American Idiot and Glenn Beck



13 comments
Paul Harvey

In true evangelical fashion, I beg your forgiveness after the last couple of weeks of absentee blogmeistering. Suffice to say, sometimes life happens.

Hope to be back up and running soon and get our blog back on at least a near-daily schedule. In the meantime, In the meantime, here's a pairing too ironically juxtaposed to resist.

First, the musical group Green Day's recording a few years ago, "American Idiot," is being adapted for the stage. I saw Green Day back in the day -- I mean, back in the day, in the early 90s at Gilman Street in Berkeley, on a blind date with somebody from Japan who was in the U.S. to write articles for a Japanese biker-enthusiast magazine. (She couldn't really speak English, which saved me the trouble of all that "usual gettin' to know you chit chat," as Uma Thurman put it in Pulp Fiction). Weird night, unforgettably entertaining band, which I've followed off-and-on ever since.

The album American Idiot follows (in punk rock opera style, sort of an updated Tommy), the character Jimmy, aka Jesus of Suburbia, from his pointless life living off soda pop and Ritalin and hanging out at convenience stores, through his move to the city, excitement at its possibilities, and eventual disillusionment on the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Just a bit from this piece:

For now the creative team is tight lipped about how, exactly, it will translate the libretto of “American Idiot” into a narrative. As Mr. Armstrong admitted, “It’s not the most linear story in the world.”

But Mr. Mayer said, “If you read it a certain way, you can pull out a multiplicity of voices.” He hinted that a triumvirate of characters referred to elliptically in the album’s lyrics, with names like Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatshername, would likely emerge as the central characters.


The show will premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, where I saw my favorite ever production of Waiting for Godot. This may call for a special trip back to the Bay Area just to see.

Speaking of (far less interesting) American idiots, Glenn Beck is shooting up the pop charts at Fox News, with a dystopian fervor that would make Father Coughlin blush. I had a student recently recommend him, in response to an offhand comment that Sean Hannity was too interminably dull and machine-gun-like in his delivery to tolerate for more than a minute or two. The same cannot be said for Beck, and perhaps he's the latest contender for the Father Couglin Media Chair for Unctuous Paranoia:

While Mr. O’Reilly, the 8 p.m. host, paints himself as the outsider and Mr. Hannity, at 9, is more consistently ideological, Mr. Beck presents himself as a revivalist in a troubled land. He preaches against politicians, hosts regular segments titled “Constitution Under Attack” and “Economic Apocalypse,” and occasionally breaks into tears. . . . Tapping into fear about the future, Mr. Beck also lingers over doomsday situations; in a series called “The War Room” last month he talked to experts about the possibility of global financial panic and widespread outbreaks of violence. He challenged viewers to “think the unthinkable” so that they would be prepared in case of emergency.

He says that America is “on the road to socialism” and that “God and religion are under attack in the U.S.” He recently wondered aloud whether
FEMA was setting up concentration camps, calling it a rumor that he was unable to debunk.

To the suggestion that he sounds like a preacher, Beck responded:

When it was suggested in an interview that he sometimes sounds like a preacher, he responded, “No. You’ve never met a more flawed guy than me.” He added later: “I say on the air all time, ‘if you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.’ ”

I'm just saying. Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland.

Addendum: Christopher from Juvenile Instructor adds the following helpful context in the comments section:

An adult convert to Mormonism, Beck seems to be heavily influenced by the libertarian strand of Mormon political thought popularized by now-deceased Mormon apostle and church president (and former secretary of agriculture) Ezra Taft Benson and the now-deceased conservative commentator Cleon Skousen back in the mid twentieth century. Topics like "the constitution under attack" were favorites of both men, and their anti-communist rhetoric sometimes made its way into official church publications and over the pulpit in worldwide broadcasts to the church membership.Beck's own popularity (at least within conservative Mormon circles, where's he quite popular) seems to be in part a result of his playing upon Mormon millenarian thought/fears--tying world events to apocalyptic scenarios and signs of the times--and in part the related approach of constructing U.S. history as a story of a Christian nation slowly disintegrating under the constant threats of secularism and socialism.That he's immensely popular in Mormon circles in the U.S., where most Mormons are quite conservative, is not too surprising. That he's found such a cult following among the larger conservative crowd is much more so. For all of the attention Romney's religion received in the Republican primaries, Beck has managed to largely avoid conflict with the sometimes antagonistic evangelical crowd, and many of them seem to quite like him. There was a recent episode that caused a bit of a stir in which Focus on the Family pulled an article authored by Beck from its website, but that seems to be about it). And its not that Beck isn't open about his faith. His conversion story is a best seller at Mormon bookstores, and he's spoken about his church on various occasions on his show.

13 comments:

Randall at: March 30, 2009 at 8:03 AM said...

Welcome back, Paul! Enjoyed this post. I certainly hear the maudlin antics of a preacher in Beck. I'm reminded of the countless Nazarene revivalist preachers I heard as a kid. The best of them could turn on the waterworks at the flick of a switch. Wonder if Beck ever took cues from Chuck Millhuff? http://pluto.matrix49.com/15532/TMP_lady_be_good.rm.ram

Brad Hart at: March 30, 2009 at 8:27 AM said...

No worries. Comedy Central genius Steven Colbert BLASTED Beck in a Big way:

Part 1:
http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/220649/march-04-2009/doom-bunker---glenn-beck-s--war-room-

Part 2:
http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/220650/march-04-2009/doom-bunker---jack-jacobs-and-stephen-moore

Priceless!!!!

Christopher at: March 30, 2009 at 8:39 AM said...

Beck's religiosity desrves further treatment than its received, I think.

An adult convert to Mormonism, Beck seems to be heavily influenced by the libertarian strand of Mormon political thought popularized by now-deceased Mormon apostle and church president (and former secretary of agriculture) Ezra Taft Benson and the now-deceased conservative commentator Cleon Skousen back in the mid twentieth century. Topics like "the constitution under attack" were favorites of both men, and their anti-communist rhetoric sometimes made its way into official church publications and over the pulpit in worldwide broadcasts to the church membership.

Beck's own popularity (at least within conservative Mormon circles, where's he quite popular) seems to be in part a result of his playing upon Mormon millenarian thought/fears--tying world events to apocalyptic scenarios and signs of the times--and in part the related approach of constructing U.S. history as a story of a Christian nation slowly disintegrating under the constant threats of secularism and socialism.

That he's immensely popular in Mormon circles in the U.S., where most Mormons are quite conservative, is not too surprising. That he's found such a cult following among the larger conservative crowd is much more so. For all of the attention Romney's religion received in the Republican primaries, Beck has managed to largely avoid conflict with the sometimes antagonistic evangelical crowd, and many of them seem to quite like him. There was a recent episode that caused a bit of a stir in which Focus on the Family pulled an article authored by Beck from its website, but that seems to be about it). And its not that Beck isn't open about his faith. His conversion story is a best seller at Mormon bookstores, and he's spoken about his church on various occasions on his show.

Christopher at: March 30, 2009 at 8:44 AM said...

One more thing: Beck's recently launched "912 Project" is begging for analysis from a religious studies point of view.

Paul Harvey at: March 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM said...

Christopher: Thanks for your very informative comments, I didn't know very much about all of that. I'm not sure I'm interested enough in all this to do the called-for religious studies analysis you mention -- but I'm counting on someone at Religion Dispatches to do precisely that.

John G. Turner at: March 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM said...

It doesn't say much for the NYT's reporting that (as far as I could tell from a quick read), its article didn't even mention Beck's religious affiliation.

Christopher at: March 30, 2009 at 10:23 AM said...

Thanks Paul. I wasn't necessarily suggesting that you (or anyone else at this blog) do such an analysis; just throwing the idea out there as something that might be interesting. Hopefully the folks at RD will pick it up, as you suggest.

Also, it looks like I messed up the link to Beck's conversion story in my initial posting. Here's the corrected link.

Brad Hart at: March 30, 2009 at 10:25 AM said...

Christopher writes:

Beck's own popularity (at least within conservative Mormon circles, where's he quite popular) seems to be in part a result of his playing upon Mormon millenarian thought/fears--tying world events to apocalyptic scenarios and signs of the times--and in part the related approach of constructing U.S. history as a story of a Christian nation slowly disintegrating under the constant threats of secularism and socialism.

Yes, especially the "Christian Nation” part, which Beck defends all the time on his radio and television programs. He has become an avid reader and supporter of "Christian Nation" apologists like David Barton, D. James Kennedy, Peter Lillback, Gary DeMar, etc. Beck quotes the Founding Fathers ad nauseum on his daily radio programs (not to mention the website for his "912 Project") in the same fashion that other extreme Christian nationalists do.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him become a bona fide champion of all things relating to the "Christian America" thesis. While Hannity, Limbaugh, and other conservative windbags tend to only wade ankle deep in the "Christian Nation" nonsense, Beck is ready and willing to dive in headfirst.

Christopher at: March 31, 2009 at 8:46 AM said...

Thanks, Brad. I figured you, if anyone, would know what writers have influenced Beck's Christian nationalism. I appreciate the additional info.

I went ahead and piggybacked off of your post here, Paul, posting my extended thoughts on the subject here, if anyone is interested. The post only says slightly more than I've said in the comments here, but the now 40+ comments are kinda fun, and include a handful of Beck defenders.

Brad Hart at: March 31, 2009 at 9:34 AM said...

Thanks for the reference, Christopher. I'll check it out. You can never get tired of those "Beck apologists!"

Manlius at: March 31, 2009 at 10:43 AM said...

Beck's popularity is due in large part to his likability, I think. O'Reilly and Limbaugh aren't so cuddly (indeed they're insufferable), so their followers are probably more committed to their agendas. My guess is that Beck's support is a lot softer around the edges.

Jon Pahl at: April 1, 2009 at 7:45 AM said...

"Unctuous paranoia" is a great phrase! It nuances Hofstadter's "paranoid style" nicely, and succinctly compresses a mentalite widely found in particular U.S. regions, subcultures, and individuals. Great coinage; thanks.

Paul Marks at: January 29, 2014 at 4:37 AM said...

Father Couglin was a Social Justice supporter (i.e. a believer in the doctrine that income an wealth are rightly owned by the collective and should be "distributed" by some "fair" principle). Father Couglin believed that Franklin Roosevelt had not gone far enough in his collectivism and in his campaign against "the rich". The political position of Father Couglin (the role he sees for the government in society) is very similar to your own Sir - and just about the exact opposite of the political position of Glenn Beck.

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