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Carrying On: A Rose by any other name
Charlie Rose is the man. In my hierarchy of pleasures, there’s food at the bottom, movies and music in the middle, then masturbation, and at the top—by quite the margin—Charlie Rose.
In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Charlie Rose is the host of an eponymously titled show, a program featuring lengthy, in-depth interviews with the talking heads of politics and culture. But this is no ordinary interview show; to Charlie, the interview is a legitimate art form. From the peculiar way he phrases questions (to Tim Geithner: “Looking at the LIBOR crisis—was that a failure of what?”), to the tangential topics into which he effortlessly segues (asking British author Martin Amis how his “mid-Atlantic” worldview shapes his fiction), Charlie Rose is able to evoke authentic responses from otherwise shallow and circumambulating lawmakers and cultural figures.
Part of Charlie’s strength rests in his show’s conservative format. The program has clung to its smooth jazz theme music, its austere set consisting of a table and a black backdrop, and the simple, question-response or statement-response interactions between the host and his guests. Charlie’s neutral tone adds to the show’s appeal, as guests from all ideologies area able to come onto his show without clinging to stock excuses and defenses. Charlie is not out to put his guests on the spot, but rather to dig into their inner, authentic selves. Charlie Rose–and only Charlie Rose–can prove to America that the men pulling the strings in Washington are not all soulless egomaniacs.
I am a Charlie Rose addict. But how does such an addiction begin? Are there gateway drugs into this Pandora’s box of interviews?
For this fanatic, it all began last summer, when I was tucked into a little two-room apartment in the Philippines. The days were hot, and the nights bred crime like Levi Johnston breeds babies. The consequence of these conditions was a lot of time spent indoors, my computer being my only companion during such periods of immobilizing loneliness. Computer games got old fast, and YouTube got old faster. Movies, a soft spot of mine, deserve to be seen on something larger than a puny 20-inch computer screen. To fight this oppressive isolation, I turned to the last available option: television.
During a weekend visit to Hong Kong, I found myself sitting in front of the television sipping on a complimentary bottle of wine after a day spent roaming (alone) around Hong Kong Disneyland. Channel surfing from the comfort of my hotel bed, I stumbled upon Charlie Rose. I had never heard of the guy he was interviewing, but something told me that I, a college student, should recognize the name of the self-righteous pontificator with whom Charlie was deeply engaged. A few sips of wine later, and I began to realize, hey, maybe I can learn something from this show without eschewing laziness. Sitting on my disengaged ass and learning something too? The impossible had become possible. Charlie was my knight in shining armor, deluding my lazy self into this epistemic web-quest.
The treasure trove that is charlierose.com offers thousands of interviews, some of which date back into the early 1990s. Some of these older gems include glimpses of young Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, a discussion with the typically camera-shy David Foster Wallace, and a handful of interviews with the late literary legends John Updike and Norman Mailer. Luckily, Charlie does not limit his interviews to the creators of art and politics; some of his frequent guests include journalists Mark Halprin and David Ignatius, movie critic A.O. Scott, Shakespearian apologist Harold Bloom (whose impregnable conclusions are contrasted by his blatant disregard for outward appearance), and New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, and David Brooks. The low-brow is categorically absent from Charlie’s guests, so his fans can lie in bed at night knowing Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black will never enter the pantheon of Charlie Rose interviewees.
Although I’ve made my way through about half of the websites’ archived interviews, I still watch at least one hour of Charlie Rose a day, sometimes stretching into three or four hours in one sitting. Do I learn something? Yes. Is it as boring as it sounds? By no means. To watch an interview with Charlie Rose is to live an interview with Charlie Rose. My intellectual curiosity, subject to the enervating parameters of social interactions, is able to vicariously live through these esoteric discussions. I daydream about sitting at his table, nonchalantly beginning my responses with “Charlie, you see…”, and hoping, despite my embedded pessimism, to hear Charlie introduce his hour of television with my name.
Is this addiction really an addiction? Beyond all reasonable doubt, it is. Let me demonstrate. This past Saturday, while dancing in a circle of beautiful Danish girls, I began to see apparitions of Charlie mirrored in the window behind the sea of blonde bobs. It was decided: I needed my hit of the Rose. So I excused myself from the table and biked back to my downtown Copenhagen apartment. I got in bed, shut off the lights, and listened to Charlie list Salman Rushdie’s credentials while I nodded off into the world of dreams.