Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Atlas Smugged

(Or: A Man Chooses, a Slave Obeys, and a Hack Weeps for the Cameras, Hears Communist Propaganda in His Rice Krispies and Calls the President a Racist)

(Or: Would You Kindly Throw Yourself Down an Elevator Shaft?)

Yes, that's Glenn Beck on the cover of Time. Glenn Fucking Beck.

A few years ago, I referred to Beck in passing as the Most Obnoxious Man on Television. It was true then -- the impenetrable smugness, the pathetic attention-grabbing nature of his unwatchable "news" program. And his former masters at CNN Headline News -- not even real CNN, either, where even Lou Dobbs pulls down a paycheck -- at least seemed to recognize what they had in Beck: a delirious, inconsequential showman whose chortling nonsense was a good chaser for the comedy stylings of Nancy Grace.

But after he was unceremoniously kicked to the curb, he found a new home where he always should have been to begin with: Fox News, where the seeds of his insanity could be watered and nurtured until it could fully grow and bloom.

And oh, how it bloomed.

So, he's a nut. And hey, that's fine, there's room for nuts on television. Hell, didn't I mention Nancy Grace a few sentences ago? But the election of Barack Obama unleashed something very special in Beck. Something dangerous.

It turns out that Beck has something of a messiah complex. He started calling America to action, giving them rules for living better lives, insisting that his show and his show alone had the courage to "open the eyes" of America, rewrote Thomas Paine, and anointed himself the intellectual heir of Thomas Jefferson and Ayn Rand. He organized the 9/12 Project, an online effort which "galvanized" "millions" of "Americans" to his cause, drawn in as they were by his...uh...well, I'm not sure what exactly drew them in. Other than their fears of being taken over by godless Muslim Communists, a fear that Beck not only preyed upon but created out of thin fucking air. (Another commentator might suggest that all Beck did was put a marginally respectable face on the 9/12'ers and Teabaggers flagrant and deep-seeded racism, allowing them to vent their hateful rhetoric without having to expose to the world what rotten, awful apples they truly are. A commentator like President Jimmy Carter, for example. But not me.)

And now, this lunatic rampage has not resulted in Glenn Beck's dismissal from cable news, not resulted in his committal to a mental health facility, not resulted in him returning to where his views would be given the weight and attention they deserve (that is, scrawling them on sandwich boards and wandering down the streets, scaring small children) -- no, he's on the cover on Time goddamn magazine.

Next time anyone -- especially Glenn Beck -- argues about the liberal bias of the mainstream media, I want someone to hold up that magazine cover. "Look," you'll say. "The liberal, socialist mainstream media gave credence and credibility to your nonsensical bullshit. They put you on the cover of Time magazine, and wrote the accompanying article not as a scathing attack on you, but a fluff piece about your inexplicable success. Now, shut up and go back to transcribing your fever dreams for use on tonight's show. Look, I think that cloud looks like Karl Marx!"

Hey, there's never been a shortage of wackjobs shouting about evil shadow conspiracies. But we're not putting the 9/11 Truthers on magazine covers, are we? Spike Lee went on television and claimed the government blew up the levees in New Orleans, no one interviewed him for Time. I don't recall anyone holding million-man-marches in support of Kanye West when he accused George W. Bush of being a racist. But there's Beck, with his appropriately smug cover photo.

I don't like Glenn Beck very much. Have you noticed?

But there's something much deeper than that at work here. Beck's insanity is only a distraction, the carnival sideshow bearded lady pulling attention away from the rigged games and pickpocketers. See, because here's the world Beck and his cronies on the right want:

Welcome to Rapture. No government. No regulation. Just free enterprise, as free as possible.

(A mildly spoilerish discussion of the two-year-old game Bioshock follows. Consider yourself warned.)

Bioshock takes its premise from the Ayn Rand screed Atlas Shrugged, which is less a novel and more a treatise on Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. It boils down to this: government exists only to take from the rich (and thus productive) members of society and gift to the poor (and thus unproductive) members of society. The richer you are, the more valuable you must be to the world, and if you don't have any money it must be cause you don't have any value. Rand pondered how the world would suffer if she were to stop writing books, and thus came the plot of Atlas -- the rich get tired of their innovations being "abused" by society, tired of "holding up the world," so they leave it, forming their own secret city in the middle of nowhere.

This is also the backstory of Bioshock, which replaces Atlas's John Galt with Andrew Ryan, a business magnate who gets tired of paying taxes and decides to build a secret society in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He gathers together brilliant scientists and artists and businessmen down there in Rapture, and they live the Utopian life you'd expect without that awful government intervention.

Of course, everything goes to hell, because it turns out that even in a society of "elites," somebody still has to mop the floors and clean the toilets, and nobody thinks it should be them. And Ryan's government-free Utopia collapses into insanity and violence. (Sure, there's a sci-fi element to the whole mess -- tiny eels that give people supernatural powers -- but that doesn't alter the basic metaphor I've got working here. And Rand used sci-fi in Atlas, too.)

Ryan built Rapture on the backs of the very poor he despised -- the "parasites" he longed so desperately to get away from. And Beck, along with most of the conservative right, are doing the exact same thing: they've somehow convinced legions of the poor that it's morally wrong to tax the rich. The right has convinced their supporters that the government is nothing more that a parasitic monster, leeching the hard work from the worthy and giving it to the unworthy and unvaluable. Those 9/12 fools, they think the government is going to take everything they have and give to illegal immigrants or something, cackling their moustaches and singing Russian drinking songs all the while.

This would be funny, if the fooled had something to take.

In typical post-Rove fashion, the Republicans have taken the very people health care reform should be helping and made them its staunchest opponents. They've taken the very people the free enterprise system has hurt the most and brainwashed them into thinking the President is a Communist. And the Democrats in Congress -- because they're Democrats in Congress -- have pretty much just let it happen.

I started this by talking about Glenn Beck, and I should finish it that way. Beck's compared often -- mostly by Beck himself -- to Howard Beale, the doomed news anchor from Network. But Beck can't seem to remember what finally did Beale in: pissing off his corporate bosses. Oh, sure, rile up the masses, get people to scream at their televisions, but step on the congolomerate's toes, and it's game over. But Beale had the courage -- or insanity -- to do it. Beck, on the other hand, is nothing more than a company man, a shill for the suits upstairs. Beale didn't want to tell you write your congressman because he wouldn't know what you should write; Beck knows exactly what you should tell the government, though he'd prefer if you'd just shout epithets and carry dumb signs, and don't forget to buy his book, on sale now!

Beale was a mad prophet; Beck is just a schmuck.

And I guess Beck's forgotten how Network ends, as well.

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