Prophet Motives: Glenn Beck Is an Ass 

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Generally speaking, nostalgia can be a beautiful cultural idea, but it has gotten a bad rap in recent decades, partly because voices like Beck generalize it and tempt the bitter majorities with visions of wholesale time travel and, therefore, immortality. Idealizing the past, Beck is promising us all heaven, like a two-chinned messiah in a silk suit. What makes his audience authentically stupid is that they believe the promise can somehow come true.

Nostalgia is what's on sale during The Christmas Sweater pageants, but also redemption, as the new subtitle says, the two ideas tangled up together in a mushy ball of marketed daydreams. The whole burrito boils down to this: first, when the clock on the screen ticks down to zero, Beck emerges and speaks for all of five minutes, almost crying already, about the show we're about to see.

Then, last year's simulcast is projected behind him, and that's what we're subjected to for over 90 minutes. In it, Beck sweatily "performs" a one-man show monologue on the same stage—think Spalding Gray, but not—acting out the mawkish plot of his book, in which a fictionalized version of 12-year-old Glenn suffers poverty and the death of his father and doesn't appreciate the sweater his mother knitted him because he wanted a bike.

Eventually the "boy" runs away, and gets lost in a storm, or something. Beck looks around in terror, like Dorothy when the Wicked Witch descends, and throws himself down into a heap on the stage more than once. This storm is apparently significant to the audience that surrounded me; several recited some of Beck's monologue along with him, softly, to themselves.

Then Beck's alter ego emerges from the storm, after a Dickens-slash-It's a Wonderful Life hallucination about how much worse life could be. He is then thankful and gets his bike anyway.

With the tale told, we're closing in on the two-hour mark, and the "live" Beck returns, and then "presents" four Oprah-like video segments about people whose lives have been devastated by tragedy: child death, breast cancer, addiction, suicidal depression. Then the survivors of these mini-tales—which are interspersed with looming quotes from Beck's deathless prose, and even more images of the book jacket itself—appear on stage with Beck, having weathered their "storms" largely thanks to the message in Beck's book. Which is, as far as I can tell: don't give up.

Beck chokes up at his own performance, shakes his head at his guests' fortitude, tells us to be victors, not victims of life, and then says good night. He may have been "live" for all of 18 minutes.


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