Glenn Beck: You are not Howard Beale, so stop ruining one of my favorite movies

"Network's" Howard Beale; Glenn Beck

OK, dislike me for this, but Glenn Beck and his rantings don’t automatically drive me into a tizzy. Granted, I almost never see him outside of YouTube highlight clips, so I’m not that familiar with his reportedly controversial opinions. But I’m not opposed to his general libertarian bent or his call to be skeptical of authority (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, as I do to Jon Stewart, that when the pendulum of power swings to the right, he’ll attempt to be just as contrarian).

But it really bugs me is when he claims he’s a real-life Howard Beale. Anyone, red-state or blue, should be able to see that as an awfully ignorant interpretation of Beale and Network, a movie which prophesized the sensationalism-of-news-networks-for-ratings that, incidentally, Beck today gets accused of.

From today’s interview with Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto (‘Nobody’s Watching Charlie Rose’ ):

Mr. Beck identifies with the Howard Beale character from the 1976 film “Network.” Beale, played by Peter Finch, is a news anchor on a fictional broadcast network who has a nervous breakdown on air, becomes a raving populist, and is a big hit with viewers. Mr. Beck invokes the fictional anchorman’s most famous line: “I am mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore. The part of Howard Beale that I liken myself to is the moment when he was in the raincoat, where he figures everything out, and he’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Why the hell aren’t you up at the window shouting outside?'”

OK, besides the fact that both rant loudly against The Man, Beck does share a similar down-in-the-dumps broadcasting background story with Beale. By his own claim, Beck, after reaching success in broadcast at an early age, hit bottom at 30 with a bout of alcoholism: “I was suicidal, lost my family—I mean, it was bad.”

But Beck apparently only values Beale as a TV prophet unafraid to tell the truth, not considering the actual truth that Beale tells. Beale’s undoing, according to Beck, is that he becomes a sell-out:

Mr. Beck adds, “What the media wants to make me is the Howard Beale at the end, the crazy showman that’s doing anything for money. That I don’t liken myself to.”

But Beale does not become a failed figure because he ends up “doing anything for money.” His show is abruptly – and violently – taken “off-air” because he ends up speaking a truth so horribly depressing about the “college of corporations” and the overall empty existence of humankind that his show no longer attracts good ratings.

There was no selling-out – it’s the exact opposite, actually – only a point in which Beale moved from yelling-at-the-Man to lamenting how little impact and control even the angriest of people have over society’s immutable order. In fact, if Beck’s interpretation were correct, it would mean that Beale reached his apex of truth when he tried to get his viewers to write the White House to stop his network’s pending takeover by a Saudi Arabian conglomerate (not exactly a libertarian or capitalistic cause). Does this mean that someday we’ll be treated to the spectacle of Beck flipping out over a business deal by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp?

I don’t mind that Beck is making millions from being a red-meat populist. But if he’s going to compare himself to Howard Beale, a character who meets his demise because he can’t shut up about the awful truth, he needs to go a further than just telling people to get mad (at things/people they were already inclined to be pissed at). For instance, this financially-suicidal rant about the role of television:

But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We’ll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he’s going to win. We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds… We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I’m speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF…

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