Glenn Beck Isn’t Going Anywhere
Watching “Network” last night on TCM got me thinking about Glenn Beck.
Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant 1976 film stars Peter Finch as Howard Beale, network anchor-turned-raging prophet of the airwaves. He’s as mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. His message resonates; ratings soar. When he gets too gloomy and numbers plummet, the network arranges to have him murdered, live, on the air.
Beck, whose Fox News finale was Thursday, says he identifies with Howard Beale. It’s not hard to see why.
For a while, Beck’s “angry conservative populist” persona was ratings gold at 5 p.m. weekdays. He railed against the Marxist plot taking over the government. He railed against global warming as a man-made phenomenon. He railed against progressives, 9/11 families, gun control, big government, pro-choice advocates. He cried a lot.
To fuel his incendiary rhetoric, Beck’s go-to references were Nazis and the Holocaust. He mentioned them with alarming frequency, using them as weapons against any perceived enemy. It was his nonchalant reference to President Obama as having “a deep hatred for white people,” however, that sparked the advertiser boycott that led to his eventual downfall. That, plus lower ratings and an increasingly apocalyptic worldview.
Fox didn’t whack him out, of course, but it did the next best thing. They ordered Beck to tone down his act, and then they agreed to a divorce.
Was Beck’s rage for real? The question is moot. What mattered is that it played well with the audience, especially in the beginning. As Beck himself said in one of his early shows, “I have so much manufactured anger in me.” The manufacturer’s warranty expired before he did.
Beck’s swansong, like most of his shows over two and a half years, was a rambling monologue. He didn’t weep, but he came close. He took shots at such favorite targets as Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, who revels in mocking Fox News in general and Beck in particular. To the liberal media scum rejoicing in his departure, Beck said: “You will pray for the time when I was only on the air for one hour every day.”
Hear us, O Lord.
Beck, a self-described rodeo clown, may well have the last laugh. He’s continuing his daily radio show. He’s written a string of best-sellers, does speeches, and is developing his own internet network, GBTV, on which his two-hour nightly program will be streamed beginning in September. Cost: $4.95 a month for the show only; $9.95 a month for the network.
Will Beck’s star go on shining? Yes, but without the weight and breadth of Fox behind him, it will burn less brightly. Still, it is undeniable that he has masterfully tapped into the country’s sense of collective rage, primarily over the rotten economy. When people can’t get work, they’re angry and need to be heard.
In other words, they’re as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Rest in peace, Paddy Chayefsky.