Aisle Of Wit

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If Voltaire Were Alive, What Would He Stream?

I had a French teacher in high school who was exceptionally passionate about French authors, and strongly encouraged those of us who wanted to get on his good side to read the works of some of his favorites.  He was reported to be an especially demanding and sometimes vindictive sort, so I sought out those works in my library (which, thankfully, carried many of them in English).

The one that left the most enduring mark on me was Francois-Marie Arouet, who you might have known better as Voltaire.  As he was accurately defined by Wikipedia, there’s plenty of reasons why his most prominent work, Candide, resonated so deeply with me:

Voltaire was famous for his wit, and his criticism of Christianity—especially the Roman Catholic Church—and of slavery; an advocate of freedom of speechfreedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

Voltaire was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, and scientific expositions. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets.[10] Voltaire was one of the first authors to become renowned and commercially successful internationally. He was an outspoken advocate of civil liberties and was at constant risk from the strict censorship laws of the Catholic French monarchy. His polemics witheringly satirized intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day. His best-known work and magnum opusCandide, is a novella which comments on, criticizes, and ridicules many events, thinkers, and philosophies of his time.

My teacher was happy I followed his lead, reminding me that perhaps the most famous quote attributed to Voltaire was “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.  It left its imprint on me.  Indeed, it’s one of the guideposts that has led me to begin to try this outlet for my insights and opinions, many of which a lot of you condemn me for having.

I don’t know if Jason Klarman took French in high school, or even studied Voltaire,  But I do know as the president of FOX Nation, he is carrying that principle forward as he attempts to bring those who watch FOX News, and have enough disposable income and bandwidth to extend their relationship, into the digital age.  Klarman is one of the original architects of FOX News Channel, and was a disciple of the late Roger Ailes.  With an extensive background in marketing, Klarman briefly left the Murdoch flock to run Oxygen Media for NBCU, where he successfully evolved what was originally a high-concept women’s-focused channel with ambitious and expensive programming concepts into a reality-centric outlet built around the kinds of stories and subjects that DATELINE was finding success with.  These extended and dramatized true crime series would not only tell the story of the victim, but also probe the motivations of the accused.

Fair and balanced, one might say.  The very words Ailes and Rupert Murdoch used to defend FOX News.  Which, like it or not, is now the most-viewed linear cable channel in prime time on most evenings.  Any businessperson would be foolish not to try and cultivate some segment of that population into a deeper connection with the brand.  That’s simply good marketing.  And, having crossed paths with Klarman professionally on a couple of occasions, I can attest he’s one of the savvier marketers I’ve ever dealt with–although a tad elitist at the time on how he traveled.  Rather than join a team of my colleagues on a series of commercial flights that hopped around the country to study the FOX brand in detail, Klarman instead used a FOX corporate jet to avoid the airport delays and work around his schedule.  None of us were too happy about that but, heck, as we encountered weather delay after weather delay we envied him nonetheless.

Which, of course, naturally brings us to Kanye West.

You probably have noticed that everyone’s favorite rapping psychopath is back in the news cycle, both for his fashion choices and his decision to express his desire to “go death con 3 on Jewish people”.  The latter has him banned from Instagram and now even Twitter, despite the fact that incoming owner Elon Musk welcomed “his friend” back to the platform.  Prominent Jewish celebrities including Jamie Lee Curtis  and Sarah Silverman immediately took to those platforms to express their outrage; Silverman perhaps capturing the emotion succinctly with this response:

Kanye threatened the Jews yesterday on twitter and it’s not even trending. Why do mostly only Jews speak up against Jewish hate? The silence is so loud  .

As A Jew myself, I’m mortified that someone has the mindset that West does.  And when I see him in the same cycle doing in an indepth interview with Tucker Carlson that attempted to explain his decision to wear a “White Lives Matter” shirt at a Paris fashion show, it was a reminder that Carlson, on top of being the anchor of said most popular program on cable, is also now part of FOX Nation.  Which is also devoting programs to the likes of Roseanne Barr and Sharon Osbourne, each fired from broadcst network jobs in recent years for posting what executives believed were racist tweets.    Noticing a pattern here?

First of all, let me clear up any confusion.  I’m at best only modestly familiar with West’s musical talents; personally, I prefer Drake.   And I am far more stunned that, in spite of his clearly warped brain, he somehow convinced Kim Kardashian to produce children with him.  You can unpack my own need for therapy with that statement.  So this is by no means a defense of West’s opinions.  Nor is it one that will attempt to defend Carlson for his, which is the epitome of elitist what-about-ism that frequently contorts facts into a word salad and clips that frame what manty consider an incindiary POV.

Rather, this is about whether any of these FOX Nation personalities and subjects have any right to express their viewpoints at all.

Those that have expressed public outrage at Kanye’s view of the world are not without their own questionable motivations.  Curtis, after all, is in the midst of heavily promoting her HALLOWEEN ENDS movie, which happens to open Friday at a theatre near you.  Silverman built her comedy career with a hilarious and provocative monologue about the inner thoughts of her vagina (which, as many comedians I’ve personally known have confirmed, was often readily displayed at many a wild party).  Keeping themselves in national conversation to support their own brands is not completely off the table.

But I’m NOT the least bit offended by either of those behaviors, because what they both did now was merely express their opinions.  As I am now.  And as Voltaire urged us to do four centuries ago.  And as Klarman is attempting to build a viable business model out of FOX Nation with today.  If enough people sign up to make it profitable enough for FOX to continue it, it will continue, and he’ll be employed.  If not, it’s likely at some point they’ll both be gone eventually–although you’d be right to suspect there’s probably more rope here than most FOX businesses have.

And no, I don’t subscribe to it, nor am I any financial position to do so for quite a while.  As I’ve reminded those of you who care to read these days, I’ve had my own share of prejudicial treatment of late, professionally and personally.  So yes, I can fully identify with those who are so justifiably aghast at what Kanye wears and tweets.  And I suppose I can take some solace that even Kardashian now understands how truly f–ked up he is.

But he does have the right to express his opinion.  We have the right to despise him for it.  Barr and Osbourne have the right to have their own opinions as well.  Both have apologized profusely for their views.   Like any of us, they now want to move on with the rest of their lives.  Personally, I find it incendiary that people believe having a controversial opinion is reason enough to deny someone that right for the rest of their existence.  And, apparently, so does Klarman, and those who can afford to subscribe to FOX Nation, or at least watch the branded content that FOX News Channel airs as a barker for the streaming service.

If you disagree with their viewpoints, or that of FOX Nation or even FOX, you don’t have to watch.  You don’t even need to pay attention to what any of them say.  Frankly, you should probably not be as focused on what even Curtis and Silverman and others say, either.  Maybe pay a tad more notice to what someone like yours truly says, or how deeply I wish someone would give a shred of a f–k about my situation that those of any of these far more successful and prolific personalities.

Voltaire would certainly back me up.  And I wonder how he’d play on FOX Nation.  Maybe my high school French teacher would have subscribed.

Until next time…