Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Every time Rosie O’Donnell would walk on stage during The View’s opening, she made a gesture of feigned shock that there were all these people wildly applauding for her. She would turn her hands upwards and furrow her brow in exaggerated confusion and then as she’d continue out towards the table (trailed by the other consistently waving co-hosts), her open Irish face would break into a bright wide smile. She was, it seemed from the very start, saying to everyone who watched: I am going to take you with me now, into the land of bright lights, quick touch-ups and major league pretend.
But doing that while still following the rest of the rules of network television proved ultimately an impossible balancing act for a woman who has remarkably balanced a great deal. Or rather a task whose compromises, not just of time away from her beloved family (a family, it can safely be said, she made a natural part of morning conversation despite the fact that it is unconventional by traditional — and it would seem now, in large part thanks to her — almost archaic standards) but of her fiercely held moral standards of what is right and what is real.
Television has taken almost every ounce of reality away from the very genre so named. We are all supposed to be in on the joke now — that everything we see is edited and manipulated to serve some larger narrative. To wit: the debauched kids on MTV’s Real World: The Moon! (Not really, but they’re seriously running out of places to house these drunken whores), the wrecked and weeping women riding away mascara-streaked in limousines after being dumped by the latest Bachelor, or the ever available desperados of afternoon talk shows. Jerry Springer is still perhaps the most extreme, and even he now has his own meta-show, The Springer Hustle where we see that guests are so heavily prepped by producers they’re actually told at what point to physically attack their cheating spouse (when the lie detector or DNA test comes back positive) or racist neighbor (when he or she inevitably and often gleefully uses the “n” word)
For Rosie what is real is synonymous with the truth and the truth is as precious a commodity as it is rare, at least in the realm of show business. On her heavily trafficked website, she often writes about things like feeding geese, befriending squirrels, baby birds hatching in a corner of her roof, her wife’s conservative family, her children’s small triumphs and the ordinary people she encounters’ various struggles to survive. She puts her money where her mouth is and consistently gives it away, threatening to fire her financial advisors should she ever wind up on a Richest Celeb list. But she’s also fully recognized and taken advantage of the national audience she regained by joining The View this year, speaking out and devoting whole hours to issues like depression, autism, and the devastating illnesses now ravaging the 9/11 first responders.
Then there is The War. Rosie has relentlessly, with unmistakable rage and palpable grief refused, despite Barbara Walter’s awkward discomfort with it, to stop speaking out about this criminal administration and the Iraq War it made up, dressed up, and sold to our nation. “WAKE UP, AMERICA!” Rosie has, for years now, commanded from within the sometimes-confusing typographical trenches of her blog. Despite the fact that the media’s manipulations drove her from the very show she reinvented, Rosie’s fights with Elisabeth Hasselbeck did nothing if they did not wake us up. They were riveting in their rawness and to the extent one side of them ever seemed prepped, Rosie made no attempt to hide her disgust with such executively borne machinations. On what O’Donnell has since called Nuclear Wednesday, Hasselbeck made an analogy about a deadline for pulling out of the war and a timed football pass. Nothing could have articulated more clearly what Rosie seemed to find so anathema about this woman’s politics and ultimately her personal comportment. While Elisabeth appeared to almost relish the supposed gamesmanship of their political throw downs — going off to do sound bytes for the nightly “entertainment” show after Wednesday’s meltdown and assuring the public she wasn’t “mad” and that they would most definitely remain friends, they wore Rosie O’Donnell so far down you could literally see it in her eyes. They grew distant long before that eventual (and perhaps inevitable) dénouement.
Rosie said it was the split screen that was the final nail in her View coffin. It makes sense. The split screen implied that these feelings and ideas Rosie holds so dear and was trying, so very hard it seemed, to communicate to Elisabeth (but also to anyone who had ever twisted her words to serve their personal agenda) about truth and justice and loyalty and humanity could be turned into an empty gesture of celluloid commercialism: Selling Rosie as the worst and most dishonest caricature of herself, one side of a two dimensional screen. Kind of like what the government has done to our nation. Every day veracity is under siege in America as the current administration tries to warp what’s actually happening while the vast majority of our mainstream media remains complicit with their systematic airbrushing of the bloody facts.
We who compulsively tuned into the video blog she began a few weeks ago with her quirky long time producer-cum-mustache artist and giant-turkey-wing-eating hair stylist saw that Rosie was clearly far more at ease back stage, behind closed doors with a face naked of all concealers, singing along to Amy Winehouse or Tina Turner and answering some of the thousands of questions she gets daily than she ever would be out on that carefully orchestrated studio set.
I am confident, however, that Rosie will return. Not to The View, but to the unmatched power that is television. She’ll don the necessary war paint and head out under the hot white lights and blinking audience signs. She may act more or less surprised that people still love her, despite and because of her rage. The fact is this: A steadfast quest to reveal what is really real requires Rosie stay out here, on the front lines of truth.
By Amanda Guinzburg