To call Glenn Beck polarizing is to be euphemistic. He’s an ethically bankrupt self-promoter who uses his public poopdeck to manipulate the morally-fragile and marginally lucid among us. At times his behavior straddles the line of criminal such as inciting violence, insurrection and murder. This week the New York Times Magazine has a 10-page feature article on Beck, the self-described “rodeo clown” and “recovering dirtbag.”
Beck is alternately frightening, entertaining and fascinating. Whether it be peddling fear like a tent-revivalist preacher or using his radio and TV shows as his personal therapy or condescendingly treating his fans as rubes for his own financial gain, Beck epitomizes the proverbial train wreck. And one can’t help but wonder, What the …..fuck was THAT?! As The Buffalo Beast – who named Beck the most loathsome person in America – wrote: “Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra. It’s like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show.”
Beck’s self-description of being a “recovering dirtbag” reveals, in fairness to him, a respectable degree of self-awareness. He’s a former alcoholic and (hard) drug addict; he smoked weed daily for 15 years (which is a habit he could probably benefit from resuming today); he fired an employee for bringing him the wrong pen, and he once called the wife of a radio jockey – on air – to ridicule her recent miscarriage. So, yeah, dirtbag seems to be an adequate description.
Perhaps Beck’s most curious quality is that he incessantly contradicts himself and has an absolute lack of personal accountability for what he says. His most celebrated inflammatory and contradictory comment was when he said President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” and then continues, “(but) I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people.”
In 2006 Beck interviewed Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in the House of Representatives. Beck said, “I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you. Because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’ And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”
After stating on his show that he doesn’t believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, Beck continues, “He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the ground-zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up — his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
See what I’m saying? It’s the What the …..fuck was THAT?! phenomenon that is present in everything Beck does. Yet Beck absolves himself of responsibility for his comments with meek qualifiers that he doesn’t necessarily believe what he’s saying. It’s like me offering, “I’m not saying Beck puts gerbils up his ass, but a lot of people think he does and that’s something we need to keep in mind.”
Beck’s former high school drama teacher explains Beck’s irresponsible rhetoric thusly: “When he says, ‘I am not perfect,’ he seems to escape accountability for his various points of view. Yet he expects others to be accountable for their point of view without seeming to allow them the ‘I am not perfect’ exception.”
Beck’s paranoia is palpable. The Times author says he’s “acutely conscious of his personal safety” and Beck’s behaviors certainly bear this out. He travels with security guards just to walk down the street; he wears a bullet proof vest at public appearances; he wanted to build a six-foot wall around his Connecticut home, and his FOX show includes a regular diet of conspiracy theories. It’s enough to almost make you feel sorry for him.
But Beck’s stock in trade is demagoguery. Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist, wrote a soon-to-be published book about Beck aptly titled Tears of a Clown. In the book Milbank “writes that in the first 14 months of Beck’s Fox News show, Beck and his guests mentioned fascism 172 times, Nazis 134 times, Hitler 115 times, the Holocaust 58 times and Joseph Goebbels 8 times.” I have to wonder if Beck and his viewers recognize the irony of invoking Goebbels and the Nazis so often in his demagogic rants. Probably not.
The reason neither Beck nor his audience would recognize the irony is because they are rank and file members of the anti-intellectualism ultra-conservative contingent. Contributing to the irony of Beck, he often uses a chalkboard on his program and speaks to his audience as if he’s a teacher. But Beck, like brother-in-douchebaggery Rush Limbaugh, is not a college graduate and says of himself, “(before 9/11/2001) I didn’t know my butt from my elbow.” Of course, that statement implies he has since discerned his ass from elbow, which is highly debatable at best.
Beck has started his own “school,” Glenn Beck University, which is hosted on his personal website. This is where his fans go to presumably learn the anatomy of the aforementioned asses and elbows. People at Beck’s events describe themselves as “students of history” or “historians.” When the author asked a Beck fan if he was affiliated with a college, the fan responded, “Yes. Glenn Beck University.” Well, there ya have it. This is Beck’s personal contribution to the dumassification of America.
To put an exclamation point on the anti-intellectualism of the Beck demographic, the author tells of an anecdote from a Beck event in Alaska. “Sitting in the row behind me was a truck driver named Jerry Cole, who was from Fairbanks and wore an ‘I (heart) Woodrow Wilson’ T-shirt with a slash through the heart. ‘He was the start of the Progressive Era,’ Cole said of the long-dead president. ‘He believed that college intellectuals should decide how the world should be run.’” Good lord! These people think stupidity is a badge of honor. “Take your fancy diploma and sophisticated book larnin’ and get the hell outta my country — you godless, unAmerican commie!”
Not to leave his lack of ethics to question, Beck is a shameless and blatant cross-promoter. “He spoke constantly on the air about his Washington rally before and after the event. He invites viewers and listeners to visit his Web site and, better yet, the Glenn Beck Store (“Restoring Honor” photograph books can be preordered for $35) and become an “insider extreme” member for premium video and audio links. He recently started a new Web site, the Blaze, which he also mentions on his television and radio shows.” Beck combines his demagoguery with his financial interests when he scares the audience into fearing economic collapse, touting the value of gold, and then selling special, over-priced Glenn Beck gold coins at Tea Party events.
Perhaps the most appropriate and fitting irony could be Beck’s demise. He became a cult of personality because of his outrageous, polarizing and offensive rhetoric yet it’s that same rhetoric that has put his employer in a quagmire. Beck is what is called in the industry “empty calories” in that his ratings are enormous but he’s a killer for advertising revenue. 296 advertisers will not let their commercials be played on Beck’s show and FOX has a difficult time selling ads for The O’Reilly Factor and Fox and Friends when Beck appears on those shows. Beck’s contract expires next year and FOX is a corporation with a bottom line. Moreover, a number of FOX insiders worry that Beck makes it difficult for them to present the channel as a legitimate news organization. (Their concern is understandable, but when did FOX ever pretend to be a legitimate news outlet?)
Beck is a moron and a lunatic, that much is certain. But I’m curious to know why people actually like him. Is it because Beck’s a monolithic fuck up and fellow fuck ups identify with him? Is it because Beck hates the same people they hate? Is it because they find comfort in a person who is as mentally unstable and stupid as them? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things and we can get an insight from a comment of a Beck fan: “Thank you for giving us a voice.”
The poopdeck gives Glenn Beck the rating of: Batshit. Utterly, insanely Batshit.