Fox News is very good at the other thing it does.
The entertaining is part and parcel with the propagandizing. Even the most rabidly reactionaries in its audience wouldn’t sit still for another Republican lie if the liars were boring. The powers that be at Fox News know their audience and they know the secret to keeping an audience coming back for me: Give the suckers what they want.
They want to be angry. They want to be afraid.
They want is to hear that the world as they know is coming to an end.
There’s a good reason for their wanting to hear this.
Their world is coming to an end.
I don’t mean that their dear old Mom, apple pie, and Chevy loving USA is going, going, gone, that safe, prosperous, and virtue-rewarding land where those people knew their place and where good, God-fearing, Republican-voting white folk didn’t just run the country, they were the county or all of it that mattered. That is gone, although it hasn’t been entirely replaced. We’re living among the ruins, and if you don’t like what’s being built in its place, if you can’t even see the rebuilding as rebuilding, all you will see is devastation. That’s upsetting. That’s frightening. That’s infuriating!
But I mean something more than that and something more personal.
Their world is coming to an end in that their time in it is coming to an end.
This is my theory, and it’s just a theory. Fox News’s audience skews old, but not that old. The age a lot of the suckers get pulled into the sideshow seems to be around sixty. Joseph Conrad thought sixty was “not a bad age”. But I suspect that for most people reaching sixty it’s the age at which you have to face up to the fact you are going to die.
No one wants to face up to that.
I’m not sure it’s possible for anyone to face up to it. Not directly. How do you face up to the realization that none of it mattered? That none of it happened or none of it feels like it happened? That you didn’t matter? You didn’t happen? And it’s too late to do what might have save you from this existential nervous collapse, find the joy in every single moment and live as if in the eternity of that. This is hard for the wisest, most cheerful natures. It’s hard for Americans especially, I think, focused as we are on the future. We always have to be striving to get ahead, right? Today is only important in how it prepares us for tomorrow. It’s harder for certain Christians whose religion teaches them to hate the present moment for distracting them from their future goal of getting to heaven and to hate joy itself for tempting them to love this world. Anyway, at sixty how many present moments do you have left to find the joy in and what joy? You might live forty more years and every single day someone you know and like will die. Every single day you will grow weaker, sicker, more helpless, closer to death.
Who wants to face up to that?
So we do it symbolically, through metaphorical thinking. Fox News presents its audience with an ongoing allegory for its viewers’ fear of their own mortality.
It’s dystopian fiction for those too old to read The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. (And, by the way, adolescence is the other time in life when we become aware and afraid the world as we know it is coming to an end and with it us or, rather, our certainty of self, of having a self. You don’t need me to explain that one, but its probably why dystopian novels and movies are so popular among young adults. And now I’ve got myself thinking about Harry Potter.) But it’s like those books in that it’s meant to reassure in the end. The news is an extended metaphor for death but guess what? There’s salvation to be gained. It can all be put back right. Heroes and heroines will arise. You can be among them. All you have to do is vote Republican.
Anyway, that’s my theory.
Fox News’ viewers are angry and afraid because they don’t want to die and Fox News sells them a way to deal with the terrible knowledge that they are going to die and the anger and fear that go with it.
Now, because I think the folks who run Fox News know exactly what they’re selling, I also think the people who work for them, in front of and behind the cameras, know what’s being sold too. I think they’re hired because they know the product and know how to sell it. They know they’re selling a fiction. A story. They’re good storytellers. They don’t have to believe the story themselves to tell it well, and I think many of them don’t believe it, even those who are really conservatives and not simply nihilists and cynics. I’m not which Megyn Kelly is, a real conservative or a cynic, but I don’t think she believes it and from time to time she lets her disbelief show, either by suddenly acting like a real journalist, as when she challenged Karl Rove on election night 2012---“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better? Or is this real?”---and Dick Cheney this past June---“history has proven you got it wrong”---or when she just can’t keep a straight face, like last Christmas when she was spouting her nonsense about Santa Claus and Jesus being white.
But Kelly is smart and actually well-educated (Go Syracuse Orange!). This can’t be said about many people who go into broadcast news, a field that doesn’t attract or require geniuses, and Fox News seems to set the bar lower than the other networks do. Probably some of their non-geniuses are true believers but I’ll bet some of them are just dumb enough to fall for their own lies. They scare themselves like kids telling ghost stories around a camp fire.
I don’t know which sort of non-genius Kimberly Guilfoyle is. Maybe both. Whichever, she sure seems to believe what she’s saying here and to be scaring herself silly:
"Can I just make a special request in the magic lamp? Can we get like Netanyahu, or like Putin in for 48 hours, you know, head of the United States?"
Guilfoyle finished her genie-lamp appeal by adding:
"I don't know. I just want somebody to get in here and get it done right so that Americans don't have to worry and wake up in the morning fearful of a group that's murderous and horrific like ISIS."
When I saw this I wanted to ask her (Well, actually, I did ask her on Twitter, but since I don’t expect the celebrity journalists I follow to actually read and respond to my tweets, although some do, it was mostly for my own amusement.) “What is the American version of ISIS you’re waking up scared of in the middle of the night and what do you expect Bibi Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin to do about it? Launch rockets at hospitals in Central America? Steal a Canadian seaport?”
But that would be asking for a rational response.
This is her nightmare of the world as she knows it coming to an end. She’s far too young to be having it (or too old, depending. See above.) but it’s what her viewers want to hear and in re-telling it (retailing it) she’s persuaded herself it’s coming true.
This brings me to the other part of my theory.
A nightmare is a dream and a dream can be an imaginative act of wish-fulfillment.
I think the Fox News viewers I’m talking about want the world as they know it to be coming to an end.
Not because they’re closet progressives who’ve intuited that the world as they know it needs to end and not because they’re subconsciously coming into wisdom and are realizing there’s a time and a season and theirs has run its course and it’s time to hand it off and move on.
Because they get tired of being afraid.
I think this is just human nature. Fear is self-destructive in a several ways, one of which is that it begins to make you long for the thing you’re afraid is going to happen to happen, just to get it over with.
At least then you won’t have to be afraid of it anymore.
And, if you get a chance in the final few seconds before it all comes crashing down, you get to say, “I told you so.”