Glenn Beck, Political Shock Jock

3 Sep

In these times, what does the growing popularity of Glenn Beck mean?  I’ve been thinking about this for months; how did Glenn Beck and “movement conservatives” take the lead out of the wilderness in which Republicans found themselves after the Democrats won a sweeping mandate to govern in 2006 and 2008?  By any measurement, he brought a whole lot of people to the Washington Mall last weekend for what amounted to a prayer service with an underlayment of political messaging…not many media personalities could do the same.


Beck’s anti-intellectualism, cultural and ideological xenophobia and revival tent style proselytizing represent an insurgency into the American politic.  It’s an insurgency of insincerity, quasi libertarian kabuki theater and purposeful pandering that is dumbing down our national debate.  Certainly, there have been many like him before and there will be more like him in the future.  However, Beck is becoming the leader of a movement he helped to create.  The merging of spirituality, fear, purposeful ignorance, revisionism, and propaganda to create a media empire to confuse the masses and profit from becoming their sole voice of reason in the ideological storm of his creation.

Never before has a person of this ilk had so many outlets to reach so many people near instantaneously.  Beck hosts a four hour long, nationally syndicated daily radio show, spends an hour live (with a replay later!) on Fox News, writes blog posts, publishes bestsellers, posts frequent Twitter updates and friends all his fellow cultural warriors on Facebook.  His reach exceeds that of most major news organizations and the narrative he’s selling is being lapped up by a Parsons-like populace so subsumed with media choices that they are looking for any harbor in a storm.  This is what he has wrought:


He has enormous power and his partnership with Fox News, Sarah Palin, the cultural tea party and movement conservatives grows monthly.  He has fomented in many a fear that our nation is on a steady march to socialism, stalinism, fascism, nazism, and/or communism.  That the only way to stop this creeping tide of totalitarianism is to watch his shows, listen to his radio program, read his books, attend his university (even though he never attended one himself), and follow him to freedom.  He has staked out ground to say he’s neither supportive of Republicans nor Democrats, so he has the high water safety regardless of who holds official power.  He is the classic Charlatan and Americans are lapping it up.  How has the sane portion of America ceded so much ground to such a deliberate opportunist?  How has his narrative and that of the ultra-right taken over the agenda of the Republican Party?  Where do we go from here?

In this clip, he compares U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to Kim Jong Il and Mao, all while comparing universities to dictatorial re-education camps.


I mean, really.  This is not a responsible discussion or debate.  It’s the political version of being a radio shock jock on some morning zoo program in a podunk town…just like Beck was before he became the voice of the new right.


King of the Shock Jocks, Howard Stern, breaks down the Glenn Beck phenomenon in his own inimitable way.  In a sign of the upside down times we find ourselves, Howard has morphed into a voice of reason in America.  Seriously.


7 Responses to “Glenn Beck, Political Shock Jock”

  1. Matt September 3, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    He’s figured out something that Howard Stern figured out way back. Say things that are outrageous, in Beck’s case “Obama is a racist” and people will talk about you. In the hyper-wired internet, the blogs on the right and left will write about the things he says. His ‘power’ lies in attention (as Stern’s did before Satellite radio, which decreased the amount of access).

    It works like this now: Beck says something outrageous, and people on the right dig in and defend the member of his team. People on the left throw their arms up and talk about how dumb he is, causing people on the right to dig in even more and protect their own. The cycle can only be broken by ignoring.

    But left blogs will write about him because those posts get read. So it won’t even stop. Did you see the onion article that is eerily similar to the video posted above of interviews at the event?,17990/

  2. Alan Bedenko September 3, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    Glenn Beck attracted 87,000 people to the Washington Mall – 99.9% of them older white people who are threatened by change, and lurve to perceive themselves as victims.  Beck’s ratings on Fox may be high for cable yakkers, but it’s only 2.1MM viewers.  By comparison, “America’s Got Talent”, a shitty American-Idol derivative, gets about 9.5MM viewers. 

    But you’re right about Stern – he has often been a voice of political reason lately, and he gets more listeners than Beck gets viewers. Also, midgets & lesbians.

  3. Derek J. Punaro September 3, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Oh man… I am so not a Howard Stern fan, but that clip has some good laughs in it.

  4. BobbyCat September 3, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    A lot has been written about the dumbing-down of America. The educator who coined the terms (his name escapes me) published his landmark book about 20 years ago. Those young know-nothing students he wrote about – the ones who felt good about themselves, but couldn’t read,write or add, now have families of their own. I often use the term “dumb” but it’s probably a misnomer. It’s more accurate to say under-educated or low information voter or even “ignorant” to describe about 20% of Americans who probably work very hard in 2 jobs but don’t read or can’t read and get most of their news from Fox, Beck and that ilk, therefore get no news but rather propaganda.

    Another commentator said that 20% of Americans will buy any garbage you try to sell them, if the hogwash is packaged correctly by people like Frank Luntz. That’s Beck’s audience, the Murdock demographic. They include the ignoramuses, the religious right, racists and let us not forget a small percentage of genuinely stupid people, who still believe that if you shower tax cuts on millionaires a few pesos will trickle down on their heads, also known as pissing in their ears.

    The group that fascinates me are the fundamentalists who literally believe in the Book of Revelations and truly await the Second Coming of Christ and believe that Armageddon a/k/a nuclear war is inevitable. Many upstanding citizens among us look forward, with trepidation- of course, to dying for Jesus. And dying soon, with their families, children and grand children – because it was written. I often wonder how many of our prominent pols believe that. Because if you believe that most of us will die in a conflagration with the anti-Christ, what’s the use of planning anything?

    Dr. Howard Dean’s take on Beck is that he has some screws loose. I think so too. He’s just nutsey coo-coo. It’s apparent to anyone who watches. And if he asked his followers to follow him off a cliff for Jesus, they probably would.

  5. Mike In WNY September 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Glenn Beck tapped into the very real perception that the country is heading in the wrong direction, focusing on the size of government, spending, taxation and encroachments on liberty. Had he stayed the course with that message, and that alone, I would be supportive of him. Instead, he dragged out the politicians favorite playbook and started pandering to emotions and delving into issues that completely muddy his core concepts.

    Unfortunately, most people do not adhere to a consistent set of principles, which opens the door for not only Glenn Beck, but many politicians, including Barack Obama.

  6. Ted R September 7, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I went after Monsieur Beck myself on his “reeducation camps” blathering here:

  7. Pete September 28, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    WOW- Chris, your article had about 5 completely false statements in the first 3 paragraphs.  

    Get your facts straight!

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