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Interpreting the Beck Card in the Republican Deck

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Headlined to H2 3/8/11

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The things that Glenn Beck says, routinely, are about as off the wall as one could imagine.  Indeed, I think it is not unreasonable to picture that Beck and his creative staff sit around a table, on a regular basis, brainstorming around a question more or less along the lines:  "What outrageous paranoid fantasy can we put out there next that will whip our audience into a state of horror and dread and a practically murderous fury that is experienced as required for their own self-defense?" 

And then they concoct some kind of free-associational web of pseudo-connections that can be presented, in pseudo-professorial fashion, by the mellifluous and oh-so-earnest Mr. Beck, giving his audience --who must be presumed to know almost nothing about the real world at the national or global scale-- the false impression that they are being provided some sophisticated mapping and conceptual insight into the true workings of a frightening world in which many enemies are out to victimize them and to tear down all the sacred American and Christian structures that they rely on for their security and their sense of meaning.

Whether it be the laughable "discovery" of Stalinist-communist decorations on the Rockefeller Plaza building in New York, constructed more than three-score and ten years ago, or the absurd conspiracy theory by which the uprisings in Cairo are linked to the machinations of American liberalism, Beck can go on camera and unfold theories and tales so bizarre that it is a wonder he's able to keep a straight face.

I raise the matter of keeping a straight face because I think it is reasonably certain that Glenn Beck himself does not believe any of his verbal manure.  (It may be recalled that he implied as much in an interview he gave Forbes some months ago.)  He's a snake oil salesman, but with a more creative pitch, as he's in the position of having to continually debut new product lines in the paranoid mythology department.

Whether or not Glenn Beck believes his absurdities, I think we can assume that the person atop the media empire that pays his wages knows that Beck is spewing pure madness into the American body politic.  Whatever Rupert Murdoch's shortcomings may be --and in moral terms, they are profound-- he is not crazy.  And anyone who operates his media empire would have to be completely bananas to credit any of Beck's weird and scary fantasies.


So that all raises the question:  Why does Murdoch's Fox News provide this platform for Glenn Beck? 

The answer should begin, I believe, with the assumption that Beck's presence is part of the larger strategy that Fox News serves:  the goal of that strategy is to influence the consciousness of the Fox News audience in such a way as to maximize its susceptibility to Republican propaganda, and thus to maximize its willingness to support Republican power and to hate those it serves the Republicans for people to hate.

That assumption seems to fit everything else that Fox News does.  But Beck's crazy paranoid theories are not the same as the usual Republican propaganda that Fox News puts out.  Their news is unfair and unbalanced, and they make stuff up, but it is not crazy.  Beck presents a world that is in some fundamental ways different from --because so much crazier than-- the merely vicious partisan world the news shows present.

So why add Beck to the line-up, if the world's are different?

Here's my hunch.

The right wing media in general have both seized AND CREATED an audience whose consciousness is in a place sufficiently primitive that the dysjunction of those worlds does not prompt in that audience any awareness of contradiction.  We know that because the falsehood of so many of the unfair and unbalanced right-wing lies is just about self-evident:  a moment of clear thought, even by someone without much knowledge, would expose many of the regular claims of Fox News as lies.  Yet millions believe them, absorb them.

This primitivity of consciousness --in part the fruit of twenty years of mental/emotional degradation by right-wing propaganda-- then allows a network like Fox News to put on a multiplicity of worlds, knowing that they will be absorbed serially, on their own terms, without interfering with each other, like watching a double feature of two very different movies.  One of those movies, therefore, can be Glenn Beck's invitation to madness.  And then the audience can return to mere dishonesty and bias and absorb that, too.

Meanwhile, Beck has had his impact.  And what is that impact?

Beck is the scary story-teller around the fire on Halloween night.  He reaches out to the far, primitive recesses of the minds of his audience, touching upon their centers of fear and hatred, stirring those emotions, which all history shows to be so powerfully dissolving of rationality and judgment.  Returning from the place of Halloween frights, people find even the shadows of trees scary.  The people are primed, by Beck, for a greater impact from the more subtle hate-and-fear-mongering lies from the news people, and from the sane but vicious pronouncements of people like Rush Limbaugh (not on Fox, but part of the same team) and the smug bigotry of Bill O'Reilly.

I see Beck's role, in other words, as a distinct one, but nonetheless an organic part of an overall right-wing media strategy.  He digs the well into the most toxic parts of the human soul, and then the others can draw from it simply by lowering their buckets:  hate and fear, i.e. hatred of liberals and fear of anything "other," of anything different, anything that would entice people toward a sense of positive possibility.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
 
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