"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

"For straight up monster-stomping goodness, nothing makes smoke shoot out my ears like Brilliant@Breakfast" -- Tata

"...the best bleacher bum since Pete Axthelm" -- Randy K.

"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Monday, June 25, 2012

Does writing for the New York Times turn you into David Brooks?
Posted by Jill | 6:08 AM
I'd expect David Brooks to write an article about Chris Hayes that sounds as if he were an archaeologist studying a newly-discovered species of bonobo monkeys. Alex Williams is a Styles section writer, and hardly an old geezer. So why does this article about the small phenomenon that Up With Chris Hayes has become, read like one of David Brooks' more annoying and clueless examinations of What The Young Folks Are Thinking?

Word of “Up w/Chris Hayes” has spread beyond a few hundred punk fans. In less than a year on television (and with a chirpy voice, a weakness for gesticulation and a tendency to drop honors-thesis words like “signifier” into casual conversation), Mr. Hayes has established himself as Generation Y’s wonk prince of the morning political talk-show circuit.

But even with his grad-student sensibility and a program that resembles a dorm-room bull session, Mr. Hayes has attracted a cult following, particularly among frustrated hyper-educated members of the Occupy Wall Street generation who are seemingly fed up with the partisan bickering that prevails in Washington and passes as political discourse on the airwaves.

“He is never doctrinaire,” Mr. Leo said in an interview. Both punk fans and “Up” fans are “suspicious of any authority,” he said, and appreciate that Mr. Hayes “is always willing to challenge his own assumptions, and the received wisdom on both sides of the aisle.”

Like Deadheads or Trekkies, fans of the program cluster under a common nickname: Uppers.

Credit for the nickname goes to Wyeth Ruthven, a public relations consultant in Washington, who coined the #uppers Twitter hashtag as a joke about the program’s early broadcast time last October, a couple of weeks after it began. The term quickly went viral after Mr. Hayes (who monitors his Twitter feed on a MacBook Pro beside him as cameras roll, and often invokes viewer tweets on air) retweeted Mr. Ruthven. Within weeks, hundreds were joining the spirited #uppers debates on issues like gay marriage and industrial farming. Viewers now post more than 6,000 comments every weekend.

Social media, in fact, have played an unusually important role in driving traffic to the program, an MSNBC spokeswoman said. About 45 percent of the visitors to the program’s Web site, which contains complete episodes, linked through sites like Facebook and Twitter. In April, those users spent an average of 51 minutes on the site each visit.

But Twitter is still the hotbed of “Up” fandom. Even so, the program’s feed is not just an online clubhouse for New York media types like Lizz Winstead, a creator of “The Daily Show,” and members of Le Tigre, the too-cool electro-pop band. Cher and Chad Ochocinco have chimed in, too.

Whatever their political leanings, fans are responding out of frustration with the status quo, said Jim Rosenberg, a recruiting consultant in Greensboro, N.C., and frequent tweeter. “It’s the pent-up demand for voices other than the well-rehearsed and seasoned insider professionals who have dominated television delivering practiced meaninglessness for years,” he said.

“Up” comes off as a rebuke to traditional cable shout-fests like CNN’s late “Crossfire.” Thanks to its early weekend time slot, the program has the freedom to unwind over two hours each Saturday and Sunday. Guests are encouraged to go deep into the issues of the week, and not try to score cheap-shot points to win the debate

Maybe the hipsters at that peanut butter and jelly restaurant in the Village call themselves "Uppers", but frankly, I find it hard to believe that anyone outside the Times' newsroom calls them that. And to refer to them as being "Like Deadheads or Trekkies"? Pejorative much?

Not only do I watch Up With Chris Hayes, I knew who he was when he was just another one of those talking heads that appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show from time to time. Mr. Brilliant watches Chris Hayes. We are 57 years old. My 87-year-old father watches Chris Hayes. My 38-year-old Jamaican colleague watches Chris Hayes. Anyone who wants to actually KNOW about and UNDERSTAND what happened in the world the previous week either watches, or ought to watch, this show.

At first the rotating panel didn't rotate very much, and one had the sense that it was difficult to get people to come into the studio that early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Back then, you could rely on Reihan Salam, one of that rare specimen known as "sane conservative", to show up every week. Salam has a special place in my heart not just because he's a conservative that actually lives in something approaching the real world, but because he has the distinction of being the only guest ever to actually eat, on camera, the pastries that sit, like a bowl of wax fruit, in the middle of the table, untouched until after the cameras are turned off. But back then the panel always consisted of an Old Guy (usually Bob Herbert or Jerry Nadler), a sane conservative, and two of the sort of people you'd expect to see on a show like this. Today, the number of people you'll see on this show is larger, but you can rely on two hours of intelligent and demanding dialogue. Get off the couch after watching this show, and not only will you know more than you did when you woke up, but you'll also be just a little bit tired, as if you'd just spend two hours in a particularly demanding political science class. It's an exhilarating experience, especially if when you think of Sunday morning talk shows, you think of smarmy David Gregory dry-humping his Chosen Republican of the Week or George Will and Cokie Roberts being wrong about almost everything just as they've been for the last thirty years.

But speaking of lazy, condescending, wrong-about-everything hack opinion journalism, let's get back to Alex Williams, shall we? Now granted, this is a guy who paints with an equally broad verbal brush aging Gen-X skateboarders, people who play Words With Friends, and the horrific plight of beleaguered would-be young authors trying to break into the publishing industry. OK, I'll give him that last one, as it IS kind of hilarious to attempt to feel sorry for struggling creative people who can regularly meet in an Upper East Side apartment to bitch about being shut out of the intelligentsia. But while Williams fancies himself to be some sort of anthropologist of American culture, he, like David Brooks, also remains completely apart from it, observing with a condescending distance what he believes to be the strange behaviors of people who just happen to like the same thing and find common ground in same.

Maybe Alex Williams is trying desperately to convey some sort of hipness of his own, in much the same way that David Brooks thinks he knows what "real Americans" -- you know, the ones who Brooks says go to the salad bar at Applebee's -- think. The problem with being an observer of group behavior is that you inevitably come across as setting yourself apart from it, and therefore treating it in a condescending manner. I realize that David Brooks makes a very good living spouting his nonsense, but he's hardly something to which a young journalist should aspire.

Maybe Williams should start watching Up With Chris Hayes on Sundays. He might actually learn something.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
Anonymous newbroom said...
I am no twit
I do not face
my place is not myspace
yet I do sit
I do engage
I do read words
upon the page

Anonymous Linda S said...
I'm with you - it's without a doubt the smartest, best educated news program I've ever seen. The conversations are as fast as an Aaron Sorkin script; and I am absolutely exhilarated by it. And by the way, I'm a 62 year old broad in Atlanta. Take that Alex Williams! Are all New Yorkers so clueless about the rest of the country?

Anonymous KanaW said...
Huh. I'm 55, and I watch Up With Chris Hayes. My mum is 83, and she watches, too.

And the guy who writes the article "his personal journey of growing a beard and the new significance of beards in today's culture" isn't necessarily my first go-to for political knowledge. /snark

That may be a little 'elitist' of me, too, but I'll take Chris Hayes' outlook, knowledge, and research over anyone's but Rachel Maddow's, any day!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I watch Chris Hayes (54) and so does my older brother. My "hipster" daughter and her husband? They don't have cable- is he on Hulu? I doubt they'd watch if he was.

Blogger Ramonas Voices said...
Ha ha, love those crazy, clueless snobs! Wouldn't they be shocked at just how silly they come across to people with two feet planted firmly on the ground? Gad!

I'm 74 and it's a given every Saturday and Sunday morning that the two hours between 8 and 10 AM are sacrosanct. They're all MINE and I'm watching UP.

(I don't call myself an Upper, either.) I love the fact that smart people can sit around a table and talk at length about issues they (and we) care about, without the snark or phony outrage.

I love that Chris is an unabashed liberal and comes at issues as any self-respecting liberal would--with an open mind and an open heart.

What I hate is condescending high-falutin' phonies whose noses are so high up in the air they can't focus on what's real and what's just fluff and stuff.

So, yeah, all you said. And thank you for saying it.