David Seaton's picture

    Glenn Beck: a clown by moonlight

    "...there's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight...." Lon Chaney Sr.
    (hat to James Kunstler)


    Once again, it is important to remember that it is central to Glenn Beck's message that nothing in it make much, or sometimes any, sense at all.


    This is not some sort of defect due to lack of intelligence or skill on his part. Quite the contrary, his is a work of art in the media of cynical confusion.


    There is no other meaning to it than the anger he arouses. No other fuel for the fires he ignites than the frustrations and confusion of his listeners.


    To keep them confused and frustrated is the goal. Glenn Beck is a master of his art form.

    What is disturbing is not so much Beck himself or even that an audience exists for Beck. What is disturbing is that there is an enormous amount of money being spent to put him into every home in America. That is terrifying.

    The idea is simply to manipulate through emotions.

    The only real messages are the emotions.


    To understand what Beck is doing, to understand him, you must suspend your capacity for rational thought and just let the emotions wash over you and try to take note of them as they assault your endocrine system and all I can say is this: children don't try this at home.


    Here is a hostile sample of Beck in full flight just to get your juices flowing:

    Charming isn't it, the devil doll cuteness of it all? The little campy gestures...


    What is behind this grotesque performance?

    Simply this:


    The USA is moving into what appears to be a long period of low growth and the rapidly increasing deterioration of the American middle class's legendary living standards, not to mention the working poor's. Also, reform and regulation are necessary in the energy and financial sectors. America's infrastructure needs restoring and refurbishing.

    The whole thing is a mess and needs to be firmly taken in hand with the greatest good for the greatest number as the guiding principal.

    This means, in the not too long run, more regulations, more control and more taxes, which means in turn that people with a lot of money are going to feel a little less free and a little less wealthy than they do today. They are paying Mr. Beck to help keep Americans from thinking rationally about their problems or thinking rationally at all.

    If people could think straight for only a few days, be sure that sensible solutions that would benefit the majority of citizens would follow as night follows day. Those who have discovered and nurtured the talents of Mr. Beck and have provided him with the opportunity to reach millions of viewers are investing their money now to avoid those sensible solutions affecting their future earnings.


    Lately I've discovered that one of Becks favorite targets is none other than Woodrow Wilson, who he accuses of multiple sins, among them for being a fascist avant la lettre. Watch how he does it:

    Here is a little explanation of why he puts this Wilsonophobia all together, written by an egg headed, Ivy League, frau doktor-professor and published in that Marxist-elitist, Islamofascist, cheese-eating, faggot-socialist, competition-for-Rupert-Murdoch rag, the New York Times:
    To the campaign to make “progressive” a slur, Wilson is useful. Much as many people admire aspects of his presidency, he has no natural constituency any more, right or left. He was opposed to female suffrage. He supported Jim Crow. He wrote about Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy. He makes a good bad guy. He was also an intellectual, the first U.S. president to hold a Ph.D.(...) This professor-president has convenient similarities to our current chief executive — a scholar of constitutional law, professorial, intellectual, even, in some people’s eyes, effete (as, for instance, T.R. and F.D.R. were not). Jill Lepore Professor of American History at Harvard - NYT
    I find it curious that Beck should attack Wilson, when those who supported the foreign policy of George W. Bush, neocons and the like, often portrayed it as Wilsonian. Wilson's interest in imposing American values on errant primitives by force of arms, was often used as the precedent for invading Iraq or fighting the Taliban.
    Of course consistency has nothing to do with Beck, still that he should attack the one figure that was used to add a bit of class to Bush's presidency seems a bit weird even by Beckish standards.


    Beck began his anti-government paranoia during the Bush administration and is no fan of the neo-cons. He is more of a Robert Welch character--paranoid and ultra-conservative, but not Republican. Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, accused even Eisenhower of being a Communist. As for Wilson, Beck just picked him as a bogeyman because Wilson was into world government and is identified with progressivism.

    Thank you for the comment.

    For me Beck is an instrument, merely a tool in a toolbox.

    The world is filled with "communicators", but there is only one Rupert Murdoch.

    Murdoch is a man full of intent.

    What do you think Rupert Murdoch wishes to achieve using Beck?

    For me that is the question more than Beck himself, what exactly does Murdoch want?

    I think that Murdoch's career amply dedicates that he wants to make a lot of money. Politically, he obviously leans conservative. Anything much beyond that is speculation. Maybe you should ask Murdoch.

    I don't think he would confide in me for some reason.

    Of course he wants to make money, and he has made incredible amounts already, but I think he has much more on his agenda than that. Since he probably won't tell us exactly what he wants we are forced to speculate.We must look for clues.

    I would postulate that taking the decision to put Glenn Beck into millions of homes is such a clue.

    There is more than one way to skin a cat, for example, in his British Newspaper, The Sun, he shows bare breasted football player's wives. So there are lots of other ways to make money.

    What exactly is the reason for Murdoch to make a huge star out of someone as strange as Glenn Beck?

    You make an important point, that Beck is not really a "Republican"... is that what Murdoch wants, to pull the Republican party much farther to the right, for example? I get the feeling that power is what makes Murdoch's love come down.

    Maybe you've got a better idea.

    So, please, let us speculate.

    Let us brainstorm this.

    BTW, there is a very interesting article by George Monbiot in today's Guardian, here is the link and here is an excerpt:

    Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information that confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

    Our social identity is shaped by values that psychologists classify as extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs that transcend their self-interest.

    Few people are all-extrinsic or all-intrinsic. Our social identity is formed by a mixture of values. But psychological tests in nearly 70 countries show that values cluster in remarkably consistent patterns. Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone's extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals.

    We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the social environment.

    I accept most of what you quote here except the last sentence.

    "We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the social environment."

    It is much too broad and too absolute as a conclusion. Social environment is an obviously large factor, maybe the largest, but certainly not completely determinate in shaping values. Studies of twins raised in different environments are one example that show how people are born with tendencies towards certain character traits.

    Here is an interesting quote from Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times

    Shortly before leaving for the US to report on the midterm elections, a respected colleague told me that: “Obama’s problem is that he is trying to govern a nation where half the population is insane.”

    There is something in that, I'm afraid.

    I happened to hear NPR's Glenn Beck: Reading Between The Coded Lines on a long drive last weekend. I wonder how many christianists realize that Beck is giving them distilled mormon mythology?


    Don't get me wrong, I find Beck interesting as a sort of refugee from a Sinclair Lewis novel, but I'm really more interested in why he is being funded. Why he is being given such a pulpit. Fox is owned by Murdoch, so Beck is there because Murdoch wants him there. Beck understands that and for sure Murdoch does too... What else do they understand?

    Sir Philip Sidney said this in one of his critiques:

    And do they not know that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of hisotory; not bound to follow the story, but, having liberty, eith to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical conveniency?

    Just think how free beckerhead feels when he presents his radio program or TV show or his live appearances or his Free University.

    He just feels that he can say whatever comes into his mind without fear of confrontation by the intellegentsia. Who is really going to take the time and have the discipline to counter his fantasies.

    That is why a lot of people on the left just ignore him.

    Others, like those at Mediamatters maintain that he must be confronted with his inaccuracies at all times.

    Good analysis Mr. Seaton. By the way, as the years go by I find myself more and more sickened by the personage of Wilson; especially with what he did to D.C.


    Sidney also said, in the same essay, "The poet never lieth, for he nothing affirmeth."

    It's the affirmation of the fiction, the pretense of truth, that makes Beck a liar and not an artist.

    I'm sorry, but Beck is an artist... that is why he is so sinister. Art is not pure in itself and art can lie with the best of them.

    You are one hip commenter. This comes from a text that is sixty years old.  I got to it like some people go to comfort food.

    This short comment just elates me!!! ha

    The poet never lieth, for he nothing affirmeth!!


    My particular beef with Wilson is a little different.


    With the best intentions in the world, "making the world safe for democracy", Woodrow Wilson took the USA into WWI thereby setting off a series of catastrophes whose aftereffects we are still living with. I am sure that he would have been horrified to know what his meddling brought about.


    It goes like this:


    In 1917 Britain and France, Germany, Austria and Turkey had basically bled themselves white and had fought World War One to a draw. 


    If left to themselves, they couldn't have continued much longer, especially with the Russian Revolution at their doors. Soon they would have had to come to the peace table and split the difference.


    Thus there would have been no Versailles treaty and Germany wouldn't have had to pay the crippling reparations that caused the hyperinflation that helped bring Hitler to power, thus avoiding WWII.


    The Austrio-Hungarian empire would have had time to collapse more gracefully and Turkey might still have control of the Middle East, thus avoiding many of the problems we have there today such as the Israel-Palestine conflict. 


    Ask yourself, if Palestine were still a Turkish protectorate and the Holocaust had never taken place and European Jews were living happily in Germany, would Israel have even come into existence?


    By entering the war, when it did, the USA was directly responsible for humiliating Germany and thus, in my opinion, is directly responsible for creating Hitler.


    So for me Wilson is the father of the most evil century in humanity's history.


    And so, logically, to top it off, without Woodrow Wilson there would be no Glenn Beck.

    Way to go Woodrow!

    I really hope this comment was a joke, Dave. In the whole world of causal chains, you pull on the one which concludes, "the USA was directly responsible for humiliating Germany and thus, in my opinion, is directly responsible for creating Hitler." Which - logically (!) - then leads us to, "So for me Wilson is the father of the most evil century in humanity's history."
    Please tell me you're clowning.

    Please tell me you're clowning.

    Only in my tone. There are many serious historians, among them Eric Hobsbawm, who think that it would have been better if Germany had won WWI, because that would have assured that someone like Hitler would never have taken power in Germany and thus it would have avoided WWII and the holocaust.

    It is a fact that in 1917 when the USA entered the war, the conflict was a stalemate, and if the USA hadn't entered the war the participants would have had to call it a draw and negotiate the armistace on that basis. Most Americans didn't want to enter the war and Wilson did organize quite a propaganda effort to get Americans mad enough to enter the war.

    So of course it is too simple to say that Wilson caused it all. But, I think the world would have been better off if the USA had maintained its isolationism a trifle longer.

    You have to understand that fascists like Beck deal in the "big lie". Example: Wilson was a terrible man, and a university professor and an intellectual, therefore as Barack Obama is also a university professor and an intellectual he is Woodrow Wilson in blackface, therefore a bad man.

    In fact the closest I can relate Obama to Wilson, except they are both POTUS and Democrats, is that Wilson was president of Princeton and Michelle graduated from Princeton. So the the BIG lie is to relate or infer that Obama and Wilson are the same thing, when in fact Wilson was eager to enter a war and Obama is eager to get out of two wars.

    That is how fascist propaganda works. Observe carefully and learn, Beck is the genuine article.

    Beck's appeal has always been a mystery to me.  Not his message so much--there's nothing new in it and nothing even particularly clever.  No, I'm more baffled--and fascinated, I admit--by the audience he's been able to build by acting like a lunatic. 

    He is an actor and doesn't pretend to be much more, and sometimes I wonder if even he isn't astounded by his growing popularity.  Demagoguery has traditionally reached fever-pitch when times are as bad as these, and there have always been those who latch onto the schtick in order to make a name (and hopefully a fortune), but this is something new to us.

    It may have to do with technology as much as anything.  He isn't Elmer Gantry in a tent, going from town to town on a schedule and at the mercy of those willing to put their pennies in a hat.  Fox gives its programming away to anyone wanting to grab it, and the network is available to nearly every TV house in America.  Beck went along for the ride and was smart enough to see which way the wind was blowing.  He went whole hog into Right Wing crazy and it worked better than anyone could have imagined.

    Rupert is probably thrilled, but I don't think he could have foreseen it, nor could he have planned for it.  It happened because the segment of society already watching Fox was ready for someone who could take their measly paranoid complaints and turn them into rage-storms of epic proportions.  It's really pretty amazing.  I go from believing he's certifiable to thinking he must be the most brilliant man of the century.  What he does for an encore is the next burning question.  What we use as an antidote apparently hasn't been invented yet. 

    From a book called Blowing Smoke (maybe you've heard of it):

    Part of Beck's potency is the packaging. He is the Joe Camel of right-wing paranoia, the goofy cartoon character who genially entertains while hawking addictive cancer sticks. He mocks himself relentlessly, calling himself a "rodeo clown" and his audience "sick twisted freaks." The self-deprecation routine facilitates his conspiracism. Unlike other doomsday prophets, Beck never expresses dogmatic certainty about his predictions. Instead, he hesitantly speculates about "crazy" possibilities. When he first introduced Willard Cleon Skousen's ideas to his audience, he warned, "I am absolutely about three days away from the loony bin. I'm practically damn near nuts."

    But Beck isn't damn near nuts at all, at least not in a clinical sense. The loony-bin routine is just part of his shtick. It's a disarming tactic that gives him the latitude to promote conspiracy theories that O'Reilly would never touch. Nonetheless, the Beck-driven paranoia that has swept the country demonstrates that Beck's audience gets the message all the same. Willard Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck are both legendary cranks, but where Skousen was a fringe figure, Beck is America's favorite television personality after Oprah Winfrey.

    The Joe Camel analogy goes deeper than the pretty packaging. Like the big tobacco companies, Beck has also perfected his product with just the right combination of ingredients to facilitate delivery of the drug. To see how this process works, we'll need to examine the way people interpret the world around them...

    He is the Joe Camel of right-wing paranoia, the goofy cartoon character who genially entertains while hawking addictive cancer sticks.

    Well, okay! In that one sentence you've nailed him.  (Now I have to read that book.) 

    Hate as entertainment, dressed as a nazi, pretending he's you.  It might be funnier if it were fiction.




    In my opinion Beck is a sideshow in a concerted effort by News Corp. to fight off reforms by creating a circus, or old time revival, atmoshpere in which Republican wingnuts seem like normal candidates for office. The real game is the fundraising done via Fox shows by candidates like Angle who netted 14 million last quarter, and by Karl Rove, who must be on his way to 100 million.

    What is odd are the obscure references by Beck to Wilson. The guy watching Fox from his double-wide in Paris, Texas, knows from nothing about Wilson. Nor, in Gingrich's diatribe, Kenya or "anti-colonial". The Fox viewer's frame of reference is like, "yesterday at bible study we discussed whether there will be human sacrifices in the end times". Rove is now referring to Obama in Nixonian terms and again the low information voter probably doesn't remember the history of that period. Perhaps there are more upscale viewers of Fox to whom these stories will make sense, but I think many viewers would be puzzled.

    My take is that the Rove machine is already in gear to trot out Jeb Shiavo Bush for 2012 and that Jeb will not bash Obama directly but take the line that Obama is the "other", the man from "away", "stranger in the kingdom", that Obama is a well meaning person who is out of his depth. If my suspicion is right, these obscure comparisons to Obama, which a large element of Fox probably cannot relate to from personal knowledge or experience have the effect of proving that Obama is into some pretty strange stuff--mission accomplished, so to speak, he's certainly not one of us. 

    Oxy, I like this comment. I get the feeling you are thinking in the right direction.

    I especially like "the heart of otherness".

    Wilsonian, Nixonian, elitist, relativist, socialist, fascist -- a whole lot of labels are being tossed out to help beckerheads validate their dislike of Obama. It's like a dim sum all-you-can-hate buffet; the names may not mean anything to you, but pick any combo that appeals. It's all equally delicious. 

    Glenn Beck may appear to have overreached when he went straight to the heart of otherness by calling the president "a racist who hates white people." That was probably too much, too blatant, even for Murdoch. But after walking that back a baby step or two, Beck is still on the air. And, more important, all his faithful viewers have received their decoder rings.

    Who owns the circus?

    Beck is a clown, but the important question is: who owns the circus?

    And in my opinion the most important question of all:

    Why has Rupert Murdoch loosed this beast upon the American people?

    Dave, have you consider anarchy as a possible motive for his Holelyness Beckus a'Dickus? Push the wayward, disenfranchised Tea-Baggers to the extreme and hope things go down in such a way those 2nd Amendment remedies may get exercised? I wondered myself where 2nd Amendment remedies came from all of a sudden as a federal election approached...kinda out of the blue without any hearsay as if it were planned?

    Anyway, if he US goes tits-up over the outcome of this election, it could cause other countries to pull back into their cocoons as a self protection measure. Or it could destablize the global markets making people run for cover and trying to salvage their assets before they evaporate into thin air.

    I suspect someone is pushing his Holelyness Beckus a'Dickus to goad people to fight against their own self interest. Basically, the US is the archstone to the world global markets and economies and someone wants to remove them...I have no idea why, but I suspect someone wants the US reduced to 3rd world status and if they can get his Holelyness Beckus a'Dickus to do it for them, all the better and their hands are clean.

    Perhaps the best way to understand his Holelyness Beckus a'Dickus is to look beyond what he says and does and see where it takes you. When you get there, you'll find out who's really behind it all.

    Here are a couple of quotes from articles it might help reading:

    Shortly before leaving for the US to report on the midterm elections, a respected colleague told me that: “Obama’s problem is that he is trying to govern a nation where half the population is insane.” Gideon Rachman - Financial Times

    The acceptance of policies that counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st century. In the US blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us? George Monbiot - Guardian

    Or this Roger Cohen's article in the NYT:

    On a weeklong visit, I found a mood of deep unease in an America that seems to have descended into tribalism — not ethnic, but political, economic and social. Uncertainty is pervasive. The government’s rescue of Wall Street combined with the acute difficulties of a middle class struggling to get by on stagnant or falling incomes has sharpened resentments.(...) Fragmentation holds sway. The stock market used to be a fair proxy for the state of the economy. Now it’s a market of traders, not investors. They want to know what the spread is today and tomorrow; they can make money on the way up or down; they care far less about U.S.A. Inc. So the market goes where it goes — up of late but largely directionless (which makes it harder on those up-or-down traders) — while out on Main Street the struggle to make family payroll continues. People work longer hours, they juggle how to cover their kids’ needs, how to de-leverage just a little — and they’re still meant to “consume” for the economy’s sake. The share of national income held by the top 1 percent of American families has doubled in recent decades to 20 percent. That’s a huge shift. I spoke to Doug Severance, a Vietnam vet who’s a hotel employee in Aspen, Colorado. “When I moved here in 1984 we were all family,” he said. “Now either you arrive in a Lear Jet or you’re a servant.”

    What they are trying to do is muddle and confuse angry people with neofascist rhetoric in order to keep them from moving to the left, if left means more regulation and more taxes. Here is a sample.

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