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How Glenn Beck Re-Invented Himself as a Crying Conservative

Glenn Beck's strange TV: Mormon masterpiece theater.

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He was crying and I was crying. Simple truth. . . . It was then that I decided, “I don’t care if you have Kool-Aid in the basement, give me a cup. I’m so tired, I can’t live with the baggage of my life any more. I can’t live with the mistakes I have made. I’m laying down my sword, because I want to be like the Amazing Mr. Plastic Man.”

Anyone who has followed Beck over the course of his career knows that he never followed the Amazing Mr. Plastic Man into the basement, never drank from the Kool-Aid tasting of a truly loving cosmic consciousness. Nor did he lay down his sword. Beck’s spleen drives him still; his self-loathing remains as twisted and deep as ever, daily manifested by a steady stream of gruesomely violent fantasies, vicious personal attacks, and eliminationist rhetoric that routinely reduces his political opponents to cockroaches, cancers, and vermin.

No, Glenn Beck is still the same splenetic jerk he was before he found his Mormon Jesus. His newfound piety is as contrived as his tears.

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There is no better example of Beck at his saccharine sentimental worst than his first novel, The Christmas Sweater. Although he doesn’t advertise it as such, it is an archetypically Mormon creation. Beck claims that the story is based on true events, centered on the death of his mother. But the standards of Mormon sentimentalism demand more than one parental death, so the young protagonist’s father also dies. Beck cowrote the number-one New York Times best seller with another Mormon author, Jason Wright.

The result is an unwieldy collection of clichés and congealed preteen literary sugar that could easily be confused with any number of other Mormon-authored novels. One of these, Richard Paul Evans’ The Christmas List, shares not only a cover design with Beck’s book but also enough by-the-numbers pathos to melt the human brain. (The biggest difference between the two novels is that Beck manages to work in a swipe at the federal food-stamp program in the first five pages.) The Web site of the church-owned Deseret Book Company describes The Christmas Sweater as a “warm and poignant tale of family, faith and forgiveness.” The same description could have been lifted from almost any other work of Mormon popular fiction.

LDS Church-produced films offer more of the same. All follow the trajectory of cartoon tragedy to bright-light redemption with pummeling predictability. Consider the plots of Mormonism’s most famous “film classics,” as described in the BYU Creative Works Catalogue:

The Gift: A twelve-year-old boy struggles to understand why his father is so hard on him. When he realizes that his father is simply trying to teach him a strong work ethic, the boy searches for the perfect Christmas gift to give in return. Since it is the depression of the mid 1930s, money is scarce, but when he decides to get up early on Christmas morning to do the farm chores, he gives him a gift that will last a lifetime.

Cipher in the Snow: When a teenage boy dies unexpectedly, his math teacher is asked to notify the parents and write the obituary. Although he was the boy’s favorite teacher, he hardly knew him. Shy and ostracized, the boy was considered a “cipher”—an unknown number in a class roll book. As the teacher unravels the mystery of what led to the boy’s death, he commits himself to not letting others suffer the same fate.

The Emmett Smith Story
: When Emmett Smith has a brain tumor removed, he loses his equilibrium and is told he will never run again. With determination, the high school track coach is able to run 20 miles once again within a year. When Cindy Duncan becomes a student at his high school, Emmett challenges her to do the same—set a goal for leaving her wheelchair to walk to the podium to get her graduation diploma.

John Baker’s Last Race: When John Baker learns he is dying of cancer, he faces a choice: to end his life, or to use his remaining time to make a difference in others’ lives. He chooses to dedicate himself to his young students and his citywide girls’ track team, leaving them with a legacy of love and accomplishment, and an understanding of the value of determination and a positive attitude.

 
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