Bend It Like Beck

The Poet’s Eye has for several years gazed with amusement on one Glenn Beck. I first became aware of him when he was working for CNN. His show had a different tenor then and while he was a bit fringy in his politics, he often reminded his viewers that he wasn’t a politician or a pundit but an entertainer and I was quite satisfied with that posture and thought the man was indeed entertaining. I looked at him as a political satirist and assumed that his tongue was planted as firmly in his cheek as was Stephen Colbert’s.

These days Glenn reminds his viewers that he is an entertainer on less frequent occasions. I don’t know if it’s because Rupert Murdoch is writing his checks or if Rev. Beck is only now showing his colors by unfurling the butterfly wings of his true identity as a religious evangelist. I have no problem with evangelists, hell, I’ve been known to slip in a plug for the Almighty on occasion myself, but let’s call a spade a spade.

In keeping with my policy of getting the facts before I offer my comments, I force myself to watch Fox News at least one day per week. I say ‘force’ because of the three major cable news networks Fox is the least reliable and the most unabashedly agenda-driven and biased. The analysis is shallow and slanted. If I want reliable news I look to CNN and PBS and BBC and if I want intelligent analysis and commentary, it’s MSNBC. But it’s good to know what a significant portion of viewers are watching and perhaps accepting as fact.

Fox’s advertising demographic matches well with the politics it peddles. It’s a more focused segment than just the blanket 25-54 year-old age-group. It’s also a cultural demographic — lower-middle-class working people without college degrees plus the elderly and the religious right. For these people Fox provides a simplistic political viewpoint, long on slogans and sound-bites and short on specifics and facts, which re-enforces its audience’s existing prejudices and misinformation. We can see why it’s not the favorite channel of intellectuals.

But you don’t have to be an intellectual to enjoy a good TV show any more than you need to be literate in order to vote. Fox is an entertainment channel after all, and its audience is drawn on that basis. They offer some very entertaining and popular shows. I’m a Gleek myself and House is my favorite doctor show. But even the news shows are entertainment on Fox. Which brings us back to Herr Beck and his Fox colleague Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s down-home, harmless style which is somewhere between Gomer Pyle and Mr. Rogers with a dash of Pat Robertson, is reassuring and his politics falls generically into the old Southern Democrat tradition of genteel racism cloaked in religious and patriotic language. Beck’s show has amplified this theme and Glenn, ever the show-biz opportunist, has positioned himself to occupy the seat held by folks like Garner Ted Armstrong and Father Coughlin and even Lyndon LaRouche or Jerry Falwell as the official conservative pedagogue who can neatly segue from religion to politics without missing an amen.

When Beck rolls out his blackboard and starts hanging photos and charts on it with magnets and draws arching arrows that magically connect fact and fantasy, who do you see in your mind but your mad 11th grade social studies teacher who doubled as the coach of the golfing team and secretly attended John Birch Society meetings? Ya gotta love his revelatory enthusiasm, though, and his whack conspiracy-laden history lessons which are chock full of ‘little known facts’ and ‘the part of the story they never told yous’ and wild histrionic conclusions based on these fictions. As if Bill Nye the Science Guy were not bound by the laws of physics and he could teach lessons based on natural phenomena that he invented himself and that only work on TV shows.

So, today was my Fox News day and I see Beck crowing about the turnout at his rally this weekend in Washington. To hear him tell it, the event was more culturally significant than Woodstock because of the sheer numbers in attendance. He spent 15 minutes of air-time comparing pictures of mass crowd shots while protesting that the ‘media’, of which he is prominently a part, has plotted to deflate his numbers by estimating the crowd to be somewhat smaller than the entire nation of Israel. The whole thing was dedicated to god and country, don’tcha know, and to reclaiming some lost nostalgic vision of America that nobody can quite articulate but everybody agrees was better and safer and not troubled by the nasty realities of today. It’s always easier to understand what you think happened in the past than what you expect might happen in the future. The past is less threatening so it’s an easy sell when you say, ‘return to traditional values,’ or ‘take our country back.’ Beck is a skilled enough manipulator to work the cult mind by creating a sense of persecution or a besieged mentality. He tells you, ‘the socialists are quietly taking over the government,’ or, ‘the government is taking over your lives,’ or, ‘The evil liberal media doesn’t want to tell you the truth.’ And then he leans into the lens and says, confidentially and conspiratorially, ‘but I’ll tell you the truth, because God wants me to.’ It’s quite a medicine show.

Some say that Beck is running for office. Some say Beck is running for God. The Poet’s Eye sees that he is more likely running for Billy Graham’s old seat. This is Glenn’s tragic flaw, you see, he wants to be loved. It’s why he’ll never go into politics. Plus, he’s a two-bit top forty deejay huckster at heart and he’s having way too much fun and selling far too many books to want to burden himself with the duties of office. More likely we can look for him to change his name to Bheck. Like Buddha and Gandhi had the silent H thing going and were revered by most of humanity. Glenn wants to be loved more than the high-school nerd inside of him wanted to get laid. Don’t worry, Republicans, Glenn won’t be showing up in the 2012 race. Sorry Sarah, you’ll have to find another running-mate.

Beck wearing a bulletproof vest as he speaks at the Lincoln Memorial 08-28-10

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