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Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Tucker Carlson

I teach genre theory.

Currently, my course North American Contemporary Fiction focuses on what I term “literary genre fiction,” the Venn diagram overlap of “literary” (which is itself a genre) and traditional “genres” (which include, for example, mystery, horror, romance, science fiction, post-apocalypse, and alternate history). My Advanced Fiction Workshop has the same focus, but from a creative-writing perspective.

I do not teach nonfiction, but nonfiction falls into subgenres too. For instance, a speaker appearing soon on my campus works in what I would term “extreme rightwing partisan political entertainment.”

I’ll try to clarify that.

Rather than Venn diagrams, picture circles inside circles, beginning with the largest outer circle labeled: “entertainment.”

Entertainment includes all kinds of overlapping subgenres, but focus on just one of those inner circles: “political entertainment.”

I use the term to distinguish content from political news. While it’s possible that all political commentary falls under “political entertainment,” and that all news sources suffer some level of bias (albeit in some cases minor), I define the category primarily by audience and so audience expectations, which are shaped by and in turn shape production intentions.

The goal of political entertainment is to please a specific political audience. This means that it is not primarily designed for accuracy or truth. That doesn’t mean that claims made within political entertainment are necessarily inaccurate or false. It means the claims are made without any regard to accuracy or truth. In philosophical terms, it’s bullshit. (If you haven’t read Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit,” please do.)

Here’s an example from the genre of legal studies. When Tucker Carlson was sued for slander in 2020, his defense team successfully argued that Carlson is playing a TV persona who no “reasonable viewer” could take seriously and so is therefore incapable of committing slander. The court agreed that, as a political entertainer, Carlson “is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.” He is “simply bloviating for his audience.”

Most political entertainment is partisan, but there are probably exceptions. I don’t watch Bill Mahar’s Politically Incorrect, but it may be an example of political entertainment that doesn’t fall clearly into the next subdivision. Mahar has been described as “liberal” at times and “conservative” at others and, from what I can gather, his style of comedy and commentary cuts in multiple political directions.

Mahar’s neighboring circle, “partisan political entertainment,” is much larger. It divides into two further circles: “leftwing partisan political entertainment” and “rightwing partisan political entertainment.”

The first includes comedians such as John Stewart, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Michael Moore. It also includes non-comedian pundits addressing similar leftwing audiences. I don’t watch MSNBC, but I believe there are a number employed there, perhaps most prominently Rachel Maddow.

The second, “rightwing” circle includes fewer comedians (I can’t think of any with weekly platforms), but the list of pundits is much longer and includes, for example, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck.

Both of the two circles within “partisan political entertainment” include one further inner circle each: “extreme leftwing” and “extreme rightwing.” Perhaps some of the names listed above belong in those innermost circles. While Fox News and MSNBC are explicitly and sharply partisan, they tend not to be rated as extremely biased as Breitbart, Newsmax, OAN, and Daily Caller on the right, or HuffPost, Daily Beast, or Daily Kos on the left.

InfoWars is so extreme it may deserve its own even further inner-innermost category, but certainly any commentator working at Daily Kos or Daily Wire falls into the genre of “extreme partisan political entertainment.”

That includes Markos Moulitsas on the far left and Matt Walsh on the far right.

In 2015, my small liberal arts university adopted the Chicago Principles, which state that “debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed” and that “fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”

I strongly agree with those principles.

Which is why I dislike partisan political entertainment.

I happily admit that I have watched and enjoyed Stewart, Oliver, and Bee, though none recently. I got bored by each of their comedy styles. That means that as an audience member I understood myself to be consuming comedy. As a genre, comedy does not foster “deliberation,” let alone “in an effective and responsible manner.”

Neither does political entertainment generally.

So while my university’s administration evokes the Chicago Principles as reason for having to accept an extreme rightwing partisan political entertainer on campus, the invited speaker violates those principles. He impedes the ability of members of the University’s community to engage in debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner.

To be clear, the issue is not whether the invited speaker expresses ideas that are “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” He does. But so does philosopher Kathleen Stock (who believes “many trans women are still males”). Stock, however, expresses offensive ideas in a manner that does foster deliberation. That’s because she’s working in the genre of philosophy, not political entertainment. If the student organization that invited the speaker actually wishes our campus community to deliberate the question “What is a woman?” (the title of their speaker’s presentation) then they have failed overwhelmingly. Their spectacle instead achieves the opposite.

And, disturbingly, that is its goal.

The presentation is funded in part by Young America’s Foundation, an organization that Amy Binder and Jeff Kidder discuss in their 2022 The Channels of Student Activism: How the Left and Right Are Winning (and Losing) in Campus Politics Today:

“Many outside organizations encourage students on the right to plan events specifically designed to incite outrage among their left-leaning peers. Once outrage is successfully sparked, and progressive students demand that administrators do something in response, the front line of conservative politics shifts to protecting the speech rights of reactionaries and provocateurs…. Ultimately, it is the influence of outside players—such as the Leadership Institute, Turning Point, Young America’s Foundation, PragerU, and Young Americans for Liberty, as well as local donors helping to fund their preferred campus clubs—that make speech uniquely effective in reactionary mobilization.”

(Please read Henry Farrell’s “Conservatives on campus” for more on the above.)

Young America’s Foundation, the invited speaker, and the student organization (to the degree that its members accepted the outside funding to host the speaker) are intentionally undermining the principle of careful and meaningful deliberation that is at the heart of their institution’s educational mission.

And there’s nothing to be done about that.

The next question before that student organization, the university administration, and the overall campus community is:

What practical steps can we begin now so that this doesn’t happen again?

Or, in terms of genre, can we please cut the bullshit?

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