Meet MSNBC's Next New Host, Christopher Hayes
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But in his TV and day-to-day journalism life, genre plays its part. "Then the challenge...is just to make really good genre. Like 'The Wire' has genre constraints. And 'Seinfeld,' which was clearly a wonderful show, had genre constraints. And 'The Rachel Maddow Show' has genre constraints. But it sort of somehow operates within them and transcends them."
If there's any one broadcaster who's served as a model for Hayes, it's Maddow, of whom he's an unabashed fan, and who he sees as one who's pushed the boundaries of the cable-host model with her in-depth reporting and often humorous disquisitions on how things work.
"One of the most radical acts you can do as a journalist right now -- the most important act you can do as a journalist -- is the simple act of explanation," Hayes says. "And you see this on a micro scale, [for example, in] financial regulation on the Hill, where it's like the complexity and the arcane details are the friends of the entrenched powers."
For all his success, Hayes admits that he misses doing theater and making art. But his guest-hosting stints for Maddow make up for some of that. "It feels like it used to feel [when] making a play," he says. "It's like we're going to make our play together, we're going to do this hour-long play tonight, and then have your meetings with different people about we're going to do this, here's the graphics, these different elements..." The script-writing process is a collaborative one between the show's writers, researchers, producers and the host, he explains.
"There's a certain real adrenalin rush" to the process, he says. "It's a fix."
Through a Dark Glass, Brightly
On television, Hayes' lighthearted delivery takes the edge off the stark realism with which he views the world. "I think you've seen over the last 10 years, particularly -- there's been a violence done to the basic social compact" that "binds citizens" to the the major institutions of society, he says, because the people who govern the system and run those institutions have often "been so profoundly wrong." He asserts, "There's been a lot of good-faith errors and bad-faith corrections."
"When I get in a doom-and-gloom mode about the economy, or whatever, it is important to recognize there have been periods in the mid- to late '70s, people were like, the American economy's going to be moribund forever," Hayes says. "And it wasn't. And people thought that in the early '90s."
A problem Hayes sees in the modern psyche is a certain comfort taken in a negative view of the world. "We enter this sort of spiral of invigorating weakness," he says. "I even do it myself -- meditating on the impasses...I don't think it's particularly productive, but I understand the allure of it. And Washington is really profoundly broken. It's true. Society is broken in certain very deep and important ways."
Still, he contends, breakthroughs can come in unexpected ways, and from unexpected places. "Science is locked on one question for a long, long time, then there is a breakthrough, and then all sorts of innovations take place...which is also something I think to think about in terms of politics -- that it's not necessarily going to be people that we think are progressive leaders [who will make the breakthrough]...," Hayes explains. "Good ideas can come from terrible people, and there's more that we don't know than what we know about the future political trajectory of the USA at the moment."
The comfort taken in negativity, he suggests, is its air of certainty, or "surety," to use his word, versus the uncertainty in accepting that we don't know what might come next. It's a view that suggests in Hayes an outsized capacity for wonder in a media world where the rewards are generally reserved for irony and cynicism. That sense of anticipation of a transformational moment is something very close to the Catholic theological notion of grace.