#90 – Dick Bernard: Glenn Beck and the "Mythical marching millions"

Note responses section at end of this post.
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in a clinic waiting room while one of my kids was having an eye appointment.
I happened to pick up the latest issue of Time magazine (Sep 17, 09), whose cover story  is the right-wing flamethrower (he and his large following would refer to himself quite differently) Glenn Beck of Fox News.
The three page article is very well worth reading, and reading carefully.  Here’s the link: #mce_temp_url#
For the few who’ve never heard of him, Beck is the hot commodity in the crowd which gathered in Washington DC on 9-12-09 to supposedly restore unity by sowing hatred and division against all things represented by President Obama (but without casting aspersions on people or policies of the previous administration which created or at minimum severely aggravated the problems the current administration now has to deal with).
In such a crowd, there is no need for consistency.  What’s right is right; what’s wrong is wrong.  Period.
Beck is a hot item, of that there is no doubt.  Within his constituency, he is very popular.  I seem to recall $23 million as his total anticipated revenue from his radio, television and publishing this year.
His weekly audience numbers in the several millions each day.  His market share might be 1 or 2% or so of the U.S. population.  He was compared, in the article, to others of similar ilk in our past history: Father Coughlin, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the “Know Nothings”, etc.  He is a gifted entertainer, able to emotionally move his audience.
In other words, he is a force to be reckoned with.
But there is another side to this story as well, part of it said in the article, part of it only implied.
In today’s incredibly fragmented media market, Beck has a relatively huge audience market share.  But it was pointed out in the article that a much greater viewership of comedian David Brenner in 1987 was judged to be so insignificant that his show was cancelled for lack of viewers.  In those pre-cable years, of course, there were few media outlets, and people couldn’t segregate themselves in “birds of a feather” ghettoes like we can today.
Beck simply looks to be larger than life, but in real terms Beck is not nearly as major a figure as he appears.
Even Beck’s large revenue stream belies the reality.  To quote the article, “extreme talk…like Beck, squeezes maximum profit from a relatively small, deeply invested audience.”  The $23 million doesn’t come from 23,000,000 givers of $1 each; a much smaller group pony up $50, $100 or maybe even more for his books, etc.
His audience, however, is a mass of people with different kinds of negative passions.  They are not a cohesive whole.  About all they share is what message makers have identified as a single common thread shared by many Americans: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  Problem is, they’re “mad as hell” about assorted different things, and coordinating their outrage is a problem.  They’re just “mad as hell”.
Though relatively small, Beck’s is, however, a shrill and even dangerous audience.  They have learned from the likes of Beck that angry outbursts and generally outrageous behavior are effective.  Who enjoys being shouted at?
The dangerous part is that somewhere in the bowels of such a movement are the certifiably crazy people who will assassinate or blow up a building or in other ways create mayhem.
For this reason, and this reason alone, I think the Beck crowd needs to be taken very seriously, and confronted whenever and however people like ourselves have the opportunity.  We have much more power to moderate than we exercise.  We don’t need to be terrorized into silence.
I think we also have to look inwardly as well.  Like the Beck crowd, most advocates tend to associate only with like-minded people, and come to feel that there is only a single way of looking at a situation, and that the entire rest of the world is crazy.
Not so.
Do read the full article.  It’s now on the newstands or in your library.  Or the link is earlier in this post.

3 replies
  1. Bob Barkley
    Bob Barkley says:

    With Beck, as with other frantic media personalities, I am reminded of the comment by a prisoner in my recent educational visit to a correctional institution. The prisoner was talking about the culture that produces people like him. He said, “Cultures thrive on imitation.”
    I hadn’t though about that before he said it.
    And what we have in the Beck followers is a culture that will thrive or die out based upon its success at generating imitation. The more it becomes okay to publicly act like a moron and watch people like Beck get painted as heroes, the more of this behavior we will see.
    And whether that is stifled will have much to do with media ownership. I think the future is bleak in that regard.

  2. coleen rowley
    coleen rowley says:

    And Beck is only the latest rising star in a whole series: Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, ETC. They compete in being more outrageous and thus egg each other on. They have a lot of money and corporate backing with which they control the airwaves. A Glenn Beck fan shot three Pittsburgh policemen dead this spring, saying he was afraid they were coming to take away his guns.
    They are terribly and dangerously good at manipulating this large mass of people through the lowest forms of fear and hate mongering but also pressing people’s greed, false pride and blind loyalty buttons.
    You mention that the mass of people supporting the hate-talkers do not agree much on the issues other than the superficial sound bites but then they don’t need to agree as the fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty is the glue that binds them.

  3. Peter Barus
    Peter Barus says:

    There is a saying among the outsider-hacker crowd: “Don’t feed the trolls!”
    Beck and his ilk are “trolls” in the sense that they are “trolling” for whoever they can stir up. The business they are in is all about “eyeballs.” As I’ve written for years, it isn’t the “Information Age,” it’s the “Attention Age.” Information is no longer the dominant technology (as with Iron Age, Atomic Age, etc.), all the big money is in how many people’s minds can be focused on one thing at a particular moment. As evidence of this, see the beer commercials during the Super Bowl games. An odd effect of this is that the more trivial the object of interest, the more money is raked in.
    Politically, of course, this bodes ill for our future, and possibly for the future of humankind.

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