“I think a lot of people of my generation are discomfited by the assertion of neutrality in the mainstream media, this idea that they’re the voice of God. I think it’s just honest to say, yes, you know where I’m coming from but you can fact-check anything I say.” Rachel Maddow, from “Rachel Maddow: I’m definitely not an autocutie”
Narrative. It has become a social science buzzword in recent years. Through narrative-based research methods, narrative-based therapies, or simply via hipster jargon, the concept of “the story” is having a modern day renaissance. Existing simultaneously as literal, metaphorical, deep and allegorical, the story being told and who’s telling it matters. As our rulers declare objective facts “fake news” and the very real threat of election interference holds the global community hostage, journalistic transparency and the rebels who foster it take on an increasingly important role. Questionable news sources, which flourished during the 2016 presidential election cycle, have nourished a micro attention span propped up through algorithmic segregation and groupthink social media commentary. As a result, the American populace has been left with a collective crisis fatigue and an inability to discern news from propaganda. If ever “We the People” needed a rebel, a hero to help us make sense of it all, it’s now. Enter Rachel Maddow.
Transparency for all
As a San Francisco based psychotherapist, depth psychologist and queer-identified woman in one of the nation’s most progressive locales, I have been on the front lines of the post-election liberal psychic collapse. I lived deeply in the trenches with the left-leaning coastal progressives as we bore witness to the unfathomable, counseled through the incomprehensible and re-emerged at the dawn of what is now widely referred to as the “post-fact era.” I have had a front row seat to the psychological meltdown of entire communities whose narratives are being rewritten. As the tellers-of-tales reconstruct populism, feminism, patriotism, republicanism, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism to serve their own agenda, over half the population attempts to comprehend the dystopian reality. Every night, like clockwork, the mainstream media outlets report on “unprecedented” events, conflicts of interest, tweets, court rulings, and handshake speculations. Every night there is something outrageous, devoid of fact, peddled as truth, and repeated ad nauseum until normalized.
In the midst of this media hurricane, Rachel Maddow is thriving in the eye of the storm. Somewhere in the chaos of the Republican primaries Maddow emerged at the front of the journalistic pack; a savvy, witty, voice of reason. Though successful by conventional journalistic and television standards for over a decade, the 2016 presidential election provided her the opportunity for a greatly deserved breakaway moment (“Rachel Maddow Biography”). She stopped giving “alternative facts” airtime, curbing the presumption of validity by repetition. She deemed the daily sound bites a “The Silent Movie,” reporting heavily on actionable events. Maddow emerged from the insanity of the election cycle as a beacon of light, simultaneously embodying both free speech and critical thought.
Rachel Maddow told us, the American public, a story. She placed events in context, hooking us with killer historical monologues that were devoid of condescension and ravaged by facts. She told it to us with humor and creativity, packaging complex current events into digestible portions. Her methods created a political breadcrumb trail leading viewers to ask questions and use their own deductive reasoning. She helped the average American news consumer to critically read news articles, evaluate their sourcing and “follow the money.” She stopped parroting news and started reporting what the news means.
While shifting the narrative, Maddow remained true to her queer self. Relatable and warm, this androgynous queer woman in a trendy black blazer chuckled her way to the number one cable news slot. Referring to her viewers as “friends,” she rebelliously challenged the formality of the news while delivering the astonishing information with precision and grace. By doing so, she began to change the form, format, structure, and face of the news itself.
What’s in a story?
Myths are defined as tales believed as true, usually sacred, set in the distant past or other worlds or parts of the world, and with extra-human, inhuman, or heroic characters… Cosmology’s concern with the order of the universe finds narrative, symbolic expression in myths, which thus often help establish important values or aspects of a culture’s worldview. For many people, myths remain value-laden discourse that explains much about human nature. (Magoulic) Rachel Maddow is representative of the iconic protagonist of Joseph Campbell’s monomythic hero’s journey in the archetypal battle between good and evil. An Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar with a “wicked” sense of humor, she is the personification of the mythic badass who unabashedly speaks truth to power. Forging a coalition of engaged citizens, she empowers her viewers to be critical observers of the powers that be. She also represents more modern American values than her predecessors. Managing to tear at the seams of the patriarchy five nights a week in Manhattan, she spends her weekends relaxing in western Massachusetts with her partner Susan and dog Poppy (“Rachel Maddow Biography”). She is a real-life representation of a woman prioritizing work/life balance and the importance of family.
What’s in a name?
Her personal mythology is as fascinating as she is freakishly smart. Rachel Anne Maddow (whose initials spell “RAM”) was born April 1, 1973 (“Rachel Maddow Biography”). Her astrological sun sign, Aries, is pictorially represented by a hugely horned ram, or male sheep. In addition, the word “ewe,” the female equivalent of a ram, is the literal Hebrew translation of the name “Rachel” (M. Campbell, “Behind the Name”). She is the perfect ram trifecta: A physical and energetic embodiment of masculine and feminine energy represented simultaneously as neither, yet both.
Featured prominently in many ancient societies, Aries the ram is the first sign of the Zodiac. Celebrated for its prominent and continuously growing horns, it is a symbol of ever-increasing mental activity, curiosity, and investigation (Venefica). Rachel Maddow has done this spirit animal justice. Just as the horns of the ram grow larger with the passage of time, so have Maddow’s ratings, viewership, and “street cred.”
The jaw-dropping synchronicities don’t stop there. The name “Maddow” can be derived from the root words Mat, Ma’at or Mad (M. Campbell, http://www.behindthename. com). Interestingly, “Maat” is the name of the ancient Egyptian goddess of truthtelling, the deity responsible for traveling the underworld in order to keep society balanced (“Maat”). Symbolized by an ostrich feather in place of her head, Maat is fabled to have delivered the Egyptians from the chaos of the universe by weighing the hearts of the deceased against her feather of truth. If the heart weighed in lighter or equal to the feather, the deceased person was deemed as having led a truthful earthly existence, thus to crossing over into the afterlife and keeping the universe in balance (Hill).
In everyday understanding, sheep energy represents the tendency to follow the mainstream (hence term “sheeple”) as well as the fundamental opposite of independent thought (Venefica). If we put Maddow’s surname first, like a variety of cultures do, the name literally becomes “truth teller to the sheep.” Rachel Maddow’s name by definition is the speaker of truth to the masses.
Queering the narrative
The ‘new’ myth—a new paradigm in which place, space, psyche, and Spirit are entwined with the evolution of ecological consciousness, sexual fluidity, and non-binary genderedness in a way that provides queer-identified individuals a means to understand themselves and the world in which they live in. This ‘new’ myth calls for a revisioned ‘Hero’- a revised narrative with a new set of normative experiences and developmental milestones that exist outside of traditional reproductive life markers. I am calling the ‘Hero’ of this new narrative the Queer Archetype. (Blackmore 6)
I tend to see Rachel Maddow, the first openly gay news anchor to host a prime-time show, as the physical embodiment of the Queer Archetype, a spiritually androgynous mythic figure which transcends the duality of the binary gendered experience (Blackmore 2). In essence, they are man, woman, neither, and both. Able to transcend the experience of binary sex and gender, they encompass any and all traits necessary to thrive.
I originally wrote about the queer archetype in a theory I published regarding queer lifespan development in 2015. The article, published in the Journal of the International Association of Transdisciplinary Psychology, argues that through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, a spiritually androgynous, sexless, genderless archetypal construct emerges which displays the ability to transcend duality by embracing their polarities (1). The fabled hero of the tale, representative of the queer archetype, queers the hero well through the journey’s phases. In addition, by applying this concept to the basic pattern of narrative in world mythologies, we queer the narrative itself (3).
Enter Rachel Maddow once again. By queering the narrative, she has set journalism up as the clean-energy alternative to “fake news.” She has diversified the construct to include systemic structures, attitudes, values, and ideas that are not associated with hetero-normativity. Simply put “to queer” the narrative is to make it inclusive of the vantage of the “other.”
Shifting the narrative to the more historically feminine meaning-making construct and blending it with the classically masculine notions of truth and justice, a non-binary tale emerges. Setting up meaning-making as the electric car of informed viewership, Rachel Maddow has moved toward leveling the proverbial playing field, thus adding an additional layer of depth and sustainability.
“Aries and Musca Borealis”, plate 16 in Urania’s Mirror, a set of celestial cards accompanied by A familiar treatise on astronomy … by Jehoshaphat Aspin. Astronomical chart, 1 print on layered paper board: etching, hand-colored. 1825. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Post-objectivity for a post-fact reality
In studying qualitative research methods, I have developed an intense appreciation for the role of the researcher in the research. Instead of denying its existence in the first place, a variety of academic disciplines have embraced the subjectivity of the researcher as a strength, utilizing it to increase validity and provide additional measures of triangulation. In psychotherapy, we have a long history embracing the therapist as crucial to the therapeutic process. Perhaps as a society, we are ready to embrace the power of the transparent narrator as essential in generating a more holistically accurate story.
In this sense, Rachel Maddow has utilized her role as the narrator to highlight the effectiveness of subjective transparency, as well as the faux objectivity of the entire journalistic profession. She delineates what is opinion, states what is known fact, clearly indicates what elements are speculation and invites the viewer to draw their own conclusions. She does not even bother to feign objectivity but rather accounts for the inevitability of subjectivity.
Perhaps Maddow’s journalistic paradigm, which antiquates the very idea of objectivity itself, is the next evolution in our collective narration. Fox News, which purports objectivity despite its bold and blatant bend to the right, is a prime example of the power of the faux-objective narrative. Furthermore, the recent demise of Bill O’Reilly and the once beloved O’Reilly Factor highlights the collective shift toward transparency with subjectivity. However, it should be noted that despite the impact of this shift, Bill O’Reilly remains an iconic journalistic figurehead for Republican politics.
To create space for the new journalistic paradigm and an energetically balanced society, the “objective” narrative and the patriarchal institutions that support it must allow for the mythic death/re-birth process to take its natural course. Our current leadership, one that is waging war on the very concept of truth, has inadvertently created a rebel with a cause. Through the queering of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, we make room for the Hero construct and the fusion of masculine and feminine elements, thus creating space for voices that are either, neither and both. By metaphorically trimming down our societal ram horns, we transcend all things binary, making way for our collective story of truth, transparency, and rebellion to be told. Cheers to you, Rachel Maddow!
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