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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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It wasn't supposed to be like this. Mid-nineteenth century Mormons gathered together to build gleaming cities in the desert into which they imagined the rest of the world would one day flow, drawn by reputations of learning and high culture. Alas, the Mormon cities of today are spirit and intellect crushing wastelands of stricture and schmaltz. The roads leading into Salt Lake City and Provo are dotted with billboards covered in slogans like "Escape from the world" and the faces of people like Glenn Beck.

The degeneracy of Mormon sentimentalist culture has resulted in more than just horrible film and fiction. It has also obliterated any possibility of a fuller reckoning with the complexities of history. In his essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” James Baldwin argued that sentimental novels, by cheapening tragedy, help to reinforce the reality that made the tragedy possible in the first place. Sentimentalism, Baldwin wrote, is rooted in a “medieval morality [of] black, white, the devil, the next world—posing its alternatives between heaven and the flames.” This medieval morality, he argued, is fertile ground for medieval politics. For Baldwin, the politics of sentimentalism always shared an “indecent glibness” with those “moral, neatly framed and incontestable . . . improving mottoes sometimes found hanging on the walls of furnished rooms.”

In other words, Beck World politics.

Alexander Zaitchik is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and AlterNet contributing writer. His book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance , will be published this month by Wiley.

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