So the other day I’m watching the video of this podcast and I was surprised to see that Glenn Beck is apparently still on TV in America, and yes, he’s still crying.
For the non-Americans in my audience, Glenn Beck is this ridiculous TV and talk radio show host, excuse me, presenter, who became infamous for several signature mannerisms, in particular- breaking down into tears during his ridiculously sentimental speeches, predicting a Communist-Fascist-Islamic apocalypse that’s just around the corner, and using a chalkboard to outline his convoluted conspiracy theories. If you want to know more about this clown and his origins, the best source on the subject would be Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance by Alexander Zaitchik. Beck is a strange creature because his foray into politics always seemed so inorganic and calculated. At least that’s the impression I came away with. That and I wonder about his audience because he tries to use some of the same techniques as Alex Jones, yet he always has to maintain this mainstream Republican conservatism that Jones doesn’t have to worry about. If you’re not calling 9/11 an inside job you won’t steal away any of Jones’ fans. Beck also produces a lot of this ridiculously sentimental family-oriented crap that supposedly stems from his Mormon faith as well as his more material interests. That should suffice as a synopsis of Beck for the non-American reader.
Like in this podcast, the most I’ve ever seen of Beck’s shows consists largely of excerpts and clips, though I did put myself through the sonic torture of listening to one of his books, entitled Arguing with Idiots, for as long as I could put up with it. Incidentally, that book is a remarkable piece of literature. To quell any self-doubts his conservative friends might have about the veracity of their beliefs, Beck invents a number of straw man arguments and then easily knocks them down with the help of some highly questionable claims. It may be painful to listen to, but it really gives you some insight into the relationship between Beck and his audience.
So in the video that I watched Beck is doing his routine where he gets all teary-eyed because he fears for his country. This time “they” are coming to get you and your family, and the Jews for some reason. He doesn’t exactly say who; just rest assured that whoever is planning to round up all the real, true Christians into camps is also going to get the Jews. This actually isn’t too unusual for Beck, but as the two hosts of the podcasts started making fun of Beck’s chalkboard, a realization hit me. Back when Beck first became popular, I had stopped watching Russian TV. Now I hear Beck scaring the piss out of his no-doubt mostly over-60 audience and I had an epiphany- Glenn Beck is America’s Dmitry Kiselyev!
With his trusty chalkboard, Beck spits out random words associated with events around the world. He mentions Putin and Ukraine and his audience members think, “Hey I’ve heard something about Putin and Ukraine on the news last week! I think they said the Russian president Ukraine is invading the neighboring country of Putin! This guy must know about foreign stuff!” In the Middle East, Beck tells us there will be a Caliphate. You know, as soon as 1.5 billion Muslims agree on a new Caliph. Everywhere in between it will be Communism and fascism, but the key word Beck keeps using is “chaos.”
Chaos plays a large role in Kremlin propaganda. The Russian news media loves portraying the world as a crazy, chaotic, violent place where you can’t trust in anything or anyone. This is contrasted with Russia, under the wise rule of Vladimir Putin. Hence millions of people give him their tacit support and in return they live in a crazy, chaotic, violent place which they believe has “stability.” In a similar vein, the conservative audience of Beck and similar right-wing pundits long for prosperity and get poverty instead. But with this chaos thing Beck is possibly unwittingly taking a page from Russia’s media playbook. The only thing that seems to be lacking is the father-like figure who will save you from the chaos and bring you stability. Perhaps that’s because in Beck’s case, all his side needs you to do is not vote Democrat. Kiselyev needs people to just stay home and mind their own business.
Bearing this in mind, let me say the following to anyone living in the United States. I don’t want to engage in alarmist tactics myself, but if you have the slightest concern over the future of your society you had better do whatever you can to expose, mock, and discredit people like Beck and his ilk. The United States has a huge advantage over Russia because of its economic power and strong civil institutions, but working people rarely get any more than they are willing to struggle for and institutions survive only insofar as citizens are willing to utilize them, sustain them, and improve them. In 2015 the US has actually shown some positive economic indicators, but ten to twenty years down the road the conspiratorial nonsense peddled by people like Beck or Alex Jones will have a severe negative effect on the country just as the once obscure anti-vaccine movement is having now.
Peter Pomerantsev compares Russia’s political system to a sort of reality show, and uses the term “unreality” to characterize the nature of the Kremlin’s propaganda. Americans need to understand that there is in fact a homegrown unreality and this is far more of a menace to American society than the Kremlin’s increasingly cash-strapped foreign-language propaganda. If unreality becomes the norm in America, over time those institutions which serve as a barrier between American and Russian society might begin to crumble. If you don’t want to see this, you need to push back against the threat of American unreality. It’s painful enough to see the effect it has had on Russia, and *sniff*, I just can’t bear to think what would happen if America were to…*sniff*. I’m sorry I can’t go on. I’ve got something in my eye. Does anyone have a tissue?