Saturday, June 9, 2007

Bill O'Reilly: Ecce Homo, an SOB Who Thinks He's a BFD

Over here in South Africa, Oprah ranks up there with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Her show, which I had never (not kidding) seen before, comes on during prime time hours each night, and when you have four channels it's pretty much all you have to watch. They're reruns, of course, from about nine months ago, but I'm sure most people don't notice, because let's face it -- Oprah is timeless.

The other night (or 9 months ago) she had Bill O'Reilly on. The man is breathtaking -- a vortex of animosity wherever he goes. The usually female dominated audience was uncharacteristically comprised of some men, and all of them -- male and female, old and middle-aged -- had a strong opinion one way or the other. Literally, one way or the other. That there appeared no middle ground on any issue, no grey area on any point of view, is a symptom of the O'Reilly phenomenon, and this strict dichotomy was enforced by the man himself.

He was, admittedly, peddling his book "Culture Warrior" in which he postulates that America is in the midst of a culture war between the Traditional Warriors and the Secular Progressives. When someone from the audience would ask a question or make a point he would immediately label them one or the other, buttering up the each "T Warrior" and dismissing condescendingly all those "SPs" (If the VP ordered B.O. to speak in only acronyms ASAP, he would have NP). I was reminded of a quote I first heard from Gloria Steinem, but may also appear in Freud's Wit and It's Relation to the Unconscious: "There are two types of people in this world -- those who divide the world into two types of people and those who don't."

I enjoy watching O'Reilly outside of his setting, especially when he is sitting with the most powerful woman in the world. I couldn't read Oprah very well, but if I could describe the expression on her face when listening to her guest, I would say it was polite disgust. There were some interesting points, like when Bill came right out and said that he was purposefully being argumentative "cause I'm up here selling books, lady". But most of the time, for me at least, he inspired not animosity but pity -- the kind you reserve for a drunk widower Uncle at a family reunion.

I did wish to contend him on his main thesis though -- that T Warriors, who he believes are a silent majority, will win the culture war because they outnumber those SPs. Every generation needs its Philistines, though we sometimes call them by other names: American Firsters, Segregationists, Pro-lifers, and in this case, T Warriors. What these groups share is their vocal presence during times of progress and change; they organize themselves when the world they live in starts to move a little too fast for their comfort. Their's is always a losing battle, or as Kennedy would say, a "long twilight struggle".
As a nation we always progress, we always move in some forward direction no matter how heavy the Philistines hang on the debate. Abolitionist's cause eventually helped free the slaves; Brown v. The Board of Education got rid of sanctioned segregation; the Suffragettes, the black civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's, the feminist struggle in the 1970's -- all progressive movements that made our culture the way it is and all were held up by older and more conservative segments of the population.

The funny thing about all this progress is that those who couldn't imagine a world with freed slaves or a woman's right to vote eventually learned to live with them and the generation that followed couldn't imagine a world without such basic principles. Just as I can't imagine living in an era during which black citizens could not drink from the same fountains or sit towards the front of the bus, my children will not understand how it ever happened that homosexual couples could not enjoy the protections and rights provided by state sanctioned marriages. That's right, all you conservatives, it may not happen in this election cycle or the following one, or even the one after that, but soon enough marriage rights will be enjoyed by all citizens, gay and straight (the majority of the population over 60 oppose "gay marriage", yet it is favored by those under 30. So it's just a matter of time.)

While I reject O'Reilly's basic dichotomy of SP and TWarrior, even within his deranged, paranoid framework he is wrong. The progressives have history and the human instinct to progress on their side. We appreciate you Philistines coming out, to strut and fret your hour upon Oprah's stage, but soon enough we will see your sound and fury for the nothing that it signifies.

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