As Ian Holm says as Bilbo Baggins in the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, "I feel thin, sort of stretched... like butter spread over too much bread." Well, I can't remember the last time I felt thin, but you get what I mean. The way it's manifested over the last couple of weeks is a kind of hair-trigger emotionality.
It really started with the Tucson shootings. For two weeks I simply could not look at a photograph of Christina Taylor-Green, or even THINK about her, without bursting into tears. Every step that Gabrielle Giffords, a Blue Dog Democrat who had I known more about her, might have been the focus of one of my anti-DINO rants, makes towards recovery, brings me a kind of joy that only comes from a small beacon of light shining on an otherwise dark, dark world.
Here in the New York area, it's Jets Fever, as the boisterous, goofy, brash, perhaps overachieving New York Jets prepare to take on Ben "Sexual Assault" Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game tomorrow. For those who hate the Jets, Rex Ryan is an ass, Mark Sanchez is a pretty boy hype machine who doesn't have the goods, and the assortment of scrap heap cast-offs who have found new life with this team are a bunch of scrubs. But for those of us who have been captivated by this team, this asshole of a coach, for whom everyone in the NFL seems to want to play because he seems to galvanize a team the way no "gentleman coach" can, there's something endearing about this bunch of cast-offs like Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, this Byronesque quarterback who befriends dying children and loves musical theatre. I won't cry into my beer if the Jets lose tomorrow (or maybe I will, who knows?) because it's been a good long run for them. But a win would again send me off into a transcendent joy that far outweighs any degree of football fandom I might have.
Yesterday I was reading Roger Ebert describing his new chin prosthesis, which he will wear in his segment on a new At the Movies (which premiered last night on PBS). Ebert is such an American institution, and his very public journey with a disfiguring salivary gland cancer has been such a moving one, that simply having him back in the balcony (if in a limited capacity) is a cause for celebration. Again -- something far more significant to Ebert than to those who don't know him, but a small beam of light just the same. (Note: You'll be able to stream the show soon here.)
And then last night we lost Countdown, and it's all part of the same thing. I didn't know Christina-Taylor Green. I don't know Gabrielle Giffords, or Roger Ebert, or Keith Olbermann. And unlike people like, say, Rich Lowry, I do know the difference between actual people and images on a TV screen. But whatever happened to push Keith Olbermann off the air (and despite some rumblings that he just quit, whenever I hear "mutual agreement", you know it always means "asked him to resign"); whether it was outrage fatigue, grief over losing his father last year, an inability to conceive of how to keep the show sharp while "dialing it back a notch", the fact is that many of us invited this man into our living rooms every night for eight years. If it's eight o'clock, it's Olbermann. And now it isn't.
It isn't that we LIKED him, not in the way we LIKE, say, Rachel Maddow. Keith Olbermann never came across as someone you'd actually want to know. Those of us who watched every night knew that he was a bombastic, egotistical ass. But he was OUR bombastic, egotistical ass, and we loved him warts and all. When he was suspended for making the same kind of political contributions that everyone at Fox does (and even Joe Scarborough at MSNBC does), over 250,000 viewers signed a petition for reinstatement. We recognized his faults, but he wasn't our friend. He was the guy we turned to for a voice of sanity in a world full of climate change deniers and Christofascist zombies and ignoramuses who regard facts as just other opinions. At first it was just Keith Olbermann, but he's also the guy who gave us Rachel Maddow in prime time -- a gift for which we can never hope to repay him. And if you saw Rachel refuse to capitulate to the inevitable and ubiquitous filibustering of Club for Growth shill Stephen Moore on Real Time last night you too will be grateful to Olbermann for giving her a well-deserved break:
Olbermann was important to us, but despite his good work in setting up free health care clinics and making it possible for Americans to donate to help provide transplants to Arizona residents doomed by Jan Brewer's REAL death panel, he kept us at a distance. Rachel is more like the big sister of the narrator in a Carson McCullers story -- the happy, athletic, popular big sister who is always there for you when your parents don't understand you because you're nerdy, bookish, and anxious. Her success has allowed her to be filmed doing segments and promos without full makeup, in the blue nerd glasses and the Converse All-Stars. And the fact that she exudes passion and unabashed liberalism, and then puts on Kent Jones in a funny costume, may help insulate her somewhat from the kind of controversy that has always shadowed Olbermann.
But as much as we adore Rachel, it's Keith Olbermann who has been the pioneer, the voice cursing the darkness when no one else could have. Without Keith Olbermann, there's no Rachel Maddow. There's no Ed Show. There's no Sam Seder in front of the cameras in prime time. There's no Cenk Uygur forcing Republican former Congressman Bob McEwen to admit that there's no money in the Social Security trust fund because they stole it and we have to just suck it up. Without Keith Olbermann, Lawrence O'Donnell (who is still too "centrist" for my taste) is still an occasional third banana on Morning Schmoe. Without Keith Olbermann, the only voices of opinion journalism on the medium in which most people still get their news are the reality-challenged hatemeisters on Fox News.
Who knows...perhaps with the "friendlier faces of liberalism" that now constitute the MSNBC lineup (because Cenk Uygur's seat-warming at 6 PM is still only filler), the "both sides do it" claim will be mitigated. But for those of us who invited Keith Olbermann into our homes at 8 PM every weeknight for eight years, there's a big empty chair today. And just another weepy-trigger for an exhausted blogger.
More on Olbermann:
Nicole Belle, focusing on the crowing of the right.
Some speculation about what's next (I'm not buying it.)
Richard Bey (with some inside dirt)