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Glenn Beck Declares War on 'Glee'

Beck might be gone from Fox, but he's got a plan--and it starts with Glee. Yes, the TV show about kids who sing.
 
 
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Glenn Beck might have dropped off some people's radar with his departure from Fox News, but cable's most famous crier hasn't gone away.

He remains on the radio, with a fresh multimillion-dollar contract, his TV show airs on his own online network, which has 300,000 subscribers, and he's planning a massive convergence in (where else?) Texas, where for three days he and some 40,000 ticketholders (it's already sold out) will work on “Restoring Love.” Really.

You see, Glenn Beck has a plan. A plan to make himself the “conservative Dick Clark.” A plan to wipe out liberal values, including the acceptance of difference, multiculturalism. And he's starting with "Glee."

Yes, "Glee."

"Glee" has been on TV for three years, and in that time it's caused lots and lots of conservative commentators to have a conniption.

Bill O'Reilly and Gretchen Carlson have said that "Glee" might make “dopey kids” want to gotransgender. Brent Bozell thinks "Glee" is glorifying “sexual immorality” and argued, “They are not celebrating diversity. They are intimidating dissidents.” Paul Wilson at NewsBusters (a Web site that claims it is “exposing and combating liberal media bias”) wrote that "Glee" “serves up Bible mockery” and “gay propaganda.”

In the spirit of research (and because the right-wingers make it sound so tempting), I sat down to watch some "Glee." I don't know what I was expecting -- what could've freaked Beck and other right-wing commentators out so much—perhaps a musical rendition of the Internationale? Teenage girls performing in pasties? Lectures on the importance of universal healthcare?

There was none of that. Instead, there were Whitney Houston numbers, knee socks, cheerleader uniforms, and gratuitous locker decoration. The episode I watched revolved around a fight between a couple of gay high school students and featured a flirtation with a third gay boy who complimented the first on his hippo-head brooch (trust me, you had to see it), but it also featured a young Christian boy struggling with his attraction to a girl and what it meant for his commitment to his faith. The glee club coach also appears to be marrying a woman who wants to wait to have sex until their wedding night. Granted, the Christian boy's friend did tell him he could have sex and still be a good Christian, but it really didn't seem that horrifying.

I guess Beck might've seen a different episode? I watched a bit more, and saw teachers lecturing young girls about making jokes about domestic violence, a Whoopi Goldberg cameo, a boy cramming for his geography final. There was a famous episode earlier this year in which a transgender character performed the disco song “Boogie Shoes” in some seriously impressive silver platforms; the actor, a young African-American guest star who won his spot on the show on Oxygen's reality program "The Glee Project," told the Web site Queerty that he was now bullied less after his "Glee Project" fame. The horror!

But Beck isn't just horrified by "Glee"he's also inspired. "Absolutely brilliant,” he told Buzzfeed. “Now can't we do that while having the struggle and the things that are in real life, the good and the bad, but have it not celebrate high school kids hooking up? The answer is yes. That's our goal."

To that end, Beck is working on a new project, creating music and pop culture that espouses his own values. He calls it his “Oedipus project” (apparently killing your father and having sex with your mother are new conservative family values). He explains the title as a joke, because, “the left will be making out with me... and they'll have no idea. Somebody will say, 'Do you know that's...?' and they'll say, 'Oh I don't care, I just really like the music.'"

Putting aside the frightening visual that comes with the idea that the left would be “making out with” Beck for just a second—it's worth noting that "Glee" and other shows like it are successful not because they're leftist propaganda, but because they present an idealized vision of a world where problems are solved in an hour-long TV episode, where the gay kids can be out and proud in the halls without getting slammed into their lockers, where the girl in a wheelchair has a sensitive, supportive (Christian) boyfriend who goes with her to physical therapy and where a song by some high schoolers can help a teacher handle an abusive relationship.

Meanwhile, the world of "Glee" is pretty sanitized. Its problems mostly revolve around personal relationships; there's little connection to the outside world where someday a song won't solve all the “glee kids”' problems. It's actually not hard to picture a version of the show that's slightly more conservative, that features no gay characters. We've already had plenty of debate this season alone about lily-white casts all over the TV--as Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress pointed out, the creator of the new ABC Family show "Bunheads" told the show Media Mayhem, “I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from.”

The creators of "Glee" did make a choice—to have a multiethnic cast, to include queer and trans young people and to tell their stories with the same weight given to those of the hetero characters, but that doesn't make it a “message” show or liberal propaganda. It means that unlike the creators of "Girls" or "Bunheads" – and certainly unlike Glenn Beck -- they're aware that they live in a world where not everyone is like them.

As Roy Edroso wrote:

Any culture worthy of the name is fluid, animated by innumerable human currents -- works of art and works of crap-art, invention of new styles and adaptation of old and even foreign ones, shifts in language, shared experiences, and so on. To the extent that human experience is rich, that is, more meaningful than the life of a cow or a dog, culture makes it so.

The vectors of these currents are to some extent traceable, but not very tractable. Still, there is a base impulse in some people that makes them want to manipulate it, rather than contribute to it in the normal way; to decree, turn right (or left) here.

….

My problem with those guys is not that they are supporting wrong causes (though they usually do that, as well) but that they are engaged in anti-human activity. It is that they see the most natural and wonderful thing in the world, the evolution of human consciousness, and think how much better it would be if only they could control it with the blunt instruments of politics.

In other words, Beck and his ilk can't appreciate art for a minute without needing to purify it or to claim it for their own purposes. 

“People tell stories because they want to influence people, or because they have an argument or critique they want to make,” Rosenberg noted. It's true that "Glee"'s message of tolerance and its vision of a high school where queer kids are accepted and can perform in five-inch heels if they want to, where kids of all races not only exist but interact with one another happily, might be “horrifying” to those, like Beck, who make their living feeding off the bigotry of others. But the Glenn Beck who wants to lay claim to “Restoring Love” (presumably between a white man and a white woman after legal matrimony) could actually learn something from "Glee" if he'd stop ranting about gay teenagers long enough to listen.

Beck doesn't know how to make money with his conservative-propaganda-pop-music yet, but with his new radio contract, he won't have to: according to the New York Times, his deal is worth something in the vicinity of $100 million over the course of the contract. So he can afford to front some cash to a few vanity projects in his attempt to remake himself as the warm and cuddly Dick Clark of the far right.

But just as "Glee" hasn't turned America into a homosexual paradise yet (just ask North Carolina), I wouldn't worry about Beck's pop culture plans managing to overthrow liberal values or even a popular TV show anytime soon.

Instead, I'd be much more worried about that radio contract, those 40,000 tickets to the “Restoring Love” rally, and the millions who are still listening to Beck because of, not in spite of, his explicit political message.

And in the meantime, remember, next time you're procrastinating with your feet up, watching "Glee," you're doing your part to piss off Glenn Beck.

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.
 
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