We’re fucked, you guys. Glenn Beck is a genius, and there’s no way to undo him now. Like Ozymandius before him, Beck has moved from crusader to architect of worlds. The conspiracy-oriented, anti-progressive television host has written a conspiracy-oriented, anti-progressive thriller called The Overton Window, which he describes as a work of “faction”—”completely fictional books with plots rooted in fact.” Exactly how faction differs from realism is not explained, although if early reviews are any indication, it has something to do with motivations, emotions and dialogue. I haven’t read The Overton Window yet—and I’m not sure whether my schadenfreude receptors can handle doing it—so I’m going to stick to what’s known: Glenn Beck has written a novel about a progressive conspiracy that attempts to install a one-world government by unfairly demonizing a grassroots patriotic organization called “The Founders Keepers.”
Astute readers may notice that the plot of this novel is eerily similar to the plot of Beck’s political analysis show on the nation’s most highly-rated news network.* In The Overton Window, a Manhattan PR mogul leads a conspiracy to blame the Founders Keepers for violence—by having double agents wave guns at their rallies and, ultimately, by detonating an atomic bomb outside the offices of the Senate Majority Leader in Nevada. In The Glenn Beck program, mainstream media moguls lead a conspiracy to characterize the Tea Party as a fringe organization, possibly by having plants make racist remarks at their rallies.
In The Overton Window, Molly Ross (get it?) and her fellow Founders Keepers espouse a philosophy of nonviolence while simultaneously stockpiling guns, making their own ammunition, and saying things like “there’s nothing that’s in my power that I wouldn’t do” to defend their country. In The Glenn Beck Program, viewers are reminded that owning and purchasing firearms are a patriotic exercise of their Second Amendment rights, while simultaneously being told that they must never, ever use them and also the tyrannical, unconstitutional government will probably try to take them away. The Overton Window ends with the sentences “We’re everywhere…The fight starts tomorrow.” The Glenn Beck Program ends with an ad for gold.
In addition to being pretty much the same ending as The Matrix,* that fictional character urging the reader to take up the fictional fight against the fictional oppressors that Beck talks about every day on his real television broadcast is kind of ominous. I was going to say that The Overton Window is factional in the tradition of works like Brave New World or Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, which use invented worlds to warn against real socio-political problems. In fact, though, The Overton Window is the exact inverse of those books, using a world that is obviously ours to warn against a completely made-up socio-political conspiracy. Here we encounter the difference between fiction and regular lying. The novelist uses patently unreal events to convey existential truths. Glenn Beck uses vaguely real events to convey complete bullshit.
No one, least of all Beck, is arguing that the conspiracy described in The Overton Window exists anywhere in the actual world. But—if I may borrow a phrase from the master—isn’t it interesting to think about? Beck’s paradoxical insistence that his book is “completely fictional” and his plot is “rooted in fact” suggest that he believes The Overton Window tells us something about this world. Since the premise of the book is the one part that is obviously fictionalized, and since it also happens to be the thing that he talks about incessantly on his real-world shows, Beck’s message is hard to discern. In this sense, his book reminds us of that other classic of faction, 1984, in which a nation of credulous patriots are fed imagined enemies by a multimedia mastermind with no regard for the truth. It’s just that he’s on the wrong side.
Fortunately, we can be pretty sure that Beck didn’t write this book to trick people, or at least he isn’t tricking people to gain political power. He’s doing it for the money. In addition to freely admitting that he hired a “team of writers” to come up with the actual words in The Overton Window, Beck has announced that he’s written a sequel. He’s waiting to see how this one sells before he publishes it. Thus we come to the most depressing possibility inherent in The Overton Window: that the author also thinks it’s just a stupid thriller, too. The devil doesn’t want your soul. He wants pussy and fiddle contests, and messing with your head is just the easiest way to get there.