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The Glenn Beck Experience

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-12-23


Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck will always be a hero to me, and the reason for my admiration has nothing to do with his politics, talent, or accomplishments. I base my reverence for him solely on the fact that a few years ago, he took the time on his nationally syndicated talk show to blast Allen County Republican Chair Steve Shine for being an embarrassing and ridiculous party wonk. Apparently, after one of Glenn Beck's (many) visits to Fort Wayne, Shine told local papers that Beck's appearance in the Summit City reflected well on the Republican party and Republican politics in general.

Beck, though a conservative, has no great love for the Republican party, and when he got wind of Shine's comments he took umbrage and voiced his displeasure over the airwaves, pointing out the specific times in the newspaper account where Shine had clearly misrepresented Beck's words, and his contempt for our local political leader came ringing through WOWO's fifty-thousand watts. Glenn Beck's radio show is massively popular in the United States, with hundreds of stations coast to coast, and it did my heart well to know that, to millions of Beck listeners, Steve Shine will forever be known as a political buffoon. If I was Tom Henry, I'd give Glenn Beck a key to the city for this bit of public service.

Other folks in Fort Wayne think pretty highly of Glenn Beck as well, though I'm guessing for slightly less perverse reasons. Though originally from Washington, Beck's true-blue conservatism resonates well in the Midwest, and his radio program has been a popular mainstay on WOWO's exclusively right-wing roster. Rush Limbaugh likes to refer to himself as a "lovable puffball" but it's Beck, with his non-threatening, portly build, graying temples and gentle eyes who more accurately fits the bill. Though he's capable of saying some outrageous things during his monologues, Beck generally avoids the mean-spiritedness that dogs other conservative voices, and this appeal has helped him succeed in other media venues as well. He is an author with three books to his credit, he has a regular television gig (Fox News, after a stint at CNN's Headline News), and, more ambitiously, Beck just ended his starring turn in The Christmas Sweater, a Broadway-style show based on his most recent best seller, that has been playing in selected cities across the nation. The closing night performance from December 17 was simulcast live to hundreds of movie theatres across the nation, including the Coldwater Crossing in Fort Wayne, and while I was unable to make the performance, I'm certain that Beck's Fort Wayne fans showed up in droves.

I fully intended to use this space to give a review of the stage performance of The Christmas Sweater, but frankly, I was too depressed after reading the book to get to the theatre. I picked up a signed copy of The Christmas Sweater at Mitchell Books last week (Beck made an appearance there November 28), and after finishing it I promptly went to the nearest bar and drank a half-bottle of Wild Turkey. I'm not sure when this all began, this publishing trend of using Christmas as a backdrop for grueling, tragedy-laced, psychodrama books, but the success of The Christmas Sweater (no. 1 on the NY Times best-seller list) shows that it's not going away anytime soon. It's gotten almost comical--modern Christmas stories have become so dark and wrenching that they're starting to resemble teen slasher movies or gangster stories in that you just know some main character is going to get whacked pretty quickly. When I got to the part in The Christmas Sweater where the sleepy mother gets behind the wheel, I knew she was a goner. The 13-year old kid who survives the crash (Beck's obvious stand-in) subsequently goes through some major, shame-filled, lacerating self-examinations, full of pain and loss and anger and grief as he tries to deal with the harshness of his new life. This is a Christmas story? I know Beck is a devout Christian, and I know that the promise of redemption and atonement figure prominently in his tale; still, this story is so bleak that even the cop-out "all a dream" ending can't brighten the pall of the book. The poor kid also has to endure a surprise trip to a (highly metaphorical) hellish landscape, where his soul is suddenly on the line. As if he didn't have enough to worry about.

In all fairness, I should point out that the two most iconic Christmas stories in our collective consciousness A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life both feature dark, supernatural landscapes in their narratives. Yet even in those I'm not sure that that blackness reinforces any Christmas lessons at all. Scrooge gets his redemption, sure, but Jacob Marley is doomed forever, clanking in his chains without hope. Whatever the "true meaning of Christmas" is, I'm pretty sure it doesn't include tragedy and damnation.

Glenn Beck's personal history which he talks about on the air, and is the basis of The Christmas Sweater is certainly tragic, and while I empathize with his need to write his way out of past memories, it doesn't make me like his book any better. Personal exorcisms and labors of love sometimes are better left in a writer's trunk, never to be seen. I'm just thankful that he didn't get a chance to rewrite A Charlie Brown Christmas, for if he did, Snoopy would die in the first scene and Peppermint Patty's abusive, alcoholic mother would crash her car through the auditorium at the neighborhood Christmas party. Thus proving the true meaning of Christmas.

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