Current Events

I’ve been on a political hiatus of sorts. Yesterday was my first vaguely political comment in a while, and I haven’t commented on current events at all. This is because I feel like keeping up with the news is mostly useless. After reading Fooled By Randomness, I stopped reading The New York Times. Shortly before reading the book, I had stopped paying attention to political blogs. I felt I was addicted and getting nothing out of it. I was always being carried by this stream of information. I decided to exit that stream, dry myself off, and try to figure out where the fuck it was all leading to. If I eventually wanted to create change, I couldn’t be carried away by the swift stream’s flow. I had to maybe get out and dig to affect the path. Maybe throw some rocks in the river. In any case, I’m done with this analogy.

One problem with the news is that it distorts our sense of reality. The news is supposed to inform us, but it very often does the opposite. That is to say, reading the news can leave us worse off than reading nothing at all. Let’s look at one case of how the media created a false perception about youth violence. I give you an excerpt from Killing Monsters: “Youth Vision in Chicago found that adults surveyed cited ‘a general feeling that youth are out of control’ and that most of them attributed their perception to the press. Surveys of newspaper and TV news content show why. One media study found that two-thirds of TV news reports on violent crime in California concerned juveniles or young adults, age groups that actually accounted for less than one-third of the crimes. Another found that news reports on gang activity increased tenfold in the state of Hawaii from 1992 to 1996, while police reports showed that real gang activity remained about the same and that the number of young people arrested for serious crimes had steadily declined” (125-126). Because of the media, people’s perception of risk is highly distorted. They’ll think crime is on the rise when the only thing that is on the rise is media coverage. I’m not going to go into why this happens (because the whole thing is rather complex and I doubt I understand it very well); I’m only going to point out that it does happen. So, I decided that constantly keeping up with the news was distorting my sense of reality (in a bad way), and I stopped reading the news.

With political coverage, I was sucked into the horse-race aspects. After every little thing, the media asks its so-called experts, “How will this affect the midterms?” In reality, it probably will have no effect. Yet they still argue over this. They argue over nothing. It’s rather frustrating, and I didn’t need that frustration. I stopped reading political blogs too. Not only was it no longer pleasurable, it was also distorting reality. It fostered short-term thinking, and I enjoy trying to think strategically.

Thus, you’ll see no return to commenting on the issue of the day. I’m done with that. However, I still do want to talk about politics. All this stuff — the fate of the nation — has interested me for a long time and still does interest me. I’m not done with politics; I’m done with the day-to-day nonsense. I feel as if political commentary is in my blood. I have an overwhelming desire to create, which is why I have to make comics. I’d explode without creative outlets. I also have a desire to comment on politics. I’ll always feel dissatisfied with my blog if I don’t comment on these things. This is why I want to comment on Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck is involved in a stunt where he’s giving a speech on the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I learned about this via Roger Ebert’s twitterfeed. Glenn Beck is a right-wing talk radio host. His rally is some bizarre, audacious attempt to “reclaim” the Civil Rights Movement. Naturally, such a stunt has led to much outrage. AJ Calhoun says, “The ‘Restoring Honor’ parade tarnishes an event whose shared humanity was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since.” Unfortunately, by expressing such outrage, this only give Glenn Beck what he wants. This event is designed to piss people off so that Glenn Beck can get more attention for himself. The reason why I think this is true is because it fits his history in radio. This looks awfully familiar to the more juvenile pranks he used to play when he was getting his start in radio.

Although I’ve been expressing a contempt for the media, some journalism is actually very good. I recently read this profile about how Glenn Beck got started in radio. It chronicles his radio career from the beginning. Before talk radio, his shows followed the morning zoo formula. Zaitchik explains, “Before the X-rated in-studio antics of the shock jocks, there were the skit-writing shlock jocks of the zoo. In it purest form, the wacky, zany, fast-paced zoo formula consisted of an ensemble cast employing fake voices, loosely scripted skits, adolescent pranks, short topical rants, and spoof songs, backed by a Top 40 soundtrack and peppered with news and traffic reports.” His talk radio antics are influenced by this style.

Here’s one of his early stunts designed to get attention:

Beck and Hattrick began their show far behind Kelly’s market-leading show on KZZP. As they continued to get clobbered, Beck grew obsessed with getting his name on the leading station. His first attempt to get Kelly to mention him on the air came shortly after his arrival. “I walked out to get the paper one Saturday morning,” remembers Kelly. “When I turned around, I saw that my entire house was covered in Y95 bumper stickers. The windows, the garage doors, the locks — everything. But I refused to mention Beck’s name on the air, which drove him nuts.”

And here’s one particularly nasty stunt he pulled on a rival dj:

“A couple days after Kelly’s wife, Terry, had a miscarriage, Beck called her live on the air and says, ‘We hear you had a miscarriage,’ ” remembers Brad Miller, a former Y95 DJ and Clear Channel programmer. “When Terry said, ‘Yes,’ Beck proceeded to joke about how Bruce [Kelly] apparently can’t do anything right — about he can’t even have a baby.”

Let’s look at one more stunt:

Along with a new partner, Beck wanted a new mascot. He spent two weeks calling veterinarians and pet stores live on the air, getting advice on gerbils. After choosing one, he announced that he was going to train the world’s first bank-tube astronaut. Every day Beck would announce an update, some new detail about the gerbil’s first mission. One day, he made a little cape; the next, he named the animal “Gerry the Gerbil.” Each development was accompanied by a press release. When all the pieces were in place, Beck and Gray visited a local bank and sent the animal to a teller with a known fear of rodents.

“The build-up was amazing, masterful,” says a former director at the station. “PETA was flipping out, picketing the station every day. Beck’s on the local news. He took a stupid stunt and turned it into weeks of compelling high-publicity radio. He always knew how to get attention, how to get people talking about him.”

So, this MLK stunt is nothing new for Beck. It’s nastiness designed to get attention. This is a prank that’s supposed to piss people off so Beck gets more attention. One get get much attention by generating outrage.

It’s the same as in his FM days:

“Beck turned Y95 into a guerrilla station,” says Kelly. “It was an example of the zoo thing getting out of control. It became just about pissing people off…” [emphasis mine]

Even some of Glenn Beck’s ideological allies question his motives:

Meanwhile, at least one tea party group rejected Beck’s entreaties to assist with the march, concluding he was offering little in return for its organizational know-how and credibility, while giving preferential treatment to FreedomWorks, which is paying to sponsor Beck’s radio show. The group’s leader, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing Beck, said, “All he’s doing is trying to use us to promote himself.”

This seems to support my notion that Glenn Beck’s stunt is mostly attention-mongering and doesn’t really serve a political purpose.

I’m going to stop here before I descend into speculation about Glenn Beck’s motives. I don’t want to really talk about whether he’s in it for the money or he cares about politics or whatever. I don’t know Beck, so I can’t really say much about him. However, based on the profile of his early days in radio, this speech/rally feels very much like something nasty he would’ve done in order to get attention. It feels like a prank. Now it’s just dressed up in political clothing.

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