OFF THE GRID

Who's Afraid of Glenn Beck?

Sep 24, 09 | 9:40 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I have never watched Glenn Beck. I had never heard of Glenn Beck until he arrived at Fox News…when? Not that long ago. But then, overnight, he became a ratings phenomenon, and among the most significant figures in the American conservative movement.

Actually, even though he is a ratings phenomenon and among the most significant figures in the American conservative movement, most people in American have never watched Glenn Beck, despite his Time magazine cover story and an advertising boycott of his show. More than half of the country, in a recent poll, seems not just never to have watched him, but to have never heard of him.

Still, he is a national obsession, at least among people who are in the business of national obsessions.

I am debating now whether, as a media critic, I should watch Beck and analyze him first hand, or if I get a truer idea of his meaning and his importance by just concentrating on the Beck aura as it emanates from the analysis of other people who may or may not have watched Glenn Beck.

Here’s what I’m getting without having seen him: He’s a new face among veteran and perhaps tired conservative faces. He’s 45, and Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are both at retirement age. On the other hand, nobody is portraying him as a new pop figure. He’s younger but, with his obsessive interest in politics, and determined opinions, and garrulous, if not drunken, overstatement, seems as heart-attack-prone as the older guys.

He is, I read, a “post-modern” conservative. A PoMoCon. He tears up, on occasion. The older guys are in your face, Beck is emotional. Except clearly he is not Oprah. So my sense about what emotional means in this context is a little unhinged.

He is anti-establishment, too. That, also, may mean unhinged. But it also means he’s not so connected to the Republican Party. (And who would want to be connected to the Republican Party?) He’s more freelance. His sense of offense, of terrible things perpetrated against him and his theoretical nation, of the alignment of forces beyond his control, is broader and deeper, and, in the end, there is less of a simple corrective. It’s a bleak world except for Glenn Beck.

And he hates, hates, hates Barack Obama. Hates, hates, hates.

I may, mostly, I realize, be absorbing this view of Beck from the liberal media, which detests him, but is equally fascinated by him because he gets good ratings (which liberals don’t), and because he seems to be undermining Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, who liberals hate more. On the other hand, as far as I can tell, the conservatives seem a bit sour about Beck, too, perhaps, because they, too, suspect he’s a little more of a wild card than even the others who are wild card enough.

What you have are media people and political people—a notably out of it bunch, with hardly a young person among them—who are trying to understand him like a Rosetta Stone. Beck holds the secret, apparently, to the wild urges of unknown men.

Even though most people—and in this I am proud to be an American—have never seen or considered him.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.