The Passion of Glenn Beck: Why Have "Manly" Conservatives Embraced a Man Who Cries?

Are Beck's crazy antics the logical conclusion of conservatives' grievance-based ideology? Or something else entirely?

You know what's creepy and unpleasant? Watching an insane person babble incoherently while dousing a scared, shivering man in gasoline. That's what I watched Glenn Beck do on Fox news last night. (Don't worry!  Viewers were assured that the liquid was water. So he was only pretending to commit a gruesome murder!)

Anyway, I won't go into detail about the scene, (terrifying video here) but as you can imagine, Beck was trying to illustrate his concerns about the future of the country with Obama at the helm.

So, it's time to ask the perennial and completely unanswerable question: Why does someone as alternately laughable and terrifying as Beck pull high ratings? Why does there appear to be a push to anoint him as the voice of the disillusioned, angry masses (based on the President's approval ratings though, Beck probably shouldn't hitch his wagon to Obama-bashing.)

We can take high roads and low roads here. There's the obvious "Howard Beale argument" pushed by the media -- the idea that Beck has tapped into a cultural zeitgeist, funneling the anger and frustration of a people getting screwed by mysterious forces they can't understand or control. Seems pat and lazy.

Or, should we just chalk up Beck's popularity to the fact there are just enough stupid, crazy people out there to cause a ratings bump? Seems really pat and lazy.

In fact, both of these arguments seem far more applicable to other right-wing media stars, than they do to someone as weird and discomfiting as Beck.

I can see why people who are stupid and insane would worship Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage. I can even see why non-stupid, non-insane people would tune in to the right-wing hosts. As much as we hate them, Limbaugh and Savage are, in fact, entertaining. And their fevered rants contain a certain self-confident righteousness and strength that must be genuinely appealing to people for whom liberal policies are anathema.

If I were pissed about the impending onset of socialism and really, really didn't like the prospect of the U.N. nannying me, I would probably love Limbaugh and Co. And, it's always fun to watch people exaggerate and bitch and talk shit on opponents (blogs anyone?)

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