Thursday, March 31, 2011

Glenn Beck's Book: Why I read it

In my academic-life, a hat I wear 9 months out of the year generally from Monday-Thursday, I came across the one-and-only Glenn Beck and his “book” Arguing With Idiots. I actually chose to indulge myself in this masterpiece and why? Because I was given an assignment to write a review of a popular press book that deals with issues addressing civility. It could be an example of civility, or an example of incivility. Now, the last thing I wanted to do was read some how-to handbook on talking to co-workers. There are many reasons I pursue comedy and academia, one of them is because I don’t particularly want co-workers. I don’t want to share a cube, I don’t want the small-talk, I don’t want to hear about somebody’s kids or their weekend at the casino and pretend like I’m interested, not for me. And I did the day-job thing for a bit. Bought that ticket, took the ride, removed my body harness, exited to my left and said, “Well, I came, I saw, not for me, so long and thanks for the calendars.” So, a book like that was out. There was a second thing I knew regarding my book selection…This project was going to be boring as hell if I chose something I agreed with. “This is a wonderful example of civility and boy, was it a page-turner.” No thanks, not going that route, give me something to get pissed about, give me something that’ll make me question the progress of my species, give me something coffee-table sized and with LOTS OF PICTURES.

I thought of a couple titles, Ann Coulter was in the running and several others, but sooner than later I landed on Beck. The reason being quite simple: He was readily available in the University library. Besides, I thought Glenn Beck would be interesting, he had just done his Rally less than a year ago, he was always finding his way to the spot-light, and I still remember the Glenn Beck Day fiasco out in the Northwest. I lived in Seattle at the time so I got to watch up close as even his home-town of 32,000 didn’t want him there. For those of you that may not remember said event here’s a brief snippet from my paper:

“City Council unanimously decided that they would have nothing to do with the event, issuing a statement that read: ‘Mount Vernon City Council is in no way sponsoring the Mayor’s event on September 26, 2009 and is not connected to the Glenn Beck event in any manner’ (Ariens, 1). Mayor Bud Norris, who knew Beck as a child, ended up paying for the event. The event drew over 800 protestors and a petition to cancel the event started by FUSE Washington recruited over 16,000 signatures, nearly half of Mount Vernon’s population.”

I went to pick up the book from the library the day after I got the project approved, which I was a bit surprised that I got the green light but the professor told me that nobody had ever taken the route I was interested in before and she was excited for something different. I picked up a few other books I needed along with Glenn Beck’s masterpiece. The girl checking my books out noticed the Glenn Beck title and smiled, “My dad is a huge Glenn Beck fan, he watches him, like, every night.” “Well, I’m not, this is for research.” Silence. “Oh, well, these are due back March 22.”

That conversation was about as awkward as reading Glenn Beck’s book. I’m not quite sure what’s so inconvenient about An Inconvenient Book but based on my experience with Arguing… I’d imagine it’s inconvenient because one needs Tums on hand at all times just to get through it. First, the structure of the book:

“The structure of the content in the book itself made reading difficult. The pages had different boxes and side-bars that contained various quips, ideas, quotes from deemed ‘idiots,’ and statistics that were not directly aligned with the text. One of these reoccurring side-bars was appropriately named ‘A.D.D. moment,’ in which Beck would offer an idea, usually an opinion, to compliment what he was talking about. Most pages of the book featured at least two side-bars, with some having up to four. This allowed Beck to form his ideas in a cluttered, stream-of-conscious manner that made following the text difficult. I found myself having to review pages several times to stay on course with the ideas being presented. Pictures of Beck himself were at the end of each chapter in which he was wearing a George Washington wig. I found this excess of visual imagery unnecessary and distracting, and it made reading this book an unpleasant experience.”

Not to mention the picture of him in a wig was beyond creepy. It looked like he was constipated or had just finished snorting cocaine. Have you seen Jared Lee Loughner’s mug-shot? Yeah, it’s like that…Seriously.

I tried to keep track of every instance in which Glenn Beck made a blatantly insensitive or ignorant remark but honestly I quit after I had over 2 pages worth of notes and had only gotten through about 30 pages of the book. I decided to summarize:

“Due to space constraints within this paper, it would not be possible for me to list every instance where Mr. Beck issued a comment, quip or idea that was insensitive to another group that I found within one chapter let alone the entire book; however, here is a summary of several groups that Mr. Beck disrespects and devalues: First, there is the example above regarding large people; Oprah, Michael Moore and John Goodman. Second, Mr. Beck takes aim at women. The following is from a hypothetical rant on possible government-run healthcare: ‘You’d probably end up being able to visit only female, minority doctors who run zero-emission offices located on Indian Reservations’ (Beck, 17). The situations in which Mr. Beck forecasts the future are the moments in the book where it is increasingly difficult to follow his thought process. However, one can only assume Beck is implying that female doctors, in-particular minority female doctors, are not as good as male. Third, Mr. Beck has issues with intellectuals. ‘Ask a political-science nerd about what type of government Venezuela, Cuba,…or Vietnam have and you’re likely to get a dissertation…’ (Beck, 28). Here Mr. Beck expresses a problem with anyone who wants to examine and explain complex government systems, instead of labeling them as something to fear and dislike as Mr. Beck does. With tact one would expect from a first-grader, Mr. Beck dismisses anyone who may challenge his perspective as a ‘nerd.’ He sarcastically describes the world of progressive education as a ‘feel-good, sunshine and lollipops world’ (Beck, 67). Finally, Mr. Beck is no stranger to racism. In a hypothetical letter from the ‘U.S. Ministry of Education,’ an Orwellian-scenario Mr. Beck creates due to paranoia towards the Obama Administration, Mr. Beck’s designated restaurant is ‘Cantina del Mundo’ and his gas station is ‘MaliaMart’ (Beck, 76). The purpose of these names is to further the stereo-types that Mexican people always work in kitchens and Middle-Eastern people own gas stations and convenience stores.”

Oh, and I couldn’t help but noticing this reoccurring hypocrisy:

“Mr. Beck apparently is intrigued by large people in the public sphere as he also targeted John Goodman, ‘…is like trying to convince John Goodman to fill up on salad at a buffet—it’s against everything they stand for’ (Beck, 23), and Oprah, ‘like Oprah, government only knows how to get bigger’ (Beck, 24). Obese and large people are among the many groups Mr. Beck does not approve of, which is ironic considering his bigoted nationalism for the United States.”

Plus, let’s think a bit about demographic and fan-base here, I don’t like to generalize, but Glenn Beck hating on over-weight white people is like an indie-band hating on anyone that wears skinny-jeans…kind of biting the hand that feeds if you ask me.

“In conclusion, Arguing with Idiots, as the title would suggest, is destructive to any form of dialogic civility. Although some of Beck’s ideas are presented in a rational fashion, his constant use of verbal abuse, use of politics solely for polarization and threatening of personal standings and marginalization towards countless groups immediately dismisses cooperation while promoting a failure to listen. Name-calling, stereo-types, nationalism and luxury seem to rein superior to dialogue, problem-solving, cross-cultural understanding and service. While it would seem extreme to blame a talking-head like Beck for recent events in the political sphere such as the Gifford shootings in Arizona, this book clearly indicates that his work does nothing to prevent situations such as those. One of the main missions of our department, to paraphrase, is to ‘keep the conversation going.’ Reading this book allows one to understand the importance of said mission, as through misanthropic rants and hatred encased in conversation with an imaginary opponent, Beck displays the results that occur when the conversation ceases to exist.”

Now I know there are some people out there that want to play the whole “he’s a humorist” or “it’s meant for entertainment and comedy” card. True, it’s meant for entertainment, but so is the rest of TV news in this country as far as I’m concerned. However, if I ever thought for one second that what Glenn Beck was doing was comedy than comedy would be a genre I’d be ashamed to be part of. It’s not satirical, it’s mean-spirited, it’s not word-play, it’s polarization and laziness, and it’s not racial humor, it’s racist. You want some great humor on race? Check out Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Ty Barnett, Hari Kondabolu, W. Kamau Bell, the list goes on. You’ll be able to tell the difference between that and Glenn Beck, I promise.

One thing I’ll give Glenn Beck is that the title of the book is accurate. His opponent was imaginary, so for the entire book he was arguing with himself.

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