Thursday, April 08, 2010


Forbes has published a profile of Glenn Beck as a businessman, and one passage in particular is getting a great deal of attention:

With a deadpan, Beck insists that he is not political: "I could give a flying crap about the political process." Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously, and controversy is its own coinage. "We're an entertainment company," Beck says. He has managed to monetize virtually everything that comes out of his mouth.

So is that it? Is Beck just faking his political extremism?

Michael Tomasky ponders that question:

I wonder if Beck is telling the truth there. If he is, the whole business is amazingly cynical and actually quite contemptuous of his fans. And he has said these kinds of things before, so it may well be the case.

At the other end, he has spoken lovingly of right-wing books like this rambling and paranoid malignity by this clown named Cleon Skousen that Beck has said changed his life. Of course, maybe he just meant it changed his life in that it showed him what kinds of crazy conspiracies about the world people were willing to believe and therefore what he should say on the air and in books etc. for the purpose of hauling in $32 million a year.

But if Beck really is expressing opinions he doesn't actually hold, then he's not cynical -- he's pathological. He's not just tossing off boilerplate GOP talking points with a little added shtick; he has developed an elaborate and internally consistent (if utterly delusional) worldview, from Skousen's books and other sources, that portrays the president and other Democrats as, if anything, even more dangerous and demonic than they seem in the rants of Limbaugh and Savage and Hannity and Coulter. By expounding on this worldview, he's stoking the flames of mass rage -- and he works like a dog to keep those flames stoked. If he's doing that and doesn't believe what he's saying, then he's like a guy who shouts "Fire!" in a crowded theater for hours every day, for a living, just to see how many people can be trampled to death.

As I say, pathological.

Me, I think he believes what he says. It's not an obviously commercial style, or at least it wasn't until he developed it; the ADD/class clown/crying jag shtick is hardly what you get from the other superstars of right-wing broadcasting rage, and no one's ever gone as mainstream as he has based on quite so much conspiracy-theory paranoia. But in any case, it doesn't matter if he believes what he says, because his audience believes what he says -- there's no one in the right-wing rage-o-sphere, not even Limbaugh, whose words are seen more as gospel truth by the right-wing base than Beck's.

Which is why I'm with Vonnegut, who said the point of his novel Mother Night -- about a hatemongering Nazi propagandist, albeit one who was including codes in his broadcasts on the Allies' behalf -- was "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." Whatever Beck thinks, he is what he is, or what he pretends to be -- just look at his audience if you don't believe that.

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