Thursday, February 24, 2011

Understanding Beck

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The following is another post from guest reviewer, William Holden. His analysis about Beck's propaganda techniques has been clicked on over 2,000 times since it was published 2 & 1/2 weeks ago. Based on Holden's earlier observations of Beck and the propaganda that Glenn Beck transmits, he will lay out in a more detailed approach the methods behind the propaganda using a transcript from Fox News for my analysis with the help of Abraham Maslow´s hierarchy of needs model. The basic idea is that Beck and his co-workers use psychological insights to manipulate the audience with the aim to keep the viewers motivated and mobilized.

GLENN BECK, HOST: Welcome to "The Glenn Beck Program. Tonight, forget BMWs and iPads and jewelry. Do you want to know what the next luxury item is? Believe it or not, orange juice.

Holden: Beck and his staff like to open the show with a punch to a physiological need. Lately orange juice was the prop of choice for evoking a threat to the need for food. With the first sentence Beck smoothly defines what is supposedly at stake. Not all the fancy things you could live without easily, but the daily glass of orange juice.

BECK:  So, I want to ask you this question -- what did you tell Washington to do in November? Did you tell them to increase or decrease the debt? Did you tell them to increase or decrease taxes? Increase or decrease spending? It was pretty clear what Americans said last November. Have Americans forgotten? Or has Washington?

Holden:  Beck jumps here to the second level of the hierarchy of needs pyramid and focuses on the need for esteem. The rhetorical questions, also written on one chalkboard, he asks don´t leave any doubt he and the writers know the response of the audience. It is a stellar example for what Beck practices successfully: He opens a gap between “Americans” and Washington (a.k.a. the center of corrupt politicians and the home of the President) with the help of the need for esteem. Need for esteem refers to the desire to be recognized and that attention is being paid. “Americans” said something, but they weren’t heard. “Americans” are not being respected and recognized.

With the single word “Americans” Beck achieves to hit on the social desires of the audience. By saying “Americans” he includes the viewers into a big social group. Naturally, Americans say many different things and express different views. For Beck´s propaganda the illusion of a homogenous social group called “Americans” is perfectly suited.

The word itself carries strong positive emotional connotation. Every time he says “Americans” or “America” he answers the social desires of the viewers for belonging to a big social group. He does it in every given show and that method is most certainly an identifiable building block of his propaganda - simple and yet very effective. The subtext the words are used in always show belonging to “America” and being “American” in a very positive light of course.

BECK:  I'll explain. Come on, let's go.

Holden: This and similar short phrases Beck says literally pick up on the need for security. Anyone who feels insecure about what is going on in the world just needs to follow Beck to get rid of the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. Beck returns after the teaser:

friendly and inviting

BECK: Hello, America.

Holden: Two simple words that in the context of Beck´s propaganda reflects social desires and the need for esteem by his audience. The ones who are watching are America and welcomed by Beck.

BECK:  There is something I want you to consider tonight, the president's budget. Has the country or any country ever devalued it's a way to economic prosperity? That you have to answer. I hope so -- because that is the path our government is taking us down.

Holden: People have a need for security and whenever people feel a threat to their security the likelihood that they are motivated politically is very high. Security needs involve the desire for material security and living a life in a place with a rule of law and order that guarantees safety. Both components are very doubtful if you believe Beck.

The government is devaluing property. Beck´s assertion is very serious considering what it really would mean. “Americans” are losing their property, it gets literally devalued and behind the alleged assault on the security of each American satisfying the basic physiological need is just a tiny step from being in danger.

The constant principle of Beck narration and presentation is give and take: He is taking away security to give security, he takes away certainty to give certainty, he creates confusing to give orientation and so on. An analogy is to compare Beck to someone who cuts someone in the arm claiming someone else caused the wound and then providing the care for the wound.

Beck:  I've been warning for years that our current fiscal path is unsustainable. I said this under George W. Bush and I was mocked and called a fearmonger. And conservatives told me, oh, you're just trying to lose the election for George W. Bush, and it was innocence then now and it's nonsense now from the left. It's an unsustainable path. People in Washington on the left used to say it until they got into power. People on the right used to say until they got into power. It's political talking point. It's not. It's reality. And you get that. The American people understand that.

Another thing I've been harping on is to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. I know it's controversial. It's almost like what our grandparents used to do. By the way, did you see the New York City and state has released an entire guide onto -- on what to do in case of a total meltdown? Do we have it here nor not?

We'll show it to you in a minute. It's pretty amazing. Yes.

Holden: If you have been cut, not only Beck will provide the care for the wound. Even better he is the best guy in the world to do it. The reason is that he routinely follows up "cuts" by a demonstration of his great skills. In the moments the audience is longing for someone to make sense, Beck often brags about himself.

He does it with representing the top of the pyramid from the hierarchy of needs model from Maslow called self-actualization. Beck possesses morality - a key goal in terms of self-actualization. Look, he criticized also Bush. This is not about politics. This is about the reality. Accepting reality, realizing the truth, being a human being with high moral values is the fulfillment of the need for self-actualization. Beck returns after that again to delivering “cuts”.

BECK:  Oh, the fearmongers -- or are they just preparing on what to do in case? How about the governor of Wisconsin? He's now telling the National Guard to prepare for civil unrest in Wisconsin. What a fear-monger. Or is he being responsible in preparing? More on that coming up in a few minutes.

All the experts and politicians keep trying to soothe Americans over with warm tales of recovery and winning the future. I'd love to share those, but the reality on the ground isn't matching the -- hey, we're in the beginning of the recovery, you know? It doesn't. Talk about dangerous rhetoric. That would be it.

The fed can keep playing tricks to mask the real problems but not for very long. Inflation, there's no masking the rising cost of inflation, is there? I mean, have you been to the grocery store?

Holden: The pattern of giving and taking becomes very obvious here. Wisconsin, in America is facing “civil unrest”, no recovery in sight and future visits to the grocery store will be worse when it gets worse, Beck suggests. The Fed, an institution to preserve material safety is “playing tricks”, and with the “grocery store” the threat to the security needs is followed up by a nod to the physiological needs. Beck explains what really is going on. He supposedly reveals the real problems:

BECK:  Here's what inflation is -- a persistent substantial rise in the general level of prices related to the increase in the volume of money and resulting in the loss of value of currency. Got it?

Holden: One can almost see the nods from the viewers in front of the screens. Beck gives an explanation.

BECK:  First part, substantial rise in the general level of prices related to the increase in the volume of money supply.

So, if they weren't printing anything and this orange juice was a dollar and then they started to print more money, the orange juice would cost more because there are too many dollars out there now trying to buy that one glass of orange juice. Well, is that happening? The experts say, of course, not. Really?

Holden: Give and take again and take and give. Very simple. Beck has given an explanation, a brief moment of security, attaches his explanation to the “luxury item” orange juice and now the narrative is back to create insecurity and fear. Experts don´t hold any credibility. Beck is quick to prove he is an expert:

BECK:  Well, let's look around the world. U.K.'s inflation levels hit 4 percent. Eurozone's inflation levels jumped to 2.4, and that isn't it.

Holden: Wow, Beck knows what´s going on “around the world.”

In one of the inevitable comical contradictions, Beck uses experts for stimulating the need for food in the next sentence:

BECK:  Experts -- experts are now predicting -- try this one on for size -- that the new, and I'm quoting, the new luxury item in America will be this -- excuse me. Orange juice?
They say factory prices and problem with drought -- factory prices could rise as much as 80 percent for orange juice and 60 percent for apple juice.

Let me show you what is happening, the six-month price percentage moves. This is six months. This isn't over a year. Six months, with just a few of the necessities.

Here they are. Cotton is up 125 percent. Six months, sugar 82; corn,59 percent; coffee, 41 percent; rice, 40 percent.

Let's look at some others -- oats, if you're a horse, panic; copper, 36 percent; lumber, you want build a house, up 33 percent. Put some gutters on it, why don't you? Or just have that old-fashioned thing called electricity. Oil, 25.1 percent.

Holden: Neither is the selection of the items random nor is the sentence “ if you're a horse, panic” a coincidence. Panic is the message and the reason for panicking is that pretty much all of the physiological needs are threatened. Besides the food, free movement, warm clothes (cotton), furthermore sleeping in a safe house could become unaffordable if you want to build a house for having a safe, warm place to sleep in.

BECK:  During that same six months stretch, what has the dollar done? The dollar has dropped by 6 percent. Every time we print more money, the value of your dollar that you have earned at work goes down, making the price go up. By the way, we are now the number one buyer of our own debt.

Holden: Talking about the dollar is another way to send a clear message that material safety is on the line.

Oh, do you remember the old days? Old days when I told you -- it was about a year ago, I told you this and everybody said, "Glenn Beck is a fearmonger." Oh, there I am. Here I am. A year ago, showing who's buying our debt -- who's buying our debt and what's going on. "He's a fearmonger, that's crazy!" Hmm!

Holden: After the cut the wound needs to be taken care of again. Brilliantly bringing past times when everything was in order to mind Beck once more shifts to demonstrate his superiority.

BECK:  Number one, tell you about cotton. Let me show a real life example. This is cotton. Just in the last six months, cotton has gone up 125 percent. So, you have to go out and buy a new shirt.

It's a great shirt. This is a non-iron Brooks Brothers shirt. These are fantastic shirts. This shirt was six months ago, $79.50. Today, it is $88. Here it is.  But the real hidden trick is the hidden value of your dollar -- it's like a hidden tax. The value on the same time of your dollar has dropped 6 percent. So, you need to add another 6 percent to the cost of this, because it takes more of your dollars to buy them. So, it makes it not $88 but actually $93 for this shirt. Does that sound like a recipe for success? Especially when the government continues to spend and print.

Holden: The contrast between the words “real life example” and “hidden trick is the hidden value” is intentionally sharp. Beck appears as superior moral person who exposes the “hidden” tricks. The fear of hidden and unknown things is a mighty motivator. A person who reveals hidden things and doesn’t show fear from the hidden truth is impressive, seems credible and presents a role model to follow.

Picking a shirt is clearly a result of knowing of the needs for warm clothes. Protection against the elements is one of the basic things we need in life. Beck let´s us know that the government is responsible and to blame for the bad things going on.

It must be emphasized how crucial the mentioning of the government permanently in a negative context is for Beck´s propaganda. The government, or with the “precise” word Beck used “they” are a real danger to food, clothes, material safety, law and order and what not. Beck elaborates further:

BECK:  Again, did you tell Washington in November to increase or decrease the debt, taxes and spending? Do you remember?

Holden: It is very telling that he says “remember” and directly speaks to the audience. Reminding them Washington doesn’t listen, reminding them of their frustrations while he talks to themHe listens.

BECK:  Let me go back to the president's budget announcement today which basically amounts to pouring gasoline right onto the fire. It is $3.73 trillion budget. It is greater than the combined GDPs of France, Italy and Ireland. Those three countries, everything they spend, everything they buy, everything they sell for an entire year is what this budget is. It will also be the biggest one year debt jump in the history of mankind, $2 trillion of debt. For the man who said we have to get our deficits under control, he's not doing it.

He's -- maybe it's like -- it's like golf, Mr. President. You play a lot of that. Low score wins, low score, not high score. He's tripled -- tripled -- the deficit in two years.
But now, he says he's ready to slow it down. He wants you to believe that he's no longer going to spend. No, those days are behind him. Remember -- this is the same administration that spent the last two and a half years arguing and arguing and arguing that you had to spend in order to save the economy -- stimulus or debt, it's the only way.

And those -- may I quote-- those Tea Party people will destroy the country if they get in there and start cutting spending. Now, all of a sudden, he wants you to believe that he has the virtue of spending cuts down. I'm going to go way out a limb here and say -- I don't think he believes that. Something in my tummy says, I don't think so. Let's look at some of the real cuts, because today is a new day, maybe the president -- the sky has opened up and all of a sudden, he's seen the light.

Holden: This part is especially disgusting. The tummy, or what I call the Gut Factor, is encouraged just before the President is set against a religious picture: Light versus dark on several levels. The racist subtext can hardly be overlooked here though it is very subtle.

BECK:  Here he is today. Listen carefully.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade, our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt.

BECK: That is fantastic -- our spending to match our revenues. That is great. And all you have to do is go to President Obama's budget page 171 to see him tell the truth. Here are the receipts. These are the things that are revenues and these outlays are our spending -- receipts and outlay. What we take in. What we put out.  All right. Here's our deficit. Woo, bad one, $1.6 trillion and then $1.1 trillion. Uh, 2013 we're up to the middle of the decade yet, $768 billion, 2014, $645 billion in deficit.

Well, OK, here's the middle of the decade. We're still $607 billion away from that. Here's what we're taking in and here's what we're spending, this should be zero and these two must match. Well, he must have meant 2016. No, it's actually going up here. 2017, no, it's down from the year before, but -- OK, 2018, 2019, 2020 -- oh, boy, it's getting bad again, 2021.

Holden: While the focus of this piece is the method behind the psychological manipulation of Beck´s propaganda it also shows the main purpose of the propaganda. Preventing a second term of the President and keeping the masses motivated and mobilized against the President. Beck does not invent anything new. He just continues with the same things over and over again, including the same phrases. Fans and critics of Glenn Beck both very likely can connect the phrase “pouring gasoline” to Beck´s pouring of fake gasoline over one man in his studio on one occasion.(1) 

The message is again and again that the President is working against the needs of the audience. The President is exclusively mentioned in a negative context and a man who wants to set America on fire and destroy it. The good ones are the Tea Party and Beck. The bad one is the man who “wants you to believe” - lies. Back to Beck owns words:

BECK:  Mr. President, I mean, I could be missing something or maybe you're just -- oh, what's that old-fashioned word, lying. Which is it? It's deficits every year through 2020. Now, his explanation for this obvious discrepancy was well, I'm not counting the interest on the debt -- oh, I know. Here I thought we were being honest. Oh, my goodness, that is so great. Isn't it great you just not count an entire category? But even if you do that -- still deficits every single year. He also promised to cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Whew, that is an average of $100 billion every year. That is two Joe Biden high speed trains. Whoa! That's California's pension losses. That's insanity.

Holden: The President breaks promises. He lies. The President is in any imaginable way the counterpart to any imaginable need. Portraying the President as a liar confirms the idea he doesn’t belong to a social group of honorary people who have true moral values and don´t lie. I’ll fast forward since the next parts don´t offer much of interest till:

BECK:  It's time we put the scalpel away and get out the machete because Washington is clearly not getting the message that you sent. Because you said, in Washington, you want to decrease the debt, taxes and spending. I use an axe or a machete or a flame thrower if I have to because everything has to be cut. But let me explain, this is what you said. Now, who are you to tell Washington?

Holden: "Axe, machete or flame thrower" symbolize to path a way through a jungle, to make a way through hostile, unknown territory. The positioning of Beck as leader and pathfinder couldn’t be more clear. A heroic man not afraid to use the tools the lying President is afraid to use. He shows how it works and if someone might have escaped this he says:

BECKWell, let me show how it works. This is the way our country works. This is the way everything works. There's a guy who's in his garage and has an idea. He says, hey, I know, we can build a company and we can sell all kinds of software crap and people will buy it like crazy, but it's going to take money.

What do we do? We convince people to buy shares in our company because we need their money. So, the shareholders send their money to the company because this guy, number one, has a good idea. Got it? That's how companies work. Let's just change the company to the country and change Bill Gates to this idea master. Got it?

What he is doing is he is saying, I've got a good idea to run your company because the last guy sucked. Great. So, the shareholders got rid of the last guy and this guy's ideas -- but this guy is not doing what you the shareholders told him to do. What do you do?

The first thing you do is you remember this -- I know it says number one here -- but remember it's employee number one. You, the shareholder, are the boss. You're the boss. Fire the employees that aren't doing the job.

Holden:  In short, Beck gives and takes again. He takes away the esteem with the reference to Washington and healing it with saying: You, the shareholder, are the boss. Not necessary for quoting Beck´s speech against cuts in the defensive budget that follows, a repetition on playing with the security needs (chaos in the Middle Eat/ Pirates from Somalia) and a reminder of the greatness of America (protecting free trade from Pirates). The transcript closes with:

BECK:  If we keep heading down the path, the unsustainable path, and only play politics, if we don't abort and get off this path quickly, we're not going to have people to fight the Somali pirates. You're not going to have health care. Hell, you're not going to be able to have Slap Chops because it ain't going to be 1999 anymore even if you do act now. Why? Because we're losing value in the dollar.

Holden:  The paragraph is as a good summary of what Beck wants the audience to believe and feel. He wants the the viewers to fear for their food, their security, for their health treatment, the national symbol dollar, everything is falling apart and to pieces and he is the one to provide a more secure and better path. On a writing level this is amazingly well crafted since it finished the path and way motive.

This was the biggest part of the first half of this show. The rest can be watched at watchglennbeck dot com.(2)

Breaking the complex Beck propaganda down to its core means to realize that Beck operates with a pattern of giving and taking away needs. As said before simple, yet very effective. The examples for this pattern can be observed in almost any of Beck´s public statements. Illustrating the pattern and the method of psychological manipulation are the emotional phrases whether positive or negative, the repetitions in the construction of Beck´s narrative and the content that reflects and relies on the hierarchy of needs model.

It may not be the only influence and source, but there is little doubt that the work of Abraham Maslow is indispensable for fully understanding Beck.
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