Monday, October 26, 2009

Week of 10/26/2009

Crazy As A Fox... (News, that is)
– by David Matthews 2

At the climax of the movie “Private Parts”, the semi-biographical look at the radio phenomenon that is Howard Stern, the radio executive that was trying to “coral” Stern got the latest listener research and was shocked to find that listeners who loved him and hated him continued to listen to his show for the same reason: to hear what he would say next.

Howard Stern, of course, is an entertainer. He’s a clown. He’s an audio jester. He makes fun of himself and other people. Nobody would ever confuse him with being anything else. You won’t see him on the Sunday talk show circuit talking about the federal deficit or on the financial channels talking about the rise and fall of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Commentators, of which I am one, are a different bird entirely. We ARE known for our opinions. Sure we can engage in some laughs at the expense of ourselves and others, but we’re better known our OPINIONS about current events. Our OPINIONS count. Our OPINIONS matter. It’s our OPINIONS that give us our measure.

So that’s why I seriously begin to wonder when a commentator goes off the deep end.

The movie “Network” is probably the best example of when a commentator goes too far. The movie gives a satirical look at a network anchor named Howard Beale. He starts out rather boring, the typical old news curmudgeon who is fired because of declining ratings. He announces the next night on the air that he plans on killing himself on his final night, and that sends ratings through the roof. He suffers a nervous breakdown, which he considers to be a religious epiphany, and begins a series of rants, including the legendary “I’m as mad as hell” rant. The network executives soon make the show to be all about HIM and all about HIS words, and people pay attention to what he has to say, even if it is crazy.

One has to wonder, though, if Beale didn’t announce that he was visited by God if people would still listen to him. Would the “Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” have been carted off to that magical place with padded walls and wraparound jackets and regular medications?

Beale was crazy; there was no doubt about that. His mind skipped town long before he became famous. But what kept Beale going was he empathized with the growing frustration of the masses. The continued feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that most people experience, especially when they turn on the evening news and they hear about a declining economy and terrorism and threats to end the world on a continual basis. Beale, the maniac that he was, tapped into that growing malaise and channeled it and got people to express it. That was the only thing that kept him not only employed, but also out of that place with the padded walls.

But of late I’ve had to seriously ask if that same pattern isn’t being repeated on some of the cable news channels with some of their so-called “rising stars”.

Mind you, I’m not talking about Stephen Colbert. I know he’s being satirical. I get the joke. That’s why he’s on Comedy Central.

I’m talking about people like CNN’s Lou Dobbs. Here’s an example of an over-inflated ego if there ever was one.

Once upon a time Dobbs was the anchor of a show called “Moneyline”. It was about money. Now, twenty years later, the show is still on, but it’s no longer called “Moneyline”. Now it’s called “Lou Dobbs”. Now it’s all about HIM and what HE thinks. It’s all about him promoting his books and his Twitter page and his radio show and whatever his pet cause is for the moment… which is usually immigration and bureaucracies.

But at least Dobbs is only hindered by narcissism. Sure he sees himself as being the only person in the world who can tell the truth about anything except for maybe the time of day, and his condescending arrogance can be unbearable at times, but he still clings to some semblance of sanity.

The same, however, cannot be said of some of the people at Fox News. Specifically of the talk show host who actually likens himself to Howard Beale… namely Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck apparently operates in a delusional fantasy world, one where the Cold War never ended, and Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong is alive and well and has somehow taken over the United States under the guise of the current US President, flanked by Prohibition-era mobsters who wield baseball bats and carry out vendettas against all those who oppose his rule. He brings out charts and graphs to support his delusions, scribbles things on his chalkboard as though he was trying to cobble together some great Theory of Relevance, and not always getting the spelling right. He dissects sculptures in the same way that 1950’s holier-than-thou hucksters played rock music records backwards looking for hidden messages.

As with others of his ilk, Beck suffers from the typical persecution complex. Everyone is “out to get him”… or at least everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his fantasy world. Sadly that’s par for the course for today’s neo-con talking heads. They can pretend to be brave, claiming to be willing to “take a bullet” or “take a beating” from the thugs that only they can see, all in the cause of getting what they claim is “the truth” out.

Also as with others of his ilk, Beck projects his faults onto others. This is actually a defensive tactic, since calling the other person a slut and a whore prevents them from calling you out for actually being one. OTHER people are “polarizing”. OTHER people are “tyrants”. OTHER people are causing trouble. OTHER people are lying. OTHER people are bigoted and racists. Not him. NEVER him.

Even sadder to note: Beck actually YEARNS for America to go back to the time just immediately after the darkest days since Pearl Harbor. He has a hard-on for September 12th, 2001… back when America was scared and huddled in fear looking towards “daddy government” to protect them. “Daddy government” of course under the firm control of conservatives and neo-conservatives, not under the current tenure.

Now I want you to think about the most personally tragic, shocking, horrific event either in your life or in the life of someone you know. Think about when you were attacked, or robbed, or in a car accident, or when a family member died. Now imagine being told from a stranger that you should be consciously RELIVING that moment all the time. As someone who knows first-hand about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I would be sorely tempted to dish-out some trauma of my own to anyone who would suggest I should consciously CHOOSE to relive those tragic events!

And yet this is what Beck wants America to do! That’s why he’s obsessed with “9/12”.

In Beck’s delusional fantasy world, America’s founding fathers apparently never owned slaves. He believes that “progressives” used to be called “tyrants”, and eventually “slave owners”. Once again his deluded mind fails to recognize that the very concept of freedom, never mind the kind of democratic republic our government was meant to become, was a clearly PROGRESSIVE concept! America’s founding fathers were not “conservative” in any sense of the term as we use it today. The real “conservatives” were the ones in London, sitting at Buckingham Palace and Parliament, sending soldiers across the ocean to secure what they pompously declared was “their property”, which included the colonists themselves.

Beck also believes that certain freedoms have vanished since January. Freedoms like free speech, free press, freedom to assemble, freedom of work, freedom to make a profit, freedom to make medical choices…

I know what you’re about to say… “Hey, wait a minute… there is no freedom of work, or to make a profit, or to make medical choices in the Constitution!” You’re right. There isn’t. But they’re all there in Glenn Beck’s fantasy world. Or they were… until Obama/“Mao” came in with his hypothetical gangsters, and then all of a sudden those “rights” were “gone”.

Makes you wonder when the people with the butterfly nets and the wraparound jackets will be showing up, huh? Well, don’t hold your breath on that.

Because let’s get brutally honest here… it’s all AN ACT!

The crying on camera? Please! That’s Vick’s Vapor Rub placed just under the eyes. The “us-versus-them” “Red Scare” mentality and rhetoric? Walter Winchell. The charts and graphs? Ross Perot, not to mention a few actors in those old atomic testing films best made famous in the movie “Atomic Café”.

But when you look at Beck’s history, you begin to see someone who is desperate for attention. You see someone who has a long history of doing anything and everything to get people to recognize him, be it on radio or later on cable television. That certainly explains his zany antics.

Is he crazy? Sure. Crazy as a FOX! As in the Fox News channel.

And that’s why Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp group will stick with him through all the talk about boycotts and withdrawing sponsors… because as long as Beck continues to play the “Zoo”-style antics that he first honed on morning radio, he gets people talking about him, and if they’re talking about him, he brings viewers to News Corp’s cable news channel. Boycotts don’t last, and sponsorships are a dime a dozen to big corporate news services, but viewers are gold.

Sadly for Beck, though, the attention he seeks is fleeting. And for someone who likens himself to Howard Beale, he probably should remember what happened to Beale when his ratings started to slide that one final time. Then Beale wasn’t even given the luxury of a two-week notice.

Of course this isn’t the movie world, nor is it Beck’s fantasy world. If anything he’ll probably spend his down time like he spent his previous down times… struggling to stay relevant, saying anything to get attention, but eventually he’ll end up being the last thing he will ever expect to be: forgotten.

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