Lonesome Rhodes' Wild Ride

There was a brief moment back in his CNN days when Glenn Beck made a feint at a seemingly more credible libertarian identity by having as a guest the woefully misused genius D.L. Hughley (full disclosure: he's my friend. Hey, D.L.!) to balance his squint-inducing broadsides, making him merely irascible and somewhat approachable -- a young, "aw, shucks" curmudgeon, mildly winking at the marginally more savvy audience that supposedly comprised CNN's viewership.

But like all self-styled TV conservatives who prefer throwing M-80's onto a fire in lieu of water, Beck eventually realized that his own penchant for fomenting dyspepsia should be suitably compensated, hence his ratings-savvy move to Fox, cutting the line in front of other media imps like Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage and the redoubtable and desiccated Anne Coulter (whose froth flecked invective bespeaks their insatiable craving for contrived infamy and who must all be secretly enraged at Beck's ascension).

And indeed his evolution from cuddly crew-cutted conservative care-bear to weepy, howling, media moondog makes perfect sense in this corporate controlled brand-driven culture. He is in fact the Obama-era's O'Reilly: younger, arguably sleeker and shallower, the next generation of corporate shill masquerading as outraged Christian Conservative to capture the pitchfork wielding demo of perpetually angry white guys who never travel abroad and never will, who eschew anything with the word "French" in it and who can only achieve a gelatinous erection when told by their flannelmouthed bully pulpiteers there are Commies, Commies and Commies everywhere. Glenn Beck is right wing media's version of the iPhone. (The iCrank? The iFoam? Submit any and all suggestions.)

But he is also strongly exhibiting the defining qualities of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan's creation from the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd.

"Lonesome" was a reg'lar feller who spoke his mind in the vernacular of Everyman and very quickly found his way into the hearts of the folks at home who had tired of the blizzard of soap flakes emanating from their Magnavox's and RCA's. They wanted homespun common sense, provocative yet easily digested pablum. They wanted someone to fight for them, to give voice to their daily frustrations and ailments, all of which were manufactured by forces beyond their control. And they got it in the form of this tousle-headed media construct (played by a youthful and surprisingly volatile Andy Griffith).

The joke, of course, was that the power and fame which accompanies such meteorically successful firebrands ultimately corrupts and the once appealing message of cranky revolt becomes a caustic, solipsistic screed at once exposing and destroying the dime-store fascist beneath the crowd-pleasing polemicist, eventually driving the man into madness and obscurity. As Paddy Chayefsky's Network so presciently portrayed the eventual and crippling corporatization of the media, so A Face in the Crowd tells the same story only from the perspective of the individual seduced by intoxicating wealth and notoriety, engorged on fanatical adulation and ultimately undone by its innate fickleness.

Glenn Beck is not so much Everyman as he is the worst in every man. He is yet another in the recent line of high profile media loudmouths which began with Father Coughlin in the late 1920's and reached their apotheosis with the creation of an entire network devoted to indiscriminate rabble-rousing under a false banner of ethical, unbiased journalism, Fox News.

The power and reach of television is such that genuine fringe characters, the types of human wrecks people avoid making eye contact with while on their way to work (like Minnesota's cretinous Michelle Bachmann, for instance) have been given national stages upon which to perform.

And since the inception of the 24 hour news/entertainment cycle's excision of pondering and thoughtfulness, virtually any inane issue's momentum is initiated by the merest flutter of a rabid wingnut's flapping lips, growing into a squall large enough to initiate things like partisan special elections, pressuring school boards into removing evolution from syllabuses, preventing a woman's right to choose, calling for a candidate's death at a Palin-McCain rally, and generally inciting obstruction and distraction from the progress this country is finally on the road to achieving.

Glenn needs to be careful. Not only is he on the media's wild ride, he is the wild ride. And all rides come to an abrupt halt.