You have no idea how much I wish the old schoolyard word "sissy" had forever been swept out to sea by enlightened adult society. How could we possibly need the preteen word for the opposite of machismo anymore? So I thought.
No such luck. It was the word I couldn't help thinking of when the sissy patrol knocked some serious heads last week in the schoolyard of modern media. We learned:
*On Friday, that MSNBC's splendidly sclerotic and literate leftist Keith Olbermann has left the network he helped save from metric squalor and that, in fact, he was "told" Friday's edition of his show, "Countdown," would be his last. Whatever he himself contributed to the battle royal, there's no question -- after his two-day suspension in the fall for making campaign contributions (most prominently now, to Gabrielle Giffords) -- the major impetus for getting him off the air wasn't his choice but his network's, which is now in the final stages of being sold, lock, stock and corporate NBC tradition, to Comcast. (When you're "told" an edition of your show will be the last, it's pretty clear.)
*Earlier in the week, Ricky Gervais went on CNN's Piers Morgan's show to chortle with his fellow Brit and defend himself against the strange public charge that he was, two Sundays ago, the finest Golden Globes host that misbegotten glam festival will ever have.
True, Gervais stuck awfully close to supermarket tabloids and coastal police blotters for his genuinely nasty jokes at Hollywood's expense. But even though the sexual presumptions of Hugh Hefner, say, make him the world's easiest target, Ricky took live prime-time TV about as far into real, no-holds-barred roast territory as you'll ever see.
Gasps in the audience greeted jokes about closeted Scientologists. And Robert Downey Jr. -- a truly civilized man in his way, bless him -- was moved to point out that genuine mean-spiritedness and creepiness had moved into an event that usually can be counted on to set the current American standard for promotional hype and brazen B.S. (where the "business" of "show" rules so decisively that everyone is shut up behind iron-gated bottom lines).
The wounded outcry that followed was similar to the grenade Stephen Colbert lobbed into the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years ago: hosts can't do THAT, can they?
Well, Gervais could and did. And if the Hollywood Foreign Press Association wanted to make a down payment on something that might actually resemble integrity, it would tell Gervais "Gee that was rough. How would you like a contract to do it for life? Or at least for the next few years?"
But no. In the current schoolyard of cable and Internet chatter where a lot of fake opinions no one really has occupy a lot of space because SOMETHING has to, they're pretending to be terrified their precious red carpets could be reduced to entertaining D-minus grade celebrities of the Snooki and Andy Dick ilk if Ricky were allowed to go his very merry way.
The Olbermann Affair -- which, no doubt, will be unrolled in detail for us soon -- seems, at this stage, ruinously silly for MSNBC. Olbermann has been famous for fomenting front office fights his entire career. The only intelligent thing to do would have been to: a) pay him; b) leave him alone to do what he does; c) say "attaboy" when it's good; and d) say "don't do that again" on those inevitable occasions when his penchant for ranting and rhetorical excess carry him out past the 12-mile limit. And Olbermann, because he's a brilliant man who's spent a life testing where the limits are, would, no doubt, comply.
The grievous and hopelessly corrupt error in the whole Olbermann/MSNBC thing was making the network's top ratings-getter an anchor on Election Night even though everyone over 12 could see that he has no reportorial objectivity whatsoever. And Election Night is the one night of the year when that is the ONLY quality necessary for an anchor.
It was the MSNBC hierarchy, then, that let its most popular -- and interesting, by far -- personality slip into a position where NBC's journalistic old guard (notably Tom Brokaw) started making rude background noises to whomever would listen.
It's ancient journalistic practicality: Reporters report with a dedication to fairness and accuracy, and commentators, critics and analysts enlighten and persuade by whatever rhetorical means they may have at their disposal.
If only MSNBC understood what Olbermann actually did, he'd probably still be there.