Queer

Rulers and Rebels: Rachel Maddow, Applied Queer Mythology and the Power of Narrative in the Post-Fact Era

 

“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.

ariesandmusca.jpg

“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.

Summations

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!

To view the entire journal visit:

http://immanencejournal.com/ journal-issues/current/

Works Cited

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The Shit Sandwich: #1 Communication Tool for Any Relationship

If you’re inclined to read this article,  chances are you already know that healthy communication is the foundation of any relationship. Whether it’s your bae, boo or boss, communication can feel like a complex web of intonation, body language, sarcasm, and satire. Despite the nuanced complexities of interpersonal communications, one simple skill can improve your communication exponentially. The Shit Sandwich.

The  ‘Something Nice’

We know from the research of John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, that one of the major predictors of divorce is an element of communication they call the “harsh startup.” It’s the idea that when people start conversations in a manner that is perceived as aggressive, the other person immediately feels defensive. Defensiveness can quickly lead to interpreting words and actions through a negative filter. Generally speaking, most folks are only able to hear the first few words and the accompanying tone before their fight or flight responses kick in and they are busy crafting a retort. More often than not, conversations that begin harshly result in the other person being unwilling or unable to listen. If they do hear your words, you will most likely encounter a negative reaction by the third or fourth word in. The “cure” for this is to intentionally start discussions in a complementary fashion. You can think of this as the bottom slice of bread, or the foundation of the Shit Sandwich: Start off by saying something nice, so the other person is ABLE TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.

For example, I drive my wife crazy with what she calls my “nutty professor-isms,” the absent-minded things I do when I’m not paying explicit attention to my actions. After learning the Shit Sandwich, my wife now starts her conversation with “I love your nutty professor-isms, but….” Because she’s prefacing with a personalized statement of love and respect, I can actually listen to her request instead of the age-old habit of defending my absent-minded in the first place. The statement “I love your nutty professor-isms” is a double winner because it references “I” instead of “You. Try and be mindful of the “you” statements or backhanded compliments in disguise. Steer clear of starting off with statements such as;  “You know, I think you could be amazing at…” or “You’re usually good about this, but…. “These type of passive aggressive statements are like a fart in the car and can set the conversation down the wrong path.

The ‘Shit’

The shit in the Shit Sandwich is the unpleasant thing you have to say. You’ve already come in soft on the startup, so typically the other person is actually listening. If you are requesting someone do something, phrasing it as a question can be helpful, however, it can get dicey if you are proposing solutions. If you’ve got some shit to say, say it. Be direct and kind in your selection of words and tone, but get to the point.

The ‘Other Slice of Nice’

This is the follow up to the original Something Nice statement. There may be hints of defensiveness or feelings of criticism spilling over from the Shit, so this is where you can really wrap it up with a positive intent. A few simple, genuine sentiments can really take the edge off.  

For example:

Hey babe (cute, you are coming in soft!), you know I love your inner nutty professor (something nice), but it really pisses me off when you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing (the Shit). It’s just that I love you and I get worried you are going to hurt yourself! (Other Something Nice). Would you mind in the future slowing down and really being mindful when you are stressed out? (Optional: Potentially helpful solution)  

Remember, too many words can muddle your position, or worse, make the person feel they are being talked down to. Serve your shit sandwich with compassion and allow it to digest. If you need to toss out a side of helpful solutions, proposing them as questions help the other person feel part of the collaborative change process. Be aware of solutions that sound like demands. In general, the follow up is optional, so when in doubt, leave it out! Good luck!

YOUR INNER VOICE MAY BE A DICK: Combating Negative Self-Talk in the Trump Era

In the age of the angry clown regime, civility in discourse is at an all time low. Public humiliation, name calling, fat shaming, mocking, threatening, are all behaviors that disgustingly have become part of our new normal. The heavy prevalence of combative, derogatory speech, day in and day out, appears not only to be harshening the way we speak to each other, but also the way we speak to ourselves. Let’s face it, most of us don’t need too much help in this department.  Lately our inner dicks have been Breitbart-style emboldened to talk smack with absolutely zero evidence.

As a therapist in private practice I ask people daily to extrapolate and describe their inner world, to identify what they were thinking, feeling and what they are telling themselves about themselves. I ask them to run through a typical day with me–from waking up, to the first look in the mirror, to the last pore examining glimpse before bed. Overwhelmingly, people’s inner critic likes have a say in most of our daily duties. Some people’s inner voice is the internalized criticism of a parent, guardian or teacher, or a product of childhood bullying. Irrespective of origin, person after person describes their inner dialogue in a tone that has begun to sound eerily familiar. It is the same voice that we all hear blaring day after day, from morning till night, sucking up oxygen and your emotional bandwidth all the while gas lighting you with your own internal dialogue.

If your inner voice has been trumping your positivity lately, don’t despair. You can fire it Apprentice style.

1.) Control the Shit Show: Do you check your phone before leaving your bed? Are you checking out your social media feeds before you enjoy a shower or have coffee? Are you spending your breaks checking the news? Do you feel guilty if you skip a protest? You’re not alone. It’s a really important time to start having some firmer boundaries and discipline regarding technology and information. Don’t get me wrong, A LOT is happening right now and it’s important to engage and be informed but you have to put it away if you want to have less negativity floating around your brain. WHAT WE THINK– WE CREATE! Notice when you are most vulnerable.

2.)  Slap the Bag: in the land of psychobabble this is called “negative thought stopping”. It’s a staple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and fundamental way of firing the inner asshole. If you are anything like me, your inner asshole can be intrusive and it won’t stop its bullshit just because you want it to. I like to literally shake my head to interrupt the thought as a physical rejection, my partner imagines a giant eraser wiping the negativity away. If you like physical reminders you can wear a rubber band or hair tie around your wrist and pluck it when you’re bumming yourself out. Whatever your method, stopping the negative thought in its tracks is key!

3.) Create a Badass Bio: When you are trying to stop shitty thoughts from pummeling your psyche, you need a replacement thought. It’s damn near impossible to think of a an affirming thought when you are spending all your energy not having the crappy one. Keep a mantra on hand. A quick go-to that is easily repeatable and clearly conveys what you would like to think and feel. I personally like “you are a badass, you got this”. Choose something that you would like to believe about yourself, because remember WHAT WE THINK WE CREATE. Don’t worry if the mantra does not FEEL true right now–it will! I know, I know, you’re thinking “I can’t just make myself believe something that isn’t true”…YES YOU CAN. You have already made yourself believe negative things about yourself that aren’t true just by thinking them. Why wouldn’t it work in the other direction? It may sound cheesy, but it works.

4.) VIP Ass Anchor: There has never been a better time to build in some grounding routines. Morning meditations, yoga, exercise, sex, masturbation, prayer, nature, gardening, cooking and cleaning can all help you feel good in your skin and in your space. Invest in yourself everyday before you’re distracted by the rest of the world. If you treat yourself like a VIP, your psyche will follow.

5.) Support Beams: As overly simplistic as it sounds, the utilization or expansion of your support network is pivotal in fighting back against the inner dick. Reach out to old friends, join new groups, take classes, see a new type of practitioner or go to therapy. This thing called life is a weird ping-pong game of behaviors and insights which yield our perspective. Getting the right support can help shift our perspective to be more self affirming. The roof of your house would never weather a storm without support beams and you can think about your perception in the same way. If you fortify your soul, protect your positivity, accept help and offer it back, you’ll find that you’ve got a pretty solid shelter to survive the shit-show.