Analyzing the Glenn Beck show reveals a cornucopia of phobias, rational breakdowns, and paranoid delusions. It would keep a psychotherapist occupied for weeks. But stuffed in between the narcissism, the fear mongering, and the Messianic complexes, there is a distinctly regressive aspect to Beck’s personality that manifests in everything he does. He is obsessed with an idealized past for which he yearns achingly.
His television show has entered a new phase wherein he presents himself as part evangelist, part history professor. When he isn’t exhorting his viewers to get down on their knees, or flee their social justice practicing church, he is filling them up with half truths (if that) about America’s founding. And like many brilliant madmen, Beck has even found a way to marry the two themes. He preaches feverishly that God is the only grantor of rights and that government has no role in such matters. Of course, many of our nation’s original rights were granted by the government via our Constitution. Beck gets around this fact by declaring that those particular government authorities were divinely inspired, elevating them to sainthood in his personal church. He never addresses the divinity of every other right that was granted by the government authors of constitutional amendments or legislation.
Beck’s history sermons are devoutly bizarre and unconnected to reality. He ties together unrelated events and concepts with the barest of threads. He has usurped the memory of our Founding Fathers and recast these revolutionaries as proctors of faith. He binds their works to the times in which they lived and insists that nothing be changed. That would be fine if humanity stood still and never progressed over time. But Beck believes that the Constitution is an immutable doctrine of biblical stature and he ridicules those who consider it a living document that adjusts over time and adopts the advances of accumulated learning and progress. In fact, he considers progress to be a destructive force that perverts the tried and true models of conduct of yesteryear. This is why he is so adamantly opposed to progressives and has woven a web of lies about a positive and productive political philosophy whose foundation is knowledge and … well … progress.
Beck seems to want desperately to travel back in time to a more innocent era that was never actually there. In his mind it was a simpler world where all the different shades of white people share common values of work, church, and obedience to an agreed upon ethical dogma. It was a world where a gun was a fixture on every man’s hip and women didn’t confuse things by aspiring to sit on the Supreme Court (or vote). Only in the past could this imaginary Eden have existed, and Beck wants to be there so badly that he populates his present with its symbols. Take a look a Beck’s set. It is an alter to anachronism.
He sits on a chair that he said, on a previous show, that he inherited from his grandfather. Next to him is a TV set that predates Ed Sullivan. He keeps a prop microphone on his desk from the golden age of radio. The red phone that he says is his direct line to the White House looks like the model that Nixon might have tapped. And his use of blackboards couldn’t be a clearer rejection of technology and the evils of modern society. Even the logo for his fiber cable-distributed TV show incorporates the concentric bands of old-fashioned radio waves.
By the way, that’s a real chyron at the bottom of the screen, and solid evidence of Beck’s distorted view of history. If thinks the 1960’s was a decade of unity – if he’s forgotten the turmoil of war, civil rights struggles, and the cultural divisions in everything from music to morality – then he’s more senile than his audience.
While Beck clings longingly to the past, he almost never addresses the future without some allusion to doom. He has predicted the end of America and democracy, the collapse of the world economy, the forsaking of decency and values, and a near-term fate that is nothing short of Armageddon. The present is just a cauldron of misery that must be grudgingly endured until the Rapture. But it is his attachment to bygone years that really defines his world view. And he may actually have a very good reason for this.
The devolutionary posture Beck has assumed is convenient from a ratings standpoint. Beck’s audience (along with the rest of Fox News and the Tea Party crowd) skews to an older demographic than the average of the nation at large. They must take comfort in the familiar icons of an analog world. Blackboards are less threatening than the computer-generated motion graphics that all the kids are into these days. And all the talk of history is just the sort of entertainment that would appeal to people rooted in the past. Add to that a touch of that old-time religion and you have a recipe for corralling the curmudgeon community who wants nothing more than for those damn kids to get off of their lawns.
That is Beck’s fan base. They enjoy reminiscing about how much better things were in their day. And the last thing they want to hear about is a future that they won’t be present to witness. It’s never good business to remind people of their mortality, particularly the people who are closest to it. Beck is adept at accommodating (manipulating?) these folks who have plenty of free time to sit at home and watch his program in the middle of the day. Sure it cuts into the early-bird special at Applebee’s, but what they hunger for is far more fundamental. It’s the solace they get from the passionate young man whose weepy patriotism validates their conviction that they were indeed the greatest generation and, dagnabbit, they’re not gonna let you whippersnappers forget it.
Now, I don’t want to go overboard with generalizations. Most senior citizens are thoughtful, rational people with a wealth of accumulated experience. Just not the ones watching Glenn Beck. They are consumed with fear and are grateful that someone is articulating the nightmares that torment them. Knowing that somebody else sees the monsters too makes them feel less crazy. And the visual cues scattered around Beck’s studio, along with the daily affirmations of pseudo-history, the backward-looking books, the revival meetings on the road, and the reliance on salvation, all produce a comfort zone for a few of America’s severely demented old fogies. If watching Beck’s show keeps some of them off the freeway, then maybe he’s performing a public service after all.