The Blue-eyed Face of Rebellion (no guns please)


I'm full-fledged crazy nuts. You know it, and I know it. So here it is. This is what's coming, America: depression and revolution. That's what's coming.Glenn Beck on The O’Reilly Factor, 2/13/09

Glenn Beck has hit the big time. His recent Time magazine cover puts him only half a cover behind fellow conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, who once had to share the honor with Howard Stern. O’Reilly, Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Michael Savage are still waiting.

Depending on your point of view Beck may be a real-life “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” Howard Beale, protagonist of the 1976 movie Network, or the egomaniacal country boy pitchman Lonesome Rhodes from 1957’s A Face in the Crowd. Either way, Beck is the media darling for a wave of anti-government dissent.

Beck has perfected the art of fomenting outrage—the O'Reilly Factor quote above is followed by Beck predicting that “They’re [presumably Obama operatives] gonna eat the rich.” When O'Reilly distances himself, Beck offers an “aw shucks” disavowal of violence.

Beck is inflammatory, emotional, wears his religion on his sleeve and isn’t overly concerned with factual accuracy. Terms such as communist, socialist, Nazi, and racist come easy to him when applied to liberals. But the intensity on his face looks more like old-fashioned gumption than menace. He plays it off against self-deprecating humor and expressions of blue-eyed innocence that make fans want to reach into the screen and give his adorable chubby cheek a little pinch. And the way he stuck his tongue out at the enemies of our Republic, like subscribers to Time? Why he's a real-life Dennis the Menace.  To hell with Mr. Wilson!

In short, Beck is a perfect pitchman for a sizeable segment of the American public. His books are best-sellers. Glenn Beck trounces its cable news competition for ratings. A recent advertiser boycott sponsored by the African-American activist group Color of Change cost the show over sixty sponsors and hundreds of thousands a week in ad revenues. Beck's ratings climbed. Glenn Beck even challenged The O’Reilly Factor for FoxNews supremacy.  

The Beck Schtick
It’s too simple to say that Beck is a one-trick pony. But he does ride one of his rhetorical nags into saddle sores. His 2006 introduction of Glenn Beck guest Keith Ellison, a newly elected Muslim congressman from Minnesota, was a succinct example of the Beck method as applied to opponents:

"No offense and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I've been to
mosques, I really don't think Islam is a religion of evil. I think it's
being hijacked, quite frankly. With that being said, you are a
Democrat. You are saying let's cut and run. And I have to tell
you, I have been nervous about this interview 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."

Ellison was supposed to be toast in four moves. First, Beck trots out an outrageous charge. Second, he denies believing the charge himself. Third, Beck says or implies that he's just got to ask, is it true? The fourth move is up to the accused.  If he refuses to gratify Beck with a response, he comes across as hiding the truth. If he defends himself, Beck repeats and rubs in the allegation.

Beck employs a variation on this game to incite viewers. During his much-hyped “Reasonable Questions for an Unreasonable Time” week of Glenn Beck broadcasts in late August, 2009, he built a case alleging a grand conspiracy against the Republic perpetrated by the Obama administration and its “Czars.” Sensational, if often tenuous, allegations were used to terrify the audience into believing that our Republic is under attack and might be doomed (Cue Revolutionary War graphics). At moments when viewers might be expected to be loading their weapons, Beck issued aw shucks disavowals of violence; please, no guns. He was just asking questions that the Administration refused to answer, allegations showing that the Republic is being taken over by enemies of the land he loves so dearly. (Cue tears.)

—Michael Hopping
copyright © 2009 all rights reserved



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