Of course, the one week I take vacation, all hell breaks loose on The View. Rosie vs. Elisabeth! Left vs. right! Young vs. old! Fat lesbians vs. pretty Christians! Could there be a battle that better sums up where we’re at as a culture? While the subject has admittedly been talked to death already, I decided to check in on the sinking ship this morning and use it as an excuse to get some stuff off my chest. What I found was a pretty stinkin’ dull hour about dog weddings and Jimmy Fallon’s blandly peacenik iTunes track, with the most heated conversation involving whether or not it was morally wrong of the women to show a photo of an intoxicated Lindsay Lohan that appeared on the covers of today’s tabloids. (I loved Barbara Walters’ obvious confusion and remorse about what the paparazzi were doing to Linds, demonstrated by her shaky-yet-iron grip on the copy of the New York Post she was holding up at the time.)
So anyway, if you’re interested, my musings on what Ro’s departure means for the state of political dialogue in this country can be found after the jump. If you’re not, just skip ahead to the comments and discuss what’s creepier: Talking about porn with Baba Wawa, or guest host Whoopi Goldberg hijacking a discussion of porn by explaining that she watches it so she can learn about the infantilization of women via body waxing?
Okay, here’s the deal: I’ve been watching The View for 10 years now with as much regularity as I can muster for any morning show (with the exception of The Price is Right), and I’ve always enjoyed the banter around the table. Being a terrible egomaniac, I’ve also always envisioned what I’d do if I was given a chair. (Not that I ever would be, as “chunky blond left-wing Texan tomboy” is not a minority slot that needs filling.) Then Rosie showed up, and did… exactly what I would have. She was unrelenting, simultaneously bullying and fun, crabby and warm, brilliant with a tendency to gnaw on her own foot. She shared my point of view, and pushed the envelope of what one can say on a middlebrow show that caters to middlebrow women living in the middle of a country whose political middle sometimes has been besieged by shouting yahoos on both ends of the spectrum. Even more amazing: She fit right in. Rosie’s commentary, while intelligent and stubborn and just a little yahoo-ish, was more often than not greeted by applause from the studio audience. The ratings went up. To my knowledge, the show lost no advertisers. And instead of sticking to the niche shows that we know we already agree with (The Daily Show, The O’Reilly Factor, what have you), finally we could all tune in to something that was guaranteed to present a challenging perspective, every single day, no matter what side we were on.
It was a profound shift that I don’t think anyone expected. Here was this dippy little kaffeeklatsch, suddenly transformed into a place to hear real, current, vivid political discussions — on the war, the administration, global warming, whatevs — in which all personalities were represented. You know what it’s like when you talk politics with your friends and family? This was that! Rosie was the left-wing skeptic who occasionally veered off into conspiracy theories. Hasselbeck proclaimed her conservative faith while occasionally sounding hopelessly naive. Joy Behar tried to keep it light, but occasionally found a strong voice beyond her wisecracks. Walters, the reporter/mom, struggled to stay unbiased and occasionally scolded. The string of sorry little guest hosts du jour usually tried to crawl under the table, strangers at the world’s most awkward Thanksgiving. No matter your political leanings, there was always someone to root for.
I guess it was hopelessly naive of me to expect the fun could last. But what gets me is how it ended. Not, as many expected, with the interference of paranoid ABC execs or the public psychological dismembering of Hasselbeck — who has grown so much over the last year I daresay her newfound cojones may be O’Donnell’s biggest legacy — but with Rosie picking up her Koosh ball and going home. And that, Pop Watchers, is incredibly disappointing.
Because Rosie, let’s face it, did make a very divisive statement, one of countless divisive statements she’s made in her career. Yet for whatever reason, this time she seemed shocked by the consequences. Dude, you cannot say that if 655,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion, then “who are the terrorists?”, and not expect a certain segment of the population to put their screaming hats on. If you’re going to make comments like that — and I’m thrilled she did, I’m thrilled to have that perspective out there, I’m thrilled to have something real to think about, instead of stupid, sad, slumped-over Lindsay Lohan again and again and again — you have to be prepared for the people in the screaming hats, and you have to absorb it, and you have to press on. You cannot act like a wounded teenager. To paraphrase Hasselbeck, this is not some Donald Trump spat we are talking about. This is real. But for all the societal good she did in her almost-year on The View, and for all the good she’s done before — and I’m sure will continue to do after — this flare-up, Rosie backed down from that reality. She didn’t explain her perspective, she didn’t continue the dialogue, she just got tired, and she left.
So since I know she putters about the Internets from time to time, this is my plea to Rosie to reconsider this whole thing. (Barbara feels the same way.) Look, Ro, I know you’re frustrated, and I can hardly imagine how taxing it has to be to go through life with so much negativity pointed at you and your family, day in and day out. (Hell, I get depressed every time someone accuses me of being a sucky Lost recapper; I don’t know what I’d do if there were entire multimedia empires calling for my head.) But to walk away from this now means the shouters — the people who hear a dissenting opinion and counter it with cries of “SHUT UP FAT LESBIAN” — have triumphed. It’s a victory for everyone on the extremes of both ends, the ones who believe that there can’t be a civilized dialogue in this country — certainly not one between a bunch of women, my God — and all that matters is who yells louder. Maybe you got scared, Rosie, because you saw yourself on a split-screen and realized you were in danger of becoming part of the problem — but if you have the self-awareness to realize that, then I guarantee you are already 99 percent ahead of the game.
And let’s not forget the people who lose, yet again, are the people in the middle: anyone who, for not quite a year, could turn on the TV and find a tiny group of the most unexpected people having a chat about the crummy situations in the world today… and imagine themselves, no matter what they believe, sitting at the table, participating in the discussion. Maybe I’m giving this show way more credit than it deserves, but there was something utopian about it, don’t you think? In their silly, sunny, occasionally under-informed but always well-meaning way, the ladies of The View co-opted the frustratingly stagnant us-against-them political mindset of this country and made it waver, just a little. You could almost feel things start to change for the better, become more inclusive… couldn’t you?
Argh. I’m afraid this is becoming tiresome. I’ve really got to start a newsletter or something. Anyway. Use the comments to tell me the following: Do you think The View has the potential to carry on in the same vein sans Rosie? Can Joy Behar hold her own on the left or will she go back to delivering Catskills comedy gold? Are you like me in strangely respecting Hasselbeck’s newfound strength? Is there a show out there that I don’t know about that has the same egalitarian vibe? And if you got a chair at that table, what would you use it to say?