But there were always reasons to suspect that Keillor’s folksy persona wasn’t a true portrait of the man: the unseemly lawsuit against his neighbor, the messy personal life. In interviews, he often comes off as aloof and awkward. A profile last year in the New York Times ended with the radio host breezing past the reporter after a show without acknowledging her, or even seeming to recognize her. “He is certainly the strangest person I know,” the writer Roger Angell, his one-time editor, said in that piece. “I don’t think he’s necessarily a happy man.”
I'm not sure I ever thought of Mr. Keillor as a "happy man." I'm not sure I think of myself that way. Should I be scrubbed from the public record? And if that isn't reason enough to think he's guilty of horrible crimes which have yet to be defined by anyone (except Keillor, and who can trust him, amirite?), what about his performance, what about the reason why he's famous?
Even before this week, it has never been terribly hard to come up with reasons to complain about Keillor: his heavy sighing directly into the microphone, his uneven singing voice, his promotion of casserole-bland culture. He’s the epitome of “a white, male, liberal, literary Midwesterner,” as one exasperated critic put it. Underneath his steadfast liberalism, though, was a fundamentally conservative streak. In a notorious 2007 column for Salon, he kvetched that gay marriage would be annoyingly complicated, producing “a whole new string of hyphenated relatives…Bruce and Kevin’s in-laws and Bruce’s ex, Mark, and Mark’s current partner, and I suppose we’ll get used to it.” (Keillor himself has been married three times.)
See? He's white, male, liberal, midwestern, and married 3 times. Besides, he sighs! How can you defend a guy like that?
Now critics are combing through Keillor’s voluminous archives for signs of casual misogyny. They surely won’t be hard to find. His 1997 novel Wobegon Boy includes a scene in which the hero, a Lutheran guy who works in public radio, is unjustly accused of sexual harassment for telling an off-color joke. Just this week, when Keillor must have known trouble was looming, he published a column in the Washington Post titled “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd.” The column has been understandably lambasted online, but in typical Keillor form, it’s actually rather hard to tell if he’s making the point he seems to be making, or gently skewering it.
If I recall 1997 correctly, "sexual harassment" was still barely a legal concept, much less an accepted form of attack on public figures. Maybe we should re-read Mr. Keillor's last column (no, really) for WaPo.
Keillor’s shtick was nostalgia, so I hope it’s appropriate to indulge on some on the eve of his fall from grace. He was a masterful storyteller and stylist, a booster of great musical talents, and a compelling performer, heavy breathing and all. Who knows what else he might be—we’ll surely find out. Lake Wobegon never existed, but it will still hurt to watch it burn to the ground.
Who's providing the matches and kerosene?