We’ve had a good time with Glenn Beck the last couple of years, if by “good” you are willing to mean “sardonic.” In 2009, he appeared to be a person of baffling importance, and not just to us. He assembled a religious revival on the National Mall. He organized character assassinations of federal officials. And he convinced many old people to buy gold. Since he lost his Fox News show, however, Beck’s plummet from the national stage has been startling. He managed to step off the front rather than into the wings, but his whimpering from the orchestra pit is just as pitiful. So Combat! blog is going to leave Glenn Beck alone forever, just as soon as we address the incredibly stupid shit he said this morning.
Perhaps you remember the shooting of dozens to which he is referring; it happened, you know, Friday. The Norwegian schoolchildren killed by Anders Breivik were at a summer camp organized by their country’s Labor Party, which I admit is weird. It seems vaguely uncool to send your kids to a politics camp, but that residual strangeness is obliterated by the massive, awful strangeness of what happened to them. It’s like how you might make fun of the Katy Perry CD in your friend’s car, but not if you found his car overturned at the bottom of a ravine. As usual, “you” means “me” in this context. If you are Glenn Beck, you say this:
[The camp] sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth or whatever. Who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.
I have arranged my anger by letter:
A) There is no “Hitler Youth or whatever.” There’s the Hitler Youth, and then there is pretty much every other activity for kids. Even if you’re brainwashing children into some virulent ideology to make them white supremacists or hookers or something, you are probably not doing it on the scale of the Hitler Youth. Those guys got everybody. And if you are indoctrinating children on a very large scale, as do organizations from 4H to the Lutheran Church, you’re probably not indoctrinating them into something as bad as Nazism. Beck has a word for the category of things he is willing to compare to Hitler, and it’s “whatever.”
B) The answer to the question, “Who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics?” is “Glenn Fucking Beck.” Several chapters of Beck’s 9-12 Project run summer camps for kids, and they are manifestly about politics, plus a dash of that version of Christianity that has become indistinguishable from same. I am concerned that the level of hypocrisy here has actually blown my mind, and the next time I try to consider some ethical issue I will smell almonds immediately before throwing up.
C) While we’re at it, The 9-12 Project is the most reprehensible name for anything since Hooters. Beck has said repeatedly that he chose the name because he wants to return America to the mindset we had on September 12, 2001—as I remember it, frightened, jingoistic, and about to embark on two disastrous land wars in Asia. Beck’s urge for the United States to define itself in terms of the greatest insult it ever suffered at the hands of foreigners makes me think he would be a really good Serb, say, or Croatian.
D) Even if you fully embrace his politics, you have to admit that Beck’s decision to criticize the summer camp—to liken its attendees to Hitler Youth, for chrissake—four days after they were shot is spectacularly stupid. It is so stupid that it inevitably leads you to consider whether he did it on purpose, and this returns us to the Problem of Beck that years of inquiry have been unable to answer. Is Glenn Beck actually this hateful and dumb? Or does he act that way to garner publicity, ergo ratings, ergo money?
I submit that the Problem of Beck is a false dichotomy. Even if, in his heart of hearts, Glenn Beck is an intelligent person who is only acting this way to get fame and money, the form that his act takes is relentlessly dumb and hateful behavior. And if it is an act, he appears to be keeping it up at all times. In what way can it therefore be an act? From a phenomenological standpoint, the two answers to the Problem of Beck are indistinguishable.
For this reason, I am renaming the Problem of Beck the Lesson of Beck. Over the last 20 years, he has gone from being an alcoholic morning zoo DJ to a Mormon nationalist talk radio DJ. To him it has been a momentous change—he speaks often of being “born again”—but to the rest of us, he’s the exact same asshole. Any reason for his behavior, any why behind the phenomenon of what he does, is strictly noumenal. I believe in the soul, but not in the case of Glenn Beck.