No matter how busy I am in my very hectic life, one of the few schedule things I try to do when Patty is away (when she’s home I certainly have other incentives to be home at a decent hour) is to get home in time to watch Keith Olbermann. I don’t always manage it, but I do try.
So imagine my surprise tonight when I got home ten minutes late for even the end of it to a stack of emails that basically boiled down to OMGWTFBBQ about the news-to-me announcement that tonight was the last edition of Countdown.
To be clear, because it needs to be said so as not to distract from the rest of this post, I didn’t always agree with Olbermann’s positions or the way he framed them. Sometimes, I found myself frustrated with him, both as an audience member and as someone who has worked in and about journalism. But, to be frank, it wasn’t strictly due to journalism that I had such an affection for Countdown. The reasons I did are complicated, personal, and often, a little bit silly.
I’m a lot more hesitant than I used to be to talk online about my education. The discussions tend to make other people angry, and me frustrated. But it suffices to say that I went to private school where an emphasis was put on all forms of communication. I wrote two-hour essay examinations in every subject but mathematics from sixth grade on, and took mandatory classes in subjects like rhetoric and Latin. Because of my education, I learned to speak in very specific ways that were designed to be assertive, excessively nuanced (sometimes for the express purpose of deception), and deeply attuned to cadence.
That mode of both speech and writing has been both my greatest asset and, often, a headache. It is a style that can make people bristle, both because it is sometimes somewhat impenetrable, and because it leaves little room for phrases like “in my opinion.” This education, this adherence to my education, has certainly gotten me into trouble more than once, and part of those occasions have also largely concerned the fact that I come in female form. This combination of gender expectations and personal delivery mechanisms hasn’t always been kind to me, and it is something I am, frankly, unwilling to modulate.
Countdown reliably riveted me because, for good or for ill, and whether or not I agreed him with on any given evening, Olbermann used language on that show in the manner I was taught to aspire to. The program was, especially in his finer “Special Comment” moments, the way I was told as a child the world was supposed to sound. As someone who has struggled with even the benefits of my education and the awkward way they intersected with the reality of the years I spent concurrent to that education in speech therapy, Olbermann’s rants often made me feel as if I am not as wrong to engage with language in the manner that I do, as I have often been encouraged to feel.
Many of the criticisms that seem to be flying about Olbermann with particular frequency in this immediate wake of the demise of Countdown also resonate for me. Olbermann is a celebrity celiac. And while he has noted on-air that he is lucky in that his symptoms are not as severe as many with the disease, and has generally been unspecific about those that he does endure, it is worth noting that my experience of celiac disease has been that I am subject to attacks of temper, cruelty and despair, particularly if I have been exposed to gluten (this is a recognized and common symptom). I spent decades of my life being labeled mercurial, unstable, angry, crazy, and dramatic, and huge swathes of that experience were related to my then-undiagnosed disease. Today, I can recognize the feeling of my mind and temperament being terrifying hijacked by any exposure to one of the world’s most common foods. I have no reason to know, and no comfort in speculating, as to whether Olbermann’s notoriously difficult temperament has any connection to the disease we share in common, but the mere possibility of it has been a private and awkward comfort to me, especially when I consider the more embarrassing and volatile moments of my personal history.
Finally, my affection for Countdown and my respect for Olbermann comes from my queerness. It’s not just that Olbermann did something significant when he delivered Special Comments wherein he, as a self-described straight man, choked up when speaking out about the wrongs of marriage inequality (although, that was pretty awesome). It’s that he has advocated for queer people from a presentation of not just heterosexuality, but of a somewhat classic (and yes, unfortunately at times misogynist) presentation of masculinity. I don’t like that the queer community needs allies that fit that blueprint — it shouldn’t be necessary — but in a world where it is, I’ve been glad that Olbermann has been that ally.
And that gladness has not just been because of Olbermann’s verbal agility, but because, and this is perhaps the silly part (although surely understood in its significance by other gender non-conforming people), he’s been one of my sartorial role models. Once I decided it was okay to present myself as male, masculine and/or in men’s clothing with some regular frequency in my day-to-day life, watching Countdown was a huge part of how I learned men’s style in terms of color, pattern mixing and cut in men’s suits, shirts and ties.
I truly am beside myself for, among other reasons, this loss of my nightly personally-queered fashion fix.