Saturday, December 11, 2010

Analysis: Is Glenn Beck Inc. the greatest show on Earth?

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Growing up, Glenn Beck so loved the movie, Citizen Kane, co-written and directed by, and starring his role model, Orson Welles, that Beck named his childhood sled "Rosebud." As an adult, Beck continued to be so inspired that he named his company, Mercury Radio Arts, after Welles' company, Mercury Theater on the Air. Should Beck be taken seriously when he is inspired by one of the greatest charlatans of the 20th Century? To his followers, the answer is yes because Beck is leading the country back to "freedom;" but to his detractors, the answer is just the opposite. Beck, like Welles, is a charlatan performing on a big stage, Fox News. As a performer, he's an entertainment genius, but as a serious commentator, he's more of a buffoon, who says things that are "completely insane," than anything close to a "pundit." Worse, some of his rhetoric over the last 22 months has bordered on inciting of sedition, a felony, and he has inspired mass murder which was cut short in a shoot out with the CA. police.
Poster showing two women in the bottom left of the picture looking up towards a man in a white suit in the top right of the picture. "Everybody's talking about it. It's terrific!" appears in the top right of the picture. "Orson Welles" appears in block letters between the women and the man in the white suit. "Citizen Kane" appears in red and yellow block letters tipped 60° to the right. The remaining credits are listed in fine print in the bottom right.
As a child, young Glenn listened to depression-era recordings of radio productions for hours and hours, especially the realistically conveyed, faux news report "War of the Worlds" that scared thousands of Americans who thought that we were under alien invasion. "Welles' production would become a recurring motif in Beck's career." Beck knew from very early in life that he wanted to become a big star and "liked being at the center of attention."(1)

Since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, Mr. Beck has thrust himself up on a national stage; and he’s putting on one hell of an ongoing performance, perhaps the greatest show on Earth. How else can one consider the "Restoring Honor" rally that was put on by a habitual liar who has not ever had even a passing acquaintance with honor? That's one reason, perhaps the reason, why it is important to understand that Beck is virtually never to be taken seriously, no matter how seriously he seems to take himself, no matter how seriously his gullible, star-struck followers take him. Most people can go to a movie or read a novel and understand that it is fiction. No matter how emotionally involved they may get with the character(s) of the story, people understand that it is just a work of fiction. Beck's performances, in large part due to the nature of his "stages" (Fox News and the Washington Mall) are taken as serious commentary instead of as the fictional narratives that he creates from his imagination. Beck has used the word "faction" to describe the blending of facts and fiction (even though the word already has another meaning).

fake tears convey sincerity
Recently, this blogger's wife watched a Hallmark Christmas special that was on television. Afterwards she was in tears. (Happy holidays!) Since she watched the flick alone, it was challenging to understand how she would let a movie affect her that much. However this should offer readers an idea of how people can be taken in by gripping performances. Beck is an entertainment genius,(2) but that is not all. He is somewhat more relevant than Welles' War of the Worlds radio show, which frightened many people with its believability, just as the 2009 fear-monger-in-chief (Beck) frightens gullible, uninformed people with his believable performances. Beck offers chilling scenarios about the future, which he cannot actually know in advance, and comes across like a well-read scholar with a deep understanding of history. However, according to an actual American historian, Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton University, Beck's "version of history" places him in a long line of figures who have challenged mainstream political historians and presented an inaccurate opposing view as the truth, stating:

Glenn Beck is trying to give viewers a version of American history that is supposedly hidden. Supposedly, all we historians — left, right and center — have been doing for the past 100 years is to keep true American history from you. And that true American history is what Glenn Beck is teaching. It's a version of history that is beyond skewed. But of course, that's what Beck expects us to say. He lives in a kind of Alice in Wonderland world, where if people who actually know the history say what he's teaching is junk, he says, 'That's because you're trying to hide the truth.'(3)
Although too young to have personally experienced Orson Welles' radio performances, it seems to this blogger as if Beck has exceeded his wildest dreams in emulating his role model. Now, this self-described "rodeo clown" finds himself in over his head; and he’s awash in inconsistencies, contradictions, hypocrisies and assertions that border on if not cross over into the incitement of sedition. He is, in this great performance art project that he has become, the Glenn Beck, Inc. phenomenon, in way over his head. Apparently he is surrounded by yes men unwilling to point out the absurdity of claims, contradictions and false, often ridiculous assertions.
The people who attack this Review in the comment section are akin to the gullible fools listening to Wells’ performance, who were terrified so many decades ago, while listening to The War of the Worlds. These gullible sheep, caught up in what may be the greatest non-musical show on Earth, Glenn Beck, Inc., are living proof that President Lincoln was correct: you can fool some of the people all of the time. Beck's success really is, as Alex Zaitchik argues, “the triumph of ignorance.”
Is Glenn Beck the greatest show on Earth? Perhaps not, but he is a hell of an entertainer and -- like Orson Welles -- a very convincing charlatan. Why is it that someone has to disagree with Beck's politics to see though his act, to recognize that Glenn Beck Incorporated is just an act, a living theatrical production with no end in sight? As Glenn Beck himself has stated, "I could give a crap about the political process."(4) Most likely, Beck's supporters want what Beck is saying to be true, even if Beck is perfectly fine being remembers as a "complete nutjob" if he turns out to be wrong about his many fears and conspiracy theories.(5) Amen to that!

Finally, this year Beck has decided to give himself a promotion to messenger of God. Beck has decided to incorporate Elmer Gantry, the title character of a novel by Sinclair Lewis, into his persona. It is "an easier gig" talking about God since God has not published an autobiography. The Bible is one story of God, although for true believers, it is God's only story. It is much more difficult for Beck to get anything incorrect about God. The same goes for Beck talking about matters of faith and the Truth. Beck's moral Truth, like anyone's moral Truth, is theirs to follow and preach. Unlike the facts, which Beck is demonstratively wrong about frequently, debating Beck's Truth is akin to debating the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin. Beck's Truth seems to come from the Bible, although some evangelical Christians take issue with that claim.

It is safe and appropriate to think of Mr. Beck, then, as megalomaniacal, Charles Kane meets Elmer Gantry in a blend of absurd political theater that incorporates hatred, paranoia, arrogant ignorance, God and country. Will citizen Beck, like citizen Kane, run for office? Only time will tell. Will Beck become victim of some kind of sexual scandal or revelation? He seems to have concerns in this regard, but only time (and a persistent investigation) will tell that story, if there is one to tell. Meanwhile, sit back and "enjoy" the show, a work of fiction, "an alternative universe," that his uninformed and reactionary viewers are caught up in and accept as real. That following, that movement that Beck is leading back toward yesteryear, will be the subject of another post in the coming weeks.

Addendum (12/27/10): This analysis is largely shared by Beck's biographer, Alex Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. For comparison, see "Is Glenn Beck the Orson Wells of Our Time?"
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1) Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, Alexander Zaitchik, Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2010, p. 20.
2) Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America, Dana Milbank, Doubleday, New York, 2010, p. 166.


RogerF said...

Great post Victor. Informative and on the money.

Anonymous said...

good one, plus laughed when you wrote:
Recently, this blogger's wife watched a Hallmark Christmas special that was on television. Afterwards she was in tears. (Happy holidays!)

Anonymous said...

so he is a charlatan because he likes orson wells? I like orson wells too....If i become successful does this mean I am a charlatan as well?

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Anonymous, that depends. Will you fake cry? Study history for a year and set yourself up as a "historian?" State as fact things that you're guessing about? Make up ideas and assert them as "the truth?" If you'd look at the contents, you'd find a whole section on Beck as charlatan. In this piece, I'm putting forward an understanding of Beck's persona, how he gets away with being a liar and a hypocrite with a huge following. On the surface, that makes no sense.