Book Review - Mad over Rachel Maddow

How a butch in pantsuits gave liberal media its balls back

If you Google "Rachel Maddow" + "sexy," more than 500,000 links pop up. That revelation probably discloses more about the person doing the research than it does the object of said researcher's affections. But this much is undeniable: For nearly five years, the librul fetishization of Rachel Maddow has become something of a national media obsession, and a saving grace.

Call it a meta-swoon, the way she seduces us every weeknight at 9 on MSNBC with more rational thinking and deductive reasoning than cable news has emitted since Ted Turner conjured up the whole sadistic enterprise.

Right out of the gate, Salon.com called her a "reluctant sex symbol." The Village Voice followed up by deeming her the "new butch poster girl." And that was all after the New York Times' Style magazine speculated, in a piece titled "Butch Fatale," that Maddow's "universal seduction" was based on her being "willing to prettify herself" for men, despite being made for a woman.

But anyone who thinks Maddow's law of attraction is primarily based on her low-key sense of lesbo style, or her ability to wear the hell out of a pantsuit, must be blinded by some heavenly ray of sunlight bouncing off those blue eyeglass frames she dons in her downtime. It ain't her body, or the way she inhabits it, that makes her so irresistible. It's her brain.

For too long, we've waited for someone to stand up to the bullies of right-wing media — the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys — and squelch the perception that progressives are pussies by showing that genuine smarts really do win over annoying smarty pants.

While Fox pretended to be "fair and balanced" and CNN feigned indifference, MSNBC attempted to follow Keith Olbermann's madlib(eral) model. But in Maddow it found something different — a Rhodes scholar and former AIDS activist more passionate about interpreting the news than egging on fights for ratings.

Whether she's calling Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a "troll" over his recent characterization of the Voting Rights Act as "racial entitlement" or dressing down a guest like ex-gay activist Richard Cohen for his complicity in the persecution of homosexuals, she does it with such thoughtfulness it's hard to hate.

The only thing better than her smiling analyses each weeknight is her ability to straddle politics and pop culture without sacrificing a wink of credibility. Just check the proliferation of Rachel Maddow porn scrolling on Tumblr dedication pages (fuckyeahrachelmaddow, rachelmaddowheygirl, maddowphilia, etc.) for proof. It might border on objectification if it weren't so damn informative. Even King of Squeam Howard Stern complimented her "intelligence," rather than some random body part, when she was a guest on his program last year (although he did try probing into her sex life several times, to no avail). And if that ain't enough, she can mix a mean Old Fashioned or a Jack Rose.

In a sense, it is her ability to be human, and humane — unlike the staid, straitlaced network anchors of yesteryear, or cable's contemporary pundits-gone-wild — that makes Maddow such essential viewing. While it might take another half century to undo the dumbed-down mess we've gotten ourselves into, she's turning us all into better-informed citizens one day at a time. It's probably the least sexy endeavor anyone in media has ever undertaken. But let's just keep that on the down low for now, shall we?

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