by Conor Friedersdorf
A reader writes:
The only place you can see this kind of thing on TV is on the Trinity Broadcast Network, the crazy Pentecostal cable channel that will run programs in which "prophecy experts" will tell you why what's happening in the Middle East today was foretold in the Bible. If you've never been inside of that bubble, you can hardly appreciate how electrifying and compelling it is. I was caught up in it for a couple of years when I was a young teenager, and let me tell you, a lot of good people I knew took it completely seriously. The things Hal Lindsey ("Late, Great Planet Earth") said were shown by subsequent events to be nonsense, but nobody in those communities held him accountable. The narrative is too exciting to let go of.
Beck is doing the same thing, but on a secular venue, one with far more power than a Christian cable channel.
People listen to him and take him seriously in part because he is a compelling performer, but also because he finds a way to take frightening, confusing events, and fuse them together into a narrative that helps them make sense of things. And not only to make sense of them, but to anticipate what is coming next. Moreover, though Beck is not referencing Bible prophecy openly, having spent some serious time in those circles, what he's doing when he speaks of China and Russia taking advantage of chaos to invade the Mideast and Europe is straight out of Hal Lindsey and the Rapture crowd. He knows well what he's doing, and I don't think he's one bit cynical.
The real cynics are Ailes & Co. It makes me sick, because I know that my elderly parents have become big fans of Beck's, and take him very seriously. It is very difficult to have a rational discussion with them about politics or world events after they've watched an episode of Beck. It's all conspiracy and high emotion -- and it's going to get worse. You watch: Beck is going to launch the meme that Barack Obama, a closet Muslim Marxist, was the Manchurian Candidate who collaborated in these events. And that idiotic idea is going to spread like wildfire among the Fox faithful.
I don't watch Glenn Beck, but ever since my grandmother started she's been inconsolable with worry about the future. And not rational worries, like what if there's a nuclear war, or America goes broke. She's literally afraid that the president is secretly the tool of our enemies, that there are big society wide conspiracies that started back before World War I. Why she started trusting that man I'll never know, but she does, and she's spending her last years frightened as a result.
And a third:
I just got back from spending a week with my grandparents in Omaha... I'll just say that your post hit home.