Glenn Beck and the Red Knight
“I told you about these people. They only mate with their own kind. It’s yuppie inbreeding. That’s why they’re retarded and wear the same clothes. They don’t feel love. They only negotiate love moments. They’re evil, Edwin. They’re repulsed by imperfection, horrified by the banal…everything that America stands for! They must be stopped before it’s too late. It’s us or them.” ~ Jack Lucas, a talk-radio DJ in the film The Fisher King
After this call the caller, Edwin Malnick goes back to the bar, Babbit’s, where he met the woman he was calling in about and shoots seven people to death with a shotgun. Then he turns the gun on himself and pulls the trigger. One of the people killed in the massacre is the wife of Parry (Robin Williams) a professor who goes a bit off the deep end following the shooting. His career in tatters, Lucas (Jeff Bridges) stumbles across Parry – is rescued by him, actually – and the two become unlikely compatriots in a quest to find forgiveness, understanding, and the Holy Grail.
You see, Parry is homeless and delusional and thinks he’s a knight. His lucid moments are few and far between, and in his waking nightmares he’s pursued by the specter of a Red Knight (the name Parry is a play on the mythical Parsival who slays the Red Knight in the Arthurian legend and takes his armor).
Lucas is also haunted, but his ghosts don’t take the shape of any armor-clad denizen. Rather, Parry haunts his conscience, forcing him to confront his guilt.
Lucas learns the hard way that it doesn’t take much to set some people off. Certainly his “call to action” was meant to be taken in jest, and most people – the majority of his listeners – would have taken it that way, would have understood that it was tongue-in-cheek, intended for entertainment, as irony at Edwin’s expense. But not Edwin. When Edwin hears the words “they must be stopped before it’s too late” he takes them deadly seriously.
This is what worries me about the Right’s various fearmongering talkshows, and Glenn Beck and his show on Fox News in particular. When he warns that Obama is going to take away our guns, or that the government is building FEMA concentration camps for American citizens, I worry that people might just take him seriously – deadly seriously – and, like Edwin, take matters into their own hands. Most people won’t, of course, though the Tea Parties are a testament to the widespread confusion in America today, and such mainstream acceptance can be even more dangerous as it helps the crazies further legitimize their delusions. This seems to be the case with Richard Poplawski, who shot three police officers dead in Pittsburgh earlier this month.
As Max Blumenthal notes:
[H]ysterical warnings of government gun grabs and a socialist takeover of the U.S. are no longer the sole proprietary interest of fringe players like [Alex] Jones. In the Obama era, Jones’ conspiracy theories have graduated to prime-time on Fox News. And radicals like Poplawski are tuning in. Indeed, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the alleged killer posted a YouTube clip to Stormfront of top-rated Fox News host Glenn Beck contemplating the existence of FEMA-managed concentration camps. (“He backed out,” Poplawski wrote cryptically beside the video.) Three weeks later, Poplawski posted another YouTube clip to Stormfront, this time of a video blogger advocating “Tea Parties,” or grassroots conservative protests organized by Beck and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich (see here and here) against President Barack Obama’s bailout plan.
For someone like Alex Jones, Poplawski killing those cops pays dividends. It’s a warped sort of publicity, but warped is what Alex Jones does. Does the same apply to Glenn beck? I think the difference between Beck and Jones is that Beck is just a guy with a mainstream tv talk show who has found a routine that works – an act, in other words, that allows him to channel all the crazy, right-wing paranoia he wants while not really buying into all of it himself.
Beck’s little faux crying episode during the intro for his 912 project illustrates the fact that he’s all maudlin, all pretend outrage. He’s more like Jack Lucas than David Duke, but that doesn’t make him less dangerous. If anything it makes him more of a threat, because his forum lends him much greater legitimacy. To most critical thinkers it’s obvious that he’s either crazy or pretending, and probably just in it for the ratings, filling a niche – but to the Edwin’s and Poplawski’s of the world, he’s the real deal. His outrage is real. His fears aren’t bogeymen, they’re flesh and bone.
As Dave Niewart notes, nobody is trying to silence the right-wing fearmongers pundits. But they are playing with fire, and it’s high time they were held accountable for that – by their corporate sponsors, their viewers, and the companies, like Fox, who air their shows:
The point is not to silence the people saying these things, but to point out how grotesquely irresponsible they are — in the hopes that they will cease doing so, and start acting responsibly. It’s their choice to use irresponsible rhetoric. It’s not just our choice but our duty, as responsible citizens, to stand up and speak out about it.
And make no mistake: Rhetoric that whips up irrational fears among the public, that demonizes and dehumanizes and scapegoats — that’s irresponsible rhetoric. And we are calling the American Right on it.
In the movie, Lucas was able to find some semblance of redemption. He and Parry were able to form a friendship, and each significantly helped the other find their own Holy Grail, and fight off their own personal demons. In real life, things often play out much less neatly. The verse/chorus/verse of the film world is often replaced with mess from start to finish. In the wake of the Poplawski shooting, nobody at Fox has taken any responsibility, nor has anyone attempted to tone down the rhetoric. They’re playing with fire, and as is almost always the case with flame, it has a way of slipping out of our control.
When governors are toying with secession, and Tea Partiers are touting the value of revolution, it’s safe to say that things are getting a little out of hand. Who can say how out of control things could get? Is it so preposterous to imagine another Oklahoma City bombing? Or attempts on President Obama’s life? Plenty of people already think he’s the second coming of Hitler (which is ironic when you think about who some of these people are…)
More than likely, most of the protesters will end up burning out and going back to life as usual. They’re not the issue here.
It’s the Edwin’s we need to worry about.