The guy who helped me start Pajiba back in 2004 was one of my best friends growing up in Arkansas. He was a fastidious guy, nattily dressed, and the complete opposite of almost everyone else I knew in Arkansas. He was smarter than most everyone else, too, and that was a point of pride for him: He went out of his way to illustrate how much smarter he was than they were. He was the kind of guy who corrected people’s grammar in the fifth grade, and who would point out factual mistakes a teacher might make while those teachers rolled their eyes with annoyance. He was a dick, the kind of guy who would come up with a tagline like, “Scathing reviews for bitchy people,” because he was the bitchiest guy I’ve ever known.
I met him in middle school the day that my brother — two years younger — tossed him down a hill. I’m not going to say he deserved to be tossed down a hill, but he kind of deserved to be tossed down a hill. But I liked him a lot, because he was a supreme asshole and a self-righteous contrarian, and being a contrarian in Arkansas often meant arguing liberal political positions and then getting beat up (or tossed down a hill) for doing so.
He would absolutely kill me for writing this, but Tucker Carlson always reminded me of him. I bet Tucker Carlson got thrown down a few hills growing up in California as the step-son to the Swanson frozen food heiress. It’s probably why he ended up in Day School, before going off to boarding school in Rhode Island and later getting into Trinity College, but only after his influential father pulled a lot of strings to get him in.
The irony is rich that Carlson — after getting fired from CNN after Jon Stewart dismantled him on Crossfire, and losing his gig on MSNBC due to low ratings — would rise to become one of the biggest personalities on Fox News, where he has become a kind of spokesperson for the white-working class people who — had he met them in high school — would’ve beat the holy hell out of him on a daily basis (or tossed him down a hill).
Tucker Carlson — who, after being rejected by the CIA, actually started out as an editorial writer for my home state newspaper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and now, like a lot of the “elites” he rails against, spends his summer vacations in my new home state of Maine — has made a living as a contrarian, undoubtedly rebelling against the political beliefs held by those around him growing up in California (and that of his mother, who left the family to pursue a “bohemian lifestyle.”)
In either respect, I find it deeply amusing that Tucker Carlson — the guy who used to wear bow ties, and who drinks Perrier — would call out his MSNBC competition, Chris Hayes, for being too … soft? “Chris Hayes is what every man would be if feminists ever achieved absolute power in this country: apologetic, bespectacled, and deeply, deeply concerned about global warming and the patriarchal systems that cause it,” he said on his show last night, while also calling AOC a “moron.”
Tucker Carlson is a sham. He’s not even real. He’s the political commentator version of a boy band, a manufactured marketing product designed to appeal to middle-American fears, a guy driven by insecurity and a desperate need to be seen as an alpha male, a man who retreats into white nationalism in an effort to make the world forget the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Jon Stewart, and who now refuses to air segments in which he is humiliated by his guests. The man was voted off first from Dancing with the Stars, for God’s sake, and don’t think for a second that it doesn’t weigh on him.
Carlson has zero connection to the people — the “deplorables” — for whom he advocates on Fox every night, although he and Donald Trump have that in common. He rails against the “elites” and the “system” from within it, as part of a company controlled by the liberal, Ivy-league sons of billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who exploit white nationalism for profit. That’s all Tucker Carlson is: He’s a marketing vehicle. He’s a product on a Fox News assembly line, whose formula is tweaked every few years to appeal to its specific consumers. He is human clickbait, a skill he picked up at The Daily Caller, which he catered not to intellectual interests, but to Facebook’s algorithm.
There’s a piece that Lyz Lenz wrote about Tucker Carlson in the Columbia Journalism Review last year that I love, and it ends thusly:
I want to understand. If I can figure out what happened to Tucker Carlson, how he went from successful magazine writer to contrarian journalist to raving Fox News host, I believe I will understand what happened to my country, my life even. What happened to make a rich white man the vox populi? How did I, a mom in the Midwest who can’t afford health care, become the humorless, censoring, liberal elite? How are the winners still insisting they are losers? What happened to this whole mess of a world?
There’s no one that Carlson hates more right now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was ranting about her on his show again last night. “So it’s official. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a moron and nasty and more self-righteous than any televangelist who ever preached a sermon on cable access. She’s not impressive, she’s awful.”
And here’s the irony: He rants about AOC because he feels threatened by her. Not just because she’s a woman — but that, too — but because she is a genuine advocate for moms in the midwest without healthcare, while Carlson only pretends to while knowing nothing about that life. AOC is the genuine version of what Carlson originally set out to be: An anti-establishment, eat-the-rich advocate for “the average American.”
Socioeconomically speaking, AOC’s base is similar to “the deplorables,” minus the racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. AOC is the real deal, and she has the background to prove it. Tucker Carlson is a guy worth $8 million, who gets rich off of exploiting middle-American fears in order to protect his own wealth and, more importantly, the wealth of his real masters, the people he actually serves: The Murdoch Family. AOC has no corporate overlords exploiting her profit potential. She’s an advocate. Tucker Carlson is a consumer product designed to appeal to a marketing algorithm. He hates it even more because he knows that once Fox News wrings all of the profit potential out of him that in a post-Trump landscape, the network will change its algorithm (again) and toss him to the curb, just as CNN and MSNBC did before. AOC speaks truth to power. Tucker Carlson makes up his own truth to serve the powerful, and he will never, ever not be enraged about that.
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