Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Independent Bill O'Reilly

Speaking of the State of the Union, I noticed something interesting in the beginning of Bill O'Reilly's exchange with Laura Ingraham on that subject.
Listen to O'Reilly riffing with Laura
BILL O'REILLY: [Introducing] Laura Ingraham who is a conservative, fair and balanced here. Not like in NBC where they're just running liberal after liberal after liberal pa pa pa pa pa poh. We have two liberals, I'm an independent which leans traditional. You're a conservative, that's the way we should do it.
LAURA INGRAHAM: I'm very confused. I'm just totally confused at this point
In wrestling, 'Kayfabe' is the art of staying in character to preserve the illusion that wrestling is real. Keeping the pretense is made easier by adopting personas and storylines that are extensions of or informed by a wrestler's real characteristics. For instance if a wrestler is Texan and has a blue collar upbringing, their gimmick may reflect that. This allows wrestlers to appear authentic even when they are shown out of context (i.e on a variety show). The blurring of the lines between reality and stage is sometimes painfully realised, like when two wrestlers who really detest each other have a feud in the ring. This makes for exciting viewing as the audience is aware that the emotions are 'real' despite being portrayed on stage.

In the past one of the biggest insults to a wrestler was being asked "Is wrestling real?". Everyone of course knows that it is staged, but what is insulting is the dismissiveness that underlies the question. Apart from the heightened realism mentioned above, it discounts the fact that wrestlers are in effect athletes and actors rolled into one. They write their own lines, perform their own stunts, they also act (and adlib) live on stage in front of tens of thousands of people. Its no wonder wrestlers are defensive and sometimes violent when asked this question.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with Bill O'Reilly?

Bill O'Reilly calls himself and often reminds us he is an "independent who leans traditionalist". Its hard to argue O'Reilly's sincerity because he has largely created the definition and is the biggest proponent of the term. Its true Bill cannot be easily classified as liberal or conservative, though he has often been characterised as a conservative for his frequent criticism of the left. On such occasions Bill is defensive and is quick to assert he is an independent. Bill's claim as an independent was dealt a blow when the New York Daily news reported he was registered as a Republican, he would later re-register as an independent. Matt Lauer of the Today show mistakenly called Bill a conservative, to which he loudly retorted "I'm an independent, You know that!!"**. Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air pressed O'Reilly heavily on his independence, Bill walked out on the interview claiming her questioning was unfair.

Bill as a champion for traditionalist values, is convincing on his own show under his own terms. However like a wrestler appearing outside their natural element Bill O'Reilly's persona of an embittered crusader seems cartoonish especially next to lightweight hosts such as Letterman, Lauer and the girls of 'The View'. Its no wonder that in this context skeptics are more likely to press O'Reilly on his independence.

O'Reilly defensiveness on the independence issue is similar to a wrestler's reaction when asked if wrestling is real. I think Bill feels that if he admits that he is more right leaning, people might view him as an idealogue and no longer see him as a bipartisan critic. He also fears it would discount his progressive positions on capital punishment, gun control, gay marriage, marijuana and the environment.

Wrestling eventually gave up the pretense that it was real, rebranding it as 'Sports Entertainment'. Wrestlers when doing promotional media no longer had to defend and overcompensate when pressed if wrestling was real. It allowed people to appreciate the art of wrestling more because it was no longer pretending to be something it was not. I think Bill would enjoy even greater success and legitimacy if he did the same.

**I looked tirelessly for video of this exchange between Matt Lauer and Bill O'Reilly on The Today Show June 14, 2006. Lauer mistakenly refers to O'Reilly as a conservative early in the interview. I hope someone can assist by finding this video as it illustrates the post well. Its disappointing I couldn't find it.
Listen to Bill emphasizing his independence to Laura Ingraham
Listen to Bill O'Reilly on NPR's Fresh air
Watch Bill O'Reilly on 'The View'.
Watch Bill take on David Letterman.

1 comment:

Dan said...

nice post, PunditFight. Bill-O would make a great heel!