):

The garrulous MSNBC host and Gatling gun Chris Matthews was so egregious in his anti-Hillary slant that he apologized after receiving a coast-battering storm of critical backlash, and colleague David Shuster was put in the penalty box after asking if Hillary had “pimped out” daughter Chelsea.

That’s pretty bad. But of course, you-know-who always wins the prize for wretched excess. Here’s what Wolcott wrote next:

Keith Olbermann would later outdo both with an excoriating “Special Comment” on his MSNBC show that accused her of being complicit in the race-baiting of Obama: “Voluntarily or inadvertently, you are still awash in this filth.”

“Awash in filth”? Words fail me when it comes to adequately challenging Olbermann’s unique ability to turn over-the-top vilification of others into even more over-topping self-congratulation.

Happily, I can always rely on Wolcott to help adjudicate wreckless and wrecking rhetoric. Indeed, in his piece, Wolcott goes on to deliciously dish Andrew Sullivan, who would seem to have a crush on Barack Obama, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Happily, the whole article is online, VF seems to have changed its editorial policy of late. Yay!

As such, Wolcott reminds me of George Sanders, pictured above, who won an Oscar for his 1950 portrayal of a wily theater critic in the classic All About Eve. Here’s a bit of Sanders, in his best-ever character:

“My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater—as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field.”

That’s good neo-Wildean wit—tinctured, of course, a tiny touch of knowing self-loathing. But in fact, The Cable Gamer believes, critics—honest critics, at least—have a useful keep-’em-honest function. The diabolical DeWitt is a case in point—he has a streak of divine justice in him. As fans of the film recall, DeWitt catches the conniving Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter) in all her lies. It seems that Eve has lied not only about her devotion to aging stage diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but also fabricated her entire background. Eve isn’t really Eve, and she even lied about a fictional boyfriend, “Eddy,” who was killed, she averred, in World War II. The vile truth about Eve is all too much for even a cynic such as DeWitt, who confronts her in the film’s climactic scene. In particular, DeWitt denounces Eve for her lie about “Eddy,” calling that “a slur on our dead heroes and the women who loved them.” (That’s from memory, anyone who has the exact quote is welcome to correct me.) But the point here is that DeWitt understands that the bitchy and backstabby world that he lives in, and revels in, is only made possible by the real sacrifice of real Americans. And so DeWitt is a sort of Platonic Guardian, allowing lies about little things, but making sure that the truth is told about important things. And nothing is more important than war for national defense. It’s their sacred memory, DeWitt knows, that must be protected. And the solemn reverence of loved ones is also not to be trifled with. The collective maintenance of civilization must always trump individual ambition.

And so it is with Wolcott, who uses his writing skills to preserve some decent sense of reference and proportion. That’s decency made all the more pointed, of course by a wicked wit. Thus Wolcott jibes that Arianna Huffington has turned The Huffington Post into “the celebrity clubhouse of Obamamania.” And going further, Wolcott arches an eyebrow as he observes:

The majority of Huffpo’s high-profile contributors were so over the rainbow about Obama that it was as if they had found rapture in the poppy fields and were rolling around on their backs like ladybugs.

I have little doubt that Wolcott will attack some other target next, including, perhaps, some figures that I like. And so I reserve the right to disagree with Wolcott, even as I have forfeited my right not to adore him, Like the fictional DeWitt, the real Wolcott is always entertaining, and always compelling.

As I said, I am a fan.

Reposted from The Cable Game, 3 May 2008


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