It has come to my attention that O’Reilly on Fox News (or Fixed News as Oberman has designated it) has declared Glenn Beck to be “Everyman,” as if to say each person (or woman for that matter) can relate. Beck’s success and following is rather astonishing one might conclude, given the show’s supposedly high ratings. The show (and Beck himself) is a pastiche of comedy, shlock, and an attempt at a serious analysis of reality, politics in particular.
Sociologically, the Beck phenom is somewhat curious, even at times mesmerizing. It reminds one a lot of the movie Network, in which a news commentator revives his life by becoming a focus of every citizen’s complaints and angst with the world. Yeah, you remember, this is the movie that made famous the line, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Watching Glenn Beck wade his way through political analysis is a weird experience akin to being stoned on good Jamaican ganja. At times, his emotionality bespeaks someone who is just barely holding it together. It can even be a religious experience I suppose for his followers. He mixes his rants with appeals to getting America back on the right track and references to our Founding Fathers. His cant resembles a sermon by Jimmy Swaggert, tears and all.
What interests me as a social observer is what Beck communicates that resounds so much with his following. His shtick seems to be a conduit for all the rage and frustration that so many Americans feel about their political system, and, even more so, their lives.
I mean let’s face it, Beck has tapped into what others (like Limbaugh and O’Reilly) have as well.That is to say, a general anger, disappointment and cynicism about politicians and the political system. It’s primary target is Liberalism in general and Obama in particular. And, occasionally, one will hear Beck castigate a Republican or even the Bush administration as if just to make sure you don’t see him as partisan so he can claim, like Fox News, that he is ‘fair and balanced.’
Who writes his stuff, I sometimes wonder? I mean does he have a staff like John Stewart with whom he prepares his shows and do they write most of his monologues for him? He now uses props including a chalk board, accompanying graphics, and videos as if he were in a classroom. Like many of his ilk, he constructs his argument to fit the conclusion he wants to reach. Yes, he marshals his ‘facts’ to fit his predetermined position.
It is a sad state of affairs when someone like Beck garners a listening audience as large as he does. It tells us something about the sociological state of America. It is somewhat reminiscent of Germany in the 1920s and that’s not much of an exaggeration. Try this experiment on for size to get a sense of what I mean. The next time you listen to Beck, Hannity or Limbaugh, substitute the word Jew for the word Liberal and you get a sense of where they are coming from.
Beck voices great fear and disillusionment that many feel in these uncertain times. He even sounds paranoid about the future, as if to say Armageddon is just around the corner. And yes, he is making millions and going on speaking tours across the country, writing books, and flattering his other cohorts on Fox News. Who knows, maybe with his millions he is preparing to flee to some South Sea island where he can wait out the massive calamities to come.
His is a hope, a dream, a vision that America can return to its supposed greatness and virtue which I wish he would pinpoint with exactitude. Just when was everything so fantastic in America and where? Maybe it was in Monterey in 1951, Sioux City in 1910, or perhaps Concord in 1779. Who knows? To make matters worse, there is an undercurrent of racism, sexism, and rampant xenophobia in his diatribes.
The frightening thing is the mix of madness that such rabid right spokespersons like Beck drift into, maybe even accidentally, only to discover they have struck a nerve with the populace, or at least his viewers. To follow a Beck analysis is like being treated to a lecture on String Theory: It sounds interesting and provocative but can you explain that one more time? In reality, it’s like listening to a Palin speech. Everything is puerile emotion: “Gosh, golly, gee whilikers, don’t you get it, you elite….ah, ah, people who think.”
That people can find Beck’s spiel attractive and even incisive is a pretty fascinating study in human behavior. His daily soliloquy drips with emotion and hope. His pleas for sanity recall the comment by the character played by Jonathan Winters in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: “Why can’t we all just get along?”
What I am struck with most by watching Beck is the reality that he is not a clown but is making lots of money being something of a huckster. He has a product and it has appeal. Much like Rush Limbaugh, he has found a willing audience for his proselytizing. It is an audience that is nurtured by his homey and oblique critiques of the American political and economic landscape contrasted with a romantic notion of how wonderful everything use to be. It is massive group therapy. And it reminds me a lot of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984. And that is scary.