View from the couch: Reality-based shooters


America has had a long history with hucksters and con men,

charlatans and bible thumpers who've risen and fallen throughout its 200-plus

years. They primarily sell

themselves, usually wrapped in the flag and flummery, warning of an apocalypse

to come, or whatever the latest version of fire and brimstone happens to

be. Glenn Beck is, currently, the

most prominent of the species, having been able to corral "tens of thousands"

of followers onto the Washington mall this past Saturday.

Beck is a curious case, though he follows in the grand

tradition sketched above, from Billy Sunday to the televised evangelical snake

oil salesmen of the 1970s and the Reagan Revolution, Beck offers a tale of loss

and salvation, of redemption, of failure and success, so regular in its

repetition it should be patented by now. He was lost and now he is found, on Fox News, of course.

Rush Limbaugh came from a rather accomplished Missouri

family and, for a while, was the sad sack underachiever of the lot. Limbaugh could never make the

transformation successfully from radio to TV, though he tried. Limbaugh is decidedly non-telegenic and

his bulk only made it worse. The

audience for his short-lived television show began to look more and more like

him – a lot of white fat guys. Limbaugh wasn't the repentant sinner raised up by his show, but a

salesman who packaged his entertainment with some self-deprecation, one who

became more and more political as he saw it sold well to his demographic.

Beck, though, besides the sinner-saved aspect, has roots in

the self-help-transformation preacher world. He and the self-help guru Tony Robbins share a more

presentable television persona, though one slightly pushed to the bizarre. Beck

looks almost regular, but not quite. In Robbins' case, it's his teeth: too

large and white even for his big head. In Beck's case, it's his shiny face, an innocent, slightly mad, bad boy

look. That's what allows him to

succeed on TV; he's the harmless kid brother, always bouncing around spouting

nonsense, elfin and irrepressible. And nonsense it is he spouts.Beck is barely educated and is a weird kind of autodidact, someone who

is likely to have read, say, tomes of the "Nostradamus on Economics" sort, and

now realizes the world should be back on the gold standard. Families usually, at least, have one

example of this type of relation, some wayward uncle who has a theory on how

everything works and how it will make him a million.

Of course, Beck is the exception that proves the rule.He has made millions. Trying to explain

his religion – he's a convert to Mormonism – to Chris Wallace on

Fox News Sunday, Beck made no sense at all, but was saying everything with

conviction. I think he was

equating personal salvation with the Mormon belief in community, that the whole

collective had to be saved (all Mormons at once ascending) and then he went on

to say that that was President Obama's problem, that he believed not in

individual salvation, but collective salvation and that Obama wasn't a racist,

so much as Obama's failings were all liberation theology's doing and that the

Pope said so.

But, of course, Obama is not a Catholic and liberation

theology is a Catholic outgrowth, but Beck just goes on and on from one thing

to another, with his earnest happy delivery, except, of course, when he's

crying, being moved by the grandeur of it all.Beck has referred to himself in the past as a clown, but he

seems truly wowed by his success and now, I presume, he thinks he is a clown with

a mission, not just one with a bad hemorrhoid problem.

The great film, "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), skewers this

sort of clown, played by Andy Griffith in his finest role, along with Patricia

Neal. It's not that American

culture hasn't held this sort of person up to ridicule throughout modern history,

but, nonetheless, there is always an appetite for the latest version, and an

audience large enough to fill the Washington mall on a summer Saturday. It would be funny, if it weren't so

scary. Keeping 30 percent of the

people stupid seems to be Rupert Murdoch's gift to the haves of the world and

Fox News is giving the American education system a run for its money. Watch

those scores keep going down.Leave no child behind.Glenn Beck will come and go, but who knows what will be left in his



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