Regular readers of Under 30 blog know I have three strange obsessions: (1) "American Idol; (2) Deadspin.com; and (3) Bill O'Reilly. This piece from The New Yorker does a great job of dissecting No. 3.
O'Reilly is the most fascinating character on television, a real-life Tony Soprano. He's probably crazy, and a scumbag, and yet I can't help sympathizing with him. There is clearly a well of incredible pain inside of him. Nicholas Lenmann senses this, too, and writes about it insightfully.
Class—that is, class resentment—is where, for O’Reilly, politics, and everything else, begins. His first best-seller, “The O’Reilly Factor,” published in 2000, asserts, “Whatever I have done or will do in this life, I’m working-class Irish American Bill O’Reilly.” (Another of O’Reilly’s feuds is with the columnist Michael Kinsley, who several years ago suggested that O’Reilly is actually from a middle-class background; last year, on the radio, O’Reilly objected to a call by the Los Angeles Times editorial page, then edited by Kinsley, for legal representation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. “They’ll never get it,” O’Reilly said, “until they grab Michael Kinsley out of his little house and they cut his head off. And maybe when the blade sinks in, he’ll go, ‘Perhaps O’Reilly was right.’ ”) In the book, O’Reilly goes on, “No one ever told me or my sister that we were pretty far down the social totem pole while we were growing up in 1960s America. We took for granted that it was normal to buy cars only when they were secondhand, that every family clipped coupons to save money, and that luncheon meats were the special of the day.” And so on: “When our family went out to eat, a rare treat, we didn’t waste money on appetizers, if only because we didn’t go to the kind of restaurants that offered appetizers. Typically the pasta dish was spaghetti, and that was it. No linguine, fettuccine, rigatoni, etceterini, etceterini, to confuse the issue.”
I never saw Nassau County, Long Island, where O’Reilly, who is fifty-six, grew up, in the nineteen-sixties, but I’m guessing that restaurants so unpretentious that they wouldn’t serve a soup-of-the-day didn’t actually exist. Still, the idea of such a restaurant captures O’Reilly’s idea of himself. As soon as he left home—to go to Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, New York—O’Reilly had occasional encounters with members of the fortunate classes, in which, inevitably, he was put down. At Marist, he longed for the girls from nearby Vassar, but “the Ivy Leaguers up from Princeton or down from Cornell got the dates; we were treated like hired help.” By O’Reilly’s account, wealth and fame have not changed the pattern. Even now, when he wanders within range of the “swells,” which he does surprisingly often for a guy who despises them, they sneer at him, just as they would sneer at any ordinary American.