Mad As Hell
I just watched one of the most disturbing yet bizarrely entertaining shows I've ever seen on television. It's a Glenn Beck special called "Destined To Repeat(?)" featuring noted right wing intellectuals Jonah Goldberg, Amity Schlaes, and a couple of other fringy authors discussing the connections between Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and other "progressive" dictators, illustrated throughout with black and white footage of Nazis and concentration camps.
It ended with a stirring speech by an actor dressed as Thomas Paine exclaiming that the American founders wouldn't have flown airplanes into buildings or passed the biggest spending program in history. And then he said to join the tea parties.
Here's Beck's intro:
Our country is not being controlled by jack-booted fascists, but just like I said during George W. Bush's presidency, the groundwork is continuously being laid to take us there.
History shows us that it only takes two simple things for fascism to rear its ugly head virtually overnight: fear and hunger. A temporary crisis is almost always a precursor to a much more permanent one.
With that in mind, let me show you the four main things we'll be talking about tonight.
First, to Russia, where, under communists like Lenin and Stalin, their revolution pitted peasants against the rich. They were basically saying "Eat the rich! They did it to you! Get them, kill them!" These days? There were demonstrators rioting in front of the G20, unions protesting in front of AIG and buses showing up at the houses of the evil AIG executives.
It's a different style, but the sentiments exactly the same: find them, get them, kill them.
Second, we'll consider what the average person thinks about fascism. They believe it's ridiculous and could never happen in America; after all, no one's electing Adolf Hitler to office. But the secret we'll learn tonight is that fascism wasn't always synonymous with mass murder.
Progressives once had a love affair with it — particularly with Mussolini. You may remember him as the guy whose body was hung upside down by meat hooks while civilians threw stones at it. But before that he had lots of admirers in the United States, including singers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, comic Will Rogers (who said "I'm pretty high on that bird,") and The New York Times, which wrote "Mussolini is a Latin [Teddy] Roosevelt who first acts and then inquires if it is legal. He has been of great service to Italy at home." Mussolini was also well-respected abroad. Winston Churchill once called him "the world's greatest living lawgiver."
Third, I'll show you how Woodrow Wilson moved away from the Founding Fathers' principles and values. Today, those who disparage the strict constructionists as worshiping old men in wigs are building on what the progressives started at the top of the last century.
The fourth topic tonight is the Great Depression. The world was starving and when the world goes into darkness, it's always based on several small events followed by one cataclysmic one. Hitler used the world economic crisis as a pivot point; he said he was going to protect the common man, people rallied around him.
I watched this surreal, intellectual train wreck with a mixture of awe and stunned disbelief. (You can watch video excerpts here.) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it on national television.
I wrote the other day that Roger Ailes is a genius and I am convinced more than ever that he really is. He's reinventing FOX News as the voice of a revolutionary, counterculture right and, frankly, it's really fresh. It's like they've been set free and can finally do what they've always wanted to do.
I've featured Howard Beale over there on the left side of the page for a long time, mostly because the film Network predicted today's wierd, surreal media to an astonishing degree. But I think it's finally coming to full fruition with this Beck thing. And Roger Ailes is the Diana Christenson (Faye Dunaway) of our time:
Diana Christensen: Look, I sent you all a concept analysis report yesterday. Did any of you read it?
[Aides stare blankly at her]
Diana Christensen: Well, in a nutshell, it said: "The American people are turning sullen. They've been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they've turned off, shot up, and they've fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps." So, this concept analysis report concludes, "The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them." I've been telling you people since I took this job six months ago that I want angry shows. I don't want conventional programming on this network. I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment. I don't want to play butch boss with you people, but when I took over this department, it had the worst programming record in television history. This network hasn't one show in the top twenty. This network is an industry joke, and we'd better start putting together one winner for next September. I want a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group, "Joseph Stalin and His Merry Band of Bolsheviks," I want ideas from you people. This is what you're paid for. And by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you'd all better read it, or I'll sack the fucking lot of you. Is that clear?
Now Beck isn't carrying Howard Beale's actual rants by any stretch. But he is performing the same role. And I would guess that it's going to translate into lots of money for the network.
The question is what it's going to do to politics.
And lest anyone think that this problem isn't helped along by the rest of the media's capitulation to the same values, here's Diana Christenson again to help you understand how this works:
Diana Christensen: I watched your 6 o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies. So, I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism when you're right down on the streets soliciting audiences like the rest of us. Look, all I'm saying is if you're going to hustle, at least do it right.
Ailes has just upped the ante.
It's hard to believe that movie was made as a satire 33 years ago.
Update: Here's Dennis Hartley's review of Network from a while back.