A Half-Assed Howard Beale or, The Crocodile Tears of a Clown

Right now Paddy Chayefsky is:

a. Rolling over in his grave

b. High-fiving Peter Finch in heaven

c. High-fiving Peter Finch in hell (where it’s Happy Hour 24/7)

d. All of the above

There are any number of examples that could be (and probably have been) offered up to illustrate how prescient Chayefsky’s screenplay for Network really was. Think of phony purveyors of moral outrage ranging from Morton Downey Jr. to Jerry Springer, and the whole concept of infotainment to the hastening-of-the-apocalypse proliferation of Reality TV. Stage it and they will come is now the (un)official mantra of media’s M.O. And, in the end, it’s all pretty much a tempest in a teapot. Or, a tempest in a tea party. Which brings us to the unbelievable Glenn Beck. Of course, fabricated indignation has been good business in America since Jonathan Edwards first perfected the formula with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God back in 1741, shortly before the advent of cable television.

Capitalizing on the nervous consciences of the faithful created steady work well into the 20th Century, and Sinclair Lewis codified the archetypal character in Elmer Gantry (1926). That pernicious tradition was carried on faithfully by Confidence Men like Pat Roberston, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn and Rick Warren. But of course this act has always been too tempting for politicians not to embrace with every inauthentic bone in their bodies. The only hucksters that can outhustle the pols are the preening simpletons who rile up the credulous citizens who dial in each day for another dose of bad medicine. At the appointed hour, the idiot box transfigures into a burning bush and these rapt minions who otherwise behold Christ in their breakfast food (or, proving how crafy and omnipotent the Lord can be, at  lunchtime too), get their Godhead on in the form of a third-rate carnival barker.

Of course, the current poseur-du-jour is Fox News fixture Glenn Beck. How can a cretin this transparently full of shit possibly capture a prime time audience? Simple: have the worst presidency in U.S. history leave an unprecedented number of people jobless, scared shitless about losing their jobs, bemoaning their 401-k that flew away, and understandably appalled at Wall Street slumlords who used our credit rating like a plastic fuck doll still wallowing in money the way a dog rolls on a dead rodent. Enter the savior, the man who cries on cue like an actress at the Oscars, and about as convincingly. He cares, you see, he really cares. And he loves this country too much to just watch…a charismatic leader try to come in and clean up the mess the man he worshipped so carelessly created.

As incendiary, and insufferable, as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are, you tend to appreciate how they sometimes can’t keep a straight face as they shovel the horseshit, whipping simpletons into a righteous lather for a steady paycheck. Yes, they are contemptible and yes, they wield their petty power over the powerless in incredibly irresponsible fashion. But with them you know to expect less than little in terms of originality, integrity or intellectual rigor. Thus, you have to remain content, in a free country, to let them hold sway over a semi-retarded audience who would crawl over molten coals for them. And to be certain, Glenn Beck’s senseless sensibility makes those two blowhards look like oracular paragons. He is an empty suit with an empty mind, offering regurgitated jeremiads and faux populism to a genuinely distressed viewership looking for answers but disinclined to trust the dirty Socialists currently in power. His histrionics, about as genuine as A-Rod’s apologies, are comprised of two primary objectives: to position himself as a voice of reason in these troubling times, and to use a time of crisis as the impetus for his own existence. If Beck was capable of experiencing even an infinitesimal measure of shame, he would combust quicker than a drummer from Spinal Tap.

Thank God for Stephen Colbert. He did, as has been noted elsewhere, what famously “liberal” mainstream outlets like the New York Times couldn’t (wouldn’t) do and took Beck to task, on his own terms, with his own words, and exposed him as the opportunistic nitwit he so obviously is.

Stephen Colbert ripped apart Fox News host (and New York Times cover boy) Glenn Beck Tuesday night, mocking his 9-12 project, meant to conjure the spirit of compassion and camaraderie Americans felt on September 12, 2001. “We weren’t told how to behave that day after 9/11, we just knew,” Beck says to describe the project. “It was right, it was the opposite of what we feel today. Are you ready to be the person you were that day after 9/11, on 9/12?”

“Ready!” Colbert shouted, decked out in a gas mask, holding a gun, and wearing adult diapers. Colbert then…exposed the hypocrisy of Beck’s 9-12 project by highlighting comments he made on September 9, 2005…”The 9-12 project is not for families directly affected by 9/11, just people building their careers on it,” Colbert said.

There is not too much that needs to be said after this well-warranted incineration (the must-see video is here). But we can, and should, bat Beck’s bones around a little bit. At this moment, with all that is confronting our country, it is very necessary to take all available opportunities to mock and expose this charlatan. Here is a man who would suck the blood out of a rotting corpse if it would get his contract renewed; the least we can do is rub his nose in it when he soils himself, nightly on national TV.

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  1. [...] playing Beethoven piano sonatas; Flannery O’Connor writing fiction; Glenn Beck being an asshole), but I would propose that this performance is the apotheosis of what a pop [...]

  2. [...] see it with Limbaugh, we see it with Glenn Beck and we’ll see plenty more of it from Sarah Palin now that she has fulfilled her destiny by [...]

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