Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Excellence In Broadcasting

“Rush is just an amazing radio performer...Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops. You can count on two hands the number of public figures in America who can pull that trick off.” -Ira Glass, Host of This American Life on NPR.

This NYT piece about Rush Limbaugh predates the outcome of our last presidential election by a couple of months, but it successfully encapsulates some of what I find intriguing about the man, and what sets him apart from his competitors.

Most talk radio hosts lose their flavor for me once I discover the neurosis that drives their selection of issues: Sean Hannity is a republican boyscout with very little personal nuance. Michael Savage suffers from sexual repression, and is bitter because he wasn't more thoroughly embraced by proponents of the beat generation. He later became even more bitter because he wasn't welcomed with open arms into the mainstream conservative intelligentsia. Glenn Beck is a conspiracy theorist who views himself as prophetically instrumental in some kind of upcoming--LDS flavored--American Revolution fantasy. He is also (understandably) struggling to find meaning in his life after suffering several substantial personal tragedies: He takes the lessons he learns on this journey (which should be a personal one) and projects them onto global and national political events.
Bill O'Reilly (as Rush tells us accurately in this piece), is Ted Baxter.

All of these characters are sympathetic in their own way, but they'll never be as compelling or entertaining as Rush. If Rush is suffering from serious personal demons, he doesn't let them drive him. While debating angry liberal callers, he hovers above the exchange amusedly, rejoindering as if from on high. Most importantly--as he says himself in this piece--he is a businessman and entertainer before he is a conservative, unlike his competitors. That gives him an edge the others do not have.

He doesn't start off with a message, he starts off with a vehicle. It's kind of like the difference between rock musicians who happens to be christian (Joseph Arthur/Bono) and christian rock musicians. The first group starts off with a love for the music that allows the inevitable bleed through of spiritual themes to seem organic, and thus believable. The second group (often less talented) start off with a message that they want to force into a form that may not be appropriate for it, and their finished product is often awkward and unconvincing.

While I don't share all of Limbaugh's worldview, I'll never accuse him of being awkward or unconvincing in his expression of it.


GbiZ said...

"The second group (often less talented..."

Understating things a little are we?

Spencer Troxell said...

Maybe a little ;)

Lodo Grdzak said...

Rush is the classic Republican--Self Righteous Hypocrite who'll say anything and throw anyone under a bus for a buck. An Oxy-Contin junkie who rails against drug addicts. A moralizer who loves to bang Dominican hookers under the influence of illegally obtained Viagra. Complains about hte media while making a ridiculous living from it. Mean, fat, frat boy with a 15 year-old's sensibility; but unlike Howard Stern no pornstars riding the Sybian. Sorry I can't high-five you on this post Spence, but hey, differences are what make the world go round.

Spencer Troxell said...

I hadn't heard about the dominican hookers. Interesting.

Lodo Grdzak said...

I've got no reason to lie to you man. Do the research on Rush, Viagra, and his arrest while returning from the Dominican for "doctor shopping." I mean, wouldn't be the first time the press got the story wrong/distorted, but it was all in the papers. I didn't just make this up. Wouldn't bother me if the guy wasn't such a moralizing blowhard. Nothing illegal about prostitution in the Dominican. Shouldn't be illegal here either. Anyway, Rush is a personality and star just like Britney Spears or Brad Pitt. He needs to remember that.

Spencer Troxell said...

I wasn't questioning you. I had heard about the viagra and doctor shopping, but wasn't aware of the Dominican hookers. If that's the case, all the better: Rush's idiosyncracies only make him more interesting to me.

If you'll reread my post, it is exactly his status as a personality that I am highlighting. I'm a psych. major. I'm interesting in personalities, inter and intra group interactions, and language. Talk radio is a great place to observe these things. I'm also into politics both as a matter of civil duty and for sport. If you're going to engage in this sport with conservatives in the midwest, it's helpful to be familiar with the talk shows they listen to.

Talk radio is an interesting format. The performer, by talking for so many hours a day and so many days a week ultimately ends up exposing themselves, especially if they are mainly driven by ideology. Rush--on the other hand--is mainly driven by the need to entertain, so ideology is only secondary to him. This allows him to play around with his persona more, to be more optimistic, and to explore language more fully than any of his competitors. I'm not looking for the straight dope on current events when I listen to Rush. I'm listening to hear a man sustain a performance persona that others in his field cannot keep up. I'm also listening for the same reason one rival team watches videos of another rival team before a competition. I'm also listening out of pure, professional interest in personalities and group relationships.

PS: One of the things that impressed me the most in the NYT article I link to is the enormous tips Rush apparently leaves at restaurants. As a former restaurant worker, I have to be appreciative of someone who tips like that. Whatever their ideology or line of work.

Lodo Grdzak said...

That's all well and good, but Rush fulfills his "need to entertain," not via any actual, tangible talent; but simply by rabble-rousing, ridicule, and tribalism. The simplest, most base forms of entertainment. The fact that Rush leaves big tips at the local diner doesn't make up for the idiocy of his comments or his audience. By the way, someone needs to remind Rush that Donovan McNabb led the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs this year with basically a running back and some good defensive players. I'd like to see Donovan take a football and shove it right down Rush's hypocritical, junkie throat. But hey, Donovan's not that kind of guy. He doesn't need to be. He's got real talent.

Spencer Troxell said...

Fair enough.