One of my first contributions to Deliberately Considered was an essay on Glenn Beck (“Beck and Call”), a commentator who at that moment (February 2, 2011) was riding high. But who hears Glenn Beck today? He has a website that requires a subscription. In the past year, Mr. Beck has become marginal to the public debate, and perhaps in becoming marginal, the sharp fringe of the Tea Party has become so as well. He was the tribune for the aggrieved during the Tea Party Summer.
Last winter – back in the day – Glenn Beck was a roaring tiger. His claws were thought so bloody that when he attacked Frances Fox Piven, one of the leading activist scholars of social movements, a string of professional organizations rose to the lady’s defense, including the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. After the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, many progressives concluded that Professor Piven was next in line for assassination from the rightists roiled and boiled by Beck.
Today we frame Glenn Beck’s symmetry as less fearful. Those who worried that Professor Piven was walking on a knife’s edge might be surprised that her latest book, published in August, is entitled Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven: The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate. Glenn Beck has become Professor Piven’s marketing tool. Without Glenn Beck’s opposition, Piven’s writings might seem less essential. (As a fellow former president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, I am pleased that her deservedly influential writings have become essential. I am attempting to find someone of equal stature to hate me. The placid readers of this flying seminar know that I try my best.)
However, my point . . .
Read more: Glenn Beck, Prophet?
I spent the early evening of November 8th wandering around the Occupy Philadelphia (OP) encampment. I was trying to clear my head before a scheduled talk by well-known social movement scholar (and one of Glenn Beck’s “most wanted”), Frances Fox Piven.
Ten minutes before the talk was scheduled begin, I moved to the stage area and found a surprisingly large group of people had begun to gather. I was immediately struck by how out of place they looked based on my experience. They lacked the all-weather, busy or exhausted appearance that characterizes a lot of people I encounter at OP. But they also didn’t seem curious or confused. Their gaze took in the camp with understanding. They were nearly all white, young, and dressed similarly, most likely, college students.
I found a spot off to the side of the crowd as Piven was introduced and began to speak. Moments later, I was approached by a black couple, a woman and man, both in their late teens or early twenties, standing arm-in-arm, carrying shopping bags, with glowing faces. They appeared to be on a date and were clearly happy to be together, even in love.
Gesturing toward the stage, the young woman asked me, “What’s all this?” I began to reply that she, Piven, is an academic, but I was interrupted. “No,” the woman corrected me, “all this,” sweeping her arm across the entire encampment. I told her it was Philly’s answer to Occupy Wall Street, “You know, in New York.” She stared back at me, shaking her head slightly. The young man quickly said, “Oh, yeah, I think I heard about that, but I didn’t realize it was here too. Well, this is good because there are problems. I just didn’t know about it cause I didn’t see it on the news or anything.” I asked where they lived. “North Philly, like 21st and Cecil B. Moore.” This is less that 2 miles from where they stood now. Indeed, they live only blocks from Temple University, where Piven had spoken earlier in the day.
That evening, . . .
Read more: Spirit of ’76: Occupy Philadelphia, Voicelessness, and the Challenge of Growing the Occupy Wall Street Movement
I am addicted to Glenn Beck. Don’t misunderstand, I do not love Glenn Beck, nor do I sing in his chorus of the righteous. But neither am I a Beck-hater, feeling that he is – as he speaks of mega-billionaire George Soros – a “spooky dude.” Further, I am no Beckaholic (Mr. Beck, a recovering alcoholic, might appreciate this). If I miss a night, don’t look for me on a ledge. If I watch too much, don’t search for me in the gutter. However, I prefer that my day ends with a shot of Beck and bourbon. (In California, my current home base, Beck’s show airs at 11:00 p.m.).
Academics often find themselves in deep shade, hidden from bright public debate. Despite our striving for impact, few pay us mind. We dream of celebrity, but on our own terms, and we worry that the unwashed masses will not understand (lecturing to unwashed students makes this concern more plausible). When academics reach the spotlight, it has sometimes been for plagiarism (Doris Kearns Goodwin), losing control (Henry Louis Gates), or political misdemeanors that suggest that a Ph.D. is no substitute for a heart (Newt Gingrich). Perhaps we should lust for dim obscurity. The attentions of Mr. Beck suggest a certain benefit of anonymity over infamy. Beck pays the academy the uncertain honor of believing that we count for something. He believes our writings can change the world, much as Jesse Helms insisted that contemporary art really, truly mattered enough to be censored. Beck scopes the intellectual barricades to find those he presents as cultural subversives, reporting to his million-man audience about the moral felonies of Edward Bernays, Stuart Chase, Walter Lippmann, and, the most dangerous man in America, Cass Sunstein, professor at Harvard Law School and Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Pre-Beck, such a list would seem eccentric. Post-Beck, the list seems alternatively mad, malevolent, and revelatory. Despite his biting attacks, Beck is insistent on proclaiming the mantra of non-violence. Gandhi is a hero. But on Beck’s website some responses are not so gentle. To be . . .
Read more: Beck and Call