Thursday, October 10, 2013

A naive slog through MSNBC's evening line-up


I simply don't watch television -- except for football. I often feel out of touch with my culture, but the medium doesn't grab me. But I sometimes feel I ought to have a better idea what others are seeing. So yesterday, on a cross-country flight -- trapped in a middle seat over which the overhead light had burned out, without wifi and with a computer out of juice -- I pacified myself by watching the entire MSNBC evening line-up for the first time, ever.

MSNBC is touted/despised as the liberal answer to Fox News. I don't see Fox either, so I can't judge the accuracy of that comparison. I have friends who I respect, as well as bloggers I like to read, who seem to get a lot out MSNBC's night time shows. Can't say I'm going to join them anytime soon.

Here are some barely informed impressions:
  • The Ed Show: Ed Schultz is fun, a fine, bombastic, populist newsertainer. If you like this kind of shtick, you'll probably like Ed. I did, though I can't imagine watching in any other circumstances.
  • Politics Nation with Al Sharpton: I've enjoyed Sharpton since he injected himself in Democratic presidential debates in 2004, speaking then-unspeakable truths for many of us. I know -- as well as being a legitimate fighter for human rights, he's also been a bit of a huckster, doing well by Al while doing good. But at least he's never been boring -- until this TV show. Maybe I just caught an off episode, but Tuesday night, in the middle of what I think is a U.S. Constitutional crisis, Politics Nation was a yawner.
  • Hardball with Chris Matthews: What a weird dude Matthews is! Obviously he has been around DC forever, knows everyone, has (very loosely) liberal sympathies, and sometimes substitutes emotions for where brains ought to be. This last can lead to insights -- and bathos. I read him for years when he wrote politics for the now defunct San Francisco Examiner. The TV persona seems an amped up version of what he seemed to me then: a political wannabe who couldn't quite make it to the big time.
  • All In with Chris Hayes: I respect Hayes' book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, though I have questioned some of his prescriptions for a way forward. That volume introduced me to a tough thinker. And I'd heard that his TV shows provide a venue for new, younger, more diverse and more imaginative thinkers to intrude on the usual punditry. The one episode I just saw was nothing like that. It was a pastiche of extremely brief episodes that hit obvious liberal themes -- no imagination and no meat. Maybe TV is not this guy's best venue? I know others differ on this.
  • The Rachel Maddow Show: In my world, Rachel is an icon; she's family, a lesbian who gets to pontificate with the most prominent personalities around. Seeing one of your own doing a big boy's job is not something to be taken lightly. I've never watched a whole show, but I've seen clips on which she was brilliant. But Tuesday night's show was nothing special. She tried hard, but that blow-hard old white guy, Ed Shultz, seemed to me to do a better job at coming to terms with the debt limit crisis. TV must be a hard medium to ace. I had hoped for more than this episode offered.
  • The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell: I don't remember hearing of O'Donnell before seeing this show. I found I liked it the best of the MSNBC lot. It was pure hard-hitting, aggressive, liberal punditry, naming names and calling out bullshit -- in this case on Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The segments moved along briskly, but unlike those on Chris Hayes' show, they had crisp content. If you are going to do political hit pieces, this strikes me as how to do it -- ultimately more honest than any attempt at nuance. If this show were on at a reasonable hour -- it is not -- I might look in on O'Donnell when not trapped at 30,000 feet in an over-heated plastic box.
So do I have any conclusions? Not really. Doing gripping TV with substantive content is clearly difficult. Some very smart people who I might often agree with are struggling on MSNBC. Television may be a declining medium, but engaging visual presentation of information and opinion is something our culture needs.

I'm not going to do this again. When will the airlines put in electric outlets and wifi? Please save me soon!

1 comment:

Hattie said...

I could not bear that much MSNBC at one go!

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