Spectacles of Conservative Amusement: A Caution

In the 1980’s, Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death about the narcotizing effect of television news becoming a form of infotainment that distracts from the issues being reported on. Fox News has long been thought of as engaging in conservative entertainment to promote the Republican Party and right-wing propaganda more generally. Laura Ingraham has a 10pm nightly show on Fox News entitled The Ingraham Angle and delivers steady ridicule of President Biden and the Democrats, formulations and reformulations of core white conservative values, and a more cohesive version of a GOP campaign platform than most Republican candidates can deliver on their own. With her Fox-blonde hair, late-50’s white attractiveness, and a steady stream of video around which she organizes her commentary, and the Fox chyron concentrating the message, Ingraham provides the kind of attractive, propulsive conservative messaging that Postman warned about in relation to the news media in general. She tells white conservatives who they are, what they think, and how they should experience life in a multicultural, socially liberal America that’s far from reflecting the views of white conservatives.

That brings me to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. My understanding of last week’s flying Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts stunt is that DeSantis was trying to up his status among Republican politicians by providing broadcast content for Fox News. Last week in San Antonio, Texas, a woman working for the Florida state government and known as Perla engaged in deceptive recruitment of newly arrived migrants in San Antonio, promising to fly them to Boston and offering a range of housing and employment benefits. According to the pamphlet being passed out, the migrants were promised things like opportunities to apply for social security cards, “eight months cash assistance, food, job training/placement, help with housing” and other fictitious benefits. Because of the false information given to the migrants, there has been talk about prosecuting DeSantis and Florida state government under human trafficking and other laws. It’s likely that human trafficking laws do not apply because the migrants were not being transported for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor. However, former federal attorney and MSNBC personality Glenn Kirschner believes that the migrant flights were “kidnapping by inveiglement” and ridicules DeSantis for his initial defenses against criticism.

Unlike human beings with ethics, the DeSantis people did not coordinate with anyone on Martha’s Vineyard or in the state of Massachusetts before just dropping off the Venezuelan migrants. However DeSantis did inform Fox News of the flight and there was consequently a Fox crew on hand when the plane landed. The conservative political point DeSantis wanted to make was that Martha’s Vineyard was full of “rich liberals” who would somehow panic at the sight of DeSantis and Fox News bringing the border crisis to Blue America. It’s all nonsense. El Paso, San Antonio, and big stretches of the Rio Grande Valley are already Blue America. Not that that matters to TX. Gov. Greg Abbott, Fox News, or the elderly white conservatives who watch Fox News. What these Republican voters want is to be entertained by the ridicule of white liberals and Ron DeSantis was able to market himself to Republican constituencies by delivering a new form of conservative entertainment through the Fox News television apparatus.

Much like Neil Postman worried about television as a metaphor for reality, it is also possible to worry about Ron DeSantis substituting the creation of conservative media content for the traditional governing functions of a big state like Florida. But I also wonder about the effect of government produced partisan entertainment on white conservative audiences. Postman followed Aldous Huxley in viewing the threat of modern totalitarianism more in terms of its narcotizing effect than the kind of tyranny seen in 1984 but I’m more inclined to see this kind of right-wing entertainment as addicting in the sense of requiring constantly bigger and more sensational spectacles of liberal humiliation.

It can’t be a good thing.

The GOP: The “(White) Boys Will Be Boys” Party

The story of host Jesse Watters courting his current wife Emma DiGiovine in 2018 while she was an intern for his show Watters World at Fox News reminds me a lot of my town’s Kim Davis of refusing to grant licenses to gay couples, having a child by her third husband five months after her divorce from her first husband, and then making her second husband into her fourth husband fame.

Fox News, The Five

The basics of Watters’ story were that he was married to his first wife Noelle (Inguagiato) Watters and was the father of twins, he started courting Emma DiGiovine (now Emma DiGiovine Watters) by letting the air out of all her tires and then offering her a ride. As soon as their affair started, the lovely couple reported their romance to the Fox News brass and they reassigned DiGiovine (now Watters) to ghoul Laura Ingraham and her show “The Ingraham Angle.”

Apparently Noelle Watters was neither amused nor inspired by the love story of her husband and his husband’s mistress and immediately filed for divorce. And who can blame her.

But my main point is that guys like Watters are part of what weak Republicans, independents, and moderates like about the Republican Party. There’s a kind of instinct to see Republicans as the “(white) boys will be boys” party and to view these kinds of frat boy stunts as “funny,” “brave,” “harmless,” and above all entertaining. The presence of guys like Watters gives the Republican Party and conservative movement cover for the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement, the religious right, and MAGA. It’s like “Republicans can’t be all bad” as long as they’re associated with irreverent and fun guys like Jesse Watters.

In various ways, conservative activists call for a return to the 50’s, but figures like Jesse Watters provide a real connection to the bad boy white male entitlement of the time.

That’s a deep cultural asset for Republicans.