Pundit Aground


Greg Gutfeld’s 2014 book Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War On You is the type of hyper-partisan screed I’d normally ignore, but I was once a guest on the author’s Fox News show Redeye and so gave Not Cool a skim.  On the Redeye set in 2010, where I plugged my new book Out of Our Heads:  Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off, Gutfeld was nice enough, although he seemed more preoccupied with delivering effective television than eliciting any profound insights from me.  A similar impulse, I discovered, informs Not Cool:  Gutfeld’s true realm is not political analysis or cultural theory, but pure entertainment.

While Not Cool belongs in the same ideological camp as Glenn Beck’s An Inconvenient Book, Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots, and everything by the emetic Ann Coulter, I hasten to place Gutfeld et al in an overall category that also includes Bill Maher (The New Rules), Keith Olbermann (Pitchforks and Torches), plus Al Franken (Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) and even Michael Moore (Stupid White Men, and many others).  Redeye itself, and Gutfeld’s on-air persona, are plainly striving to be the conservative response to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.  What all of these figures and their publications have in common is the marketability that comes with being prominent broadcast personalities, whatever exactly they have to say.  Next to the star power of the TV pundit, a mere journalist, writer, or academic doesn’t have nearly the same kind of platform – Out of Our Heads, for example, has exactly two reviews on Amazon, while Not Cool has 538.

Like the other pundit books, too, Not Cool is not only a spinoff from electronic media, but it is also largely about that media.  Gutfeld and his peers live and breathe cable news, political websites, and political blogs, so their topics are often irate deconstructions of what Talking Head X said on Panel Show Y, as reported by Z.com.  “Political junkie” is usually a lighthearted term applied to those who follow party and legislative debates more closely than the average person, but junkies are also considered craven addicts whose only perspective is on getting their next fix. Greg Gutfeld, mad as hell over micro-issues few of his readers ever give much thought to, is a full-blown political junkie:  obsessed, agitated, and kind of pathetic.

Not Cool also resembles other media-based polemics in its vilifying of an elite.  Among its competitors at the book store are Firing Back:  Taking On the Party Bosses and the Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Our Freedom; The Next American Civil War:  The Populist Revolt Against the Liberal Elite; Unaccountable:  How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom, and Security; and Get Up, Stand Up:  Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.   I was aware that there were hipsters, but Gutfeld’s charge that they had formed a dominant group nefariously influencing the rest of society came as a surprise to me.  In fact a nebulous class of arrogant / out-of-touch / disproportionately powerful Others has been a convenient rhetorical enemy for decades.  It is no longer enough to disagree with a particular segment of the electorate; they must emit a whiff of unearned privilege, of not being “real” citizens.  Where else we heard such insinuations deployed?  The concept of elites, whoever invokes it, encourages us to disengage from difficult ideas, since the people who hold them apparently don’t qualify as fellow human beings. Strangely, too, network TV hosts – specialized talents in a prestigious profession – are themselves exempt from the elite label.  And after dire proclamations of totalitarian Wars on Christmas, the Family, and Freedom, you can’t get much more alarmist than Gutfeld’s perceived War on You.  Yikes!  The Hipster Elites are coming.

Greg Gutfeld is, finally, a mid-level celebrity whose shtick happens to be an inflammatory and very superficial brand of editorializing, rather than a serious political thinker or a sophisticated social critic.  His regular audience, as well, is a fandom of easily riled television viewers rather than any sort of genuine grassroots movement.  Too bad the differences – between public intellectuals and cheap-shot cheerleaders, and between democracy and show business – aren’t as plain as they used to be.

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