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Glenn Beck: Bulletproof?

Earlier this week, Conor Clarke questioned how the advertising boycott of Glenn Beck possibly can't be hurting Fox News's pockets, as the network claims. Yesterday, the LA Times' Show Tracker blog reported that Beck's ratings are up, clocking his third, fifth, and second-largest audiences on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Beck is feeding off the attempt on his career. "Even if the powers to be right now succeed in making me poor, drum me out ... I will only be stronger for it," he said Wednesday on his show, Show Tracker notes in its story. "I will use American ingenuity and my ingenuity to pull myself up, and I will find another way to get this message out, on a platform that will be a thousand times more powerful. Because of my faith, I know how this story ends. The truth will set you free."

Glenn Beck - YouTube grab - embed.jpgLots of big companies who advertise on Fox have signed onto the boycott, orchestrated by Color of Change to protest Beck's proposition that President Obama is a racist, reportedly including Wal-Mart, Sprint, Travelers Insurance, General Mills, DirecTV, Geico, Progressive, Procter & Gamble, Radio Shack, Men's Wearhouse, GMAC Financial Services--at least 36 companies in all. (UPDATE: as commenter MikeCee points out, Color of Change put the total at 46 after announcing 10 more yesterday.)

Conor has already covered the economics of this for Fox, but it makes good sense why Beck's ratings haven't suffered: Beck is a guy who will say anything that comes to his mind, and his audience likes it.

Beck inhabits the province of Eminem and Howard Stern--guys who say offensive stuff sometimes and get criticized for it. People respect them for that, on some level, and are entertained by it on others. The more criticism that comes their way, the stronger they get--it reinforces their personae. Publicly denouncing Howard Stern for being offensive has no effect, because that's who he is, and everyone knows it. When people blamed Eminem for school violence and the utter tragedy of Columbine, he turned it back on them by saying, basically, there are real problems here and you're blaming this on me? He's different from Howard Stern and Beck because his response was as much filled with cultural realism as it was with his own persona.

People didn't like Eminem when he first came out because of the things he said, but as people got to know his work, audience expectations became different for him. Some of the people--like women--who were supposed to be offended bobbed their heads along and didn't care that much, laughing at insults, as long as the lyrics and the beats were good. It's all part of The Eminem Show. He continued to say whatever he felt like, and it worked out. (Disclaimer: Eminem would probably contest a comparison to Glenn Beck.)

For Stern, Eminem, and Beck, the controversy becomes part of their identity; their unpredictability and potential for edginess/offense become capital.

Beck's audience is political, so things are more serious for him. But, amid the seriousness of his politics, he embraces levity. He promotes his identity as an I'll-say-anything-and-probably-have-to-eat-some-of-it type; just look at the cover of his book. When he pretended to pour gasoline on that guy, it was weird and morbid, but not all that serious.

Beck's self-deprecation, and the probable feeling among his audience that conservatives don't have enough of a voice, basically result in people liking him more for the controversy. We'll see if the money runs out before controversy ultimately buoys him.