It took us a while to get through Kelefa Sanneh's New Yorker profile of conservative talk-radio star Michael Savage, partially because some of the things Savage says were kind of hateful — though Sanneh seems to emerge with at least a little affection for the guy — but also partially because it gave us an insight on what it must be like to be consumed by thoughts of death and destruction. Not just death and destruction because of politics or disease, but death or destruction that is natural, or even just theoretical. Full disclosure: We're not listeners of Savage, so this may just be something Sanneh is projecting. But as the writer paints it, this obsession might have something to do with the extremely dark lens through which Savage views the world, change, progress, and growth. Death, after all, is the opposite of all those things.
Savage "refers to his own death with startling frequency," apparently. "I'm watching the sands of time fall into the hourglass," he says. "There's more sand on the bottom now than there is on the top." He also has an "instinctive suspicion of pleasure." Here are some of the most depressing peeks into his mind that we picked out:
On his neighborhood in San Francisco: Across the Bay was the Chevron Richmond Refinery, half hidden between the hills and the coast. "If a terrorist blew it up, it'd be the equivalent of ten nuclear bombs," he said. "I sometimes sit here and think about the fireball."
On his dog: "My dog is only eleven pounds. What's shocking to me is that my dog's, like, hindquarter — I looked at it the other day, when he got wet ... I looked at his leg. It looked like a large chicken leg. I got frightened. So I said, how could you eat a chicken, and savor it, and the dog's — I can't do it. And I say, then your mind starts running, if you have a kaleidoscopic mind like I do. Like, what if you were starving? Would you eat Teddy? Don't even think about it! I mean, you think about these — would you roast him? How would you eat — Stop it! Your mind starts working on you: No, you're starving. It's you and Teddy. One of you is gonna die anyway. Would you roast him? Would you cook him? Would you eat him raw? Aw, stop it, man! But your mind starts going there. Am I the only one who thinks this way?"
On salmon: "It's gotta swim all the way back three years later, so it can shoot its sperm on the egg and die. What a way to live! I guess that's why the French call it the petit mort."
On swine flu: When news broke of the H1N1 flu outbreak, he played mariachi music while gleefully chronicling the virus's progress, and mocking the Obama Administration's refusal to close the borders.
On Viagra and cosmetological advances: "Everyone has dark hair, false teeth, and can be sexually aroused until they go into the coffin."
On being 67: "[I n]ever thought I'd live this long." When his dad died, "He said to me, 'When I die, you can throw me in a garbage can.' I mean, it shocked the hell out of me — it really freaked me out. The idea of throwing my poor father in a garbage can?"
On Obama and Co.: On another afternoon, he riffled through the Book of Revelation in an attempt to explain the latest perfidies of the Obama Administration. "We now have a prophecy emerging in front of our eyes."
The examples go on and on, and that's just in this profile. Savage has an estimated 8 million listeners, so that's a lot of people who tune in to be entertained by insights from a world viewed through this extremely dark lens. Setting aside the fact that he is a xenophobe and a homophobe, and preaches the kind of hate that actually got him banned from entering the United Kingdom, it's notable that in the days where a relatively inexperienced presidential candidate could capture the nation's imagination with simple messages of "hope" and "change," there is still very much a market for those who peddle the opposite.
Party of One [NYer]