Laurie Winer, Los Angeles Review of Books:
The undisputed high point of Beck’s tenure in Baltimore was an elaborate prank built around a nonexistent theme park. The idea was to run a promotional campaign for the fictional grand opening of the world’s first air-conditioned underground amusement park, called Magicland. According to Beck and Gray, it was being completed just outside Baltimore. During the build-up, the two created an intricate and convincing radio world of theme-park jingles and promotions, which were rolled out in a slow buildup to the nonexistent park’s grand opening… On the day Magicland was supposed to throw open its air-conditioned doors, Beck and Gray took calls from enraged listeners who tried to find the park and failed. Among the disappointed and enraged was a woman who had canceled a no-refund cruise to attend the event. “They never told a soul what they were doing,” says Sean Hall, the B104 newsreader. “People just drove around in circles on the beltway for hours trying to find the place.”
– from Alexander Zaitchik’s Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance
Glenn Beck broadcast his last Fox show yesterday, after two and a half memorable years. In his final week he began with footage of rioting and looting in the streets of Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Cairo. Anyone tuning in for the first time might wonder why these upsetting events evoked in this man only a caustic “I told you so.” As per usual, he played both puppet-master and puppet, performing his repertoire of goofy voices, bobbing, weaving, bringing his plump head right up into the camera. Addressing us as “America,” he jumped maniacally through a familiar list of names: George Soros, Saul Alinksy, Hugo Chavez, Woodrow Wilson; having already drilled into us the monikers of those who got our country into this ungodly mess, he didn’t need to ID them. He warned that any day we might be kneeling before a Caliphate. As always, Beck’s delirium held out the promise that he might, once and for all, completely unravel before our eyes. As a student of all things Beckian, I will miss him. “I watch so you don’t have to,” I tell my family and friends who long ago grew tired of my obsession. I picture myself as the cat sitting in front of a mouse hole while the rest of the house goes about its business. But unlike the cat, once in a while I have to ask myself why. Why, mother of god, am I drawn here, again and again?
This morning, doing “research,” I was entranced by a YouTube clip in which George Stephanopoulos surprises Michele Bachmann with the President’s birth certificate. He whips it out and reads to her: “This copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding.” Bachmann remains eerily composed as she avoids eye contact with the document. “Well, then, that should settle it,” she says, her neck stiff as if in a brace, her pupils pinwheels as she searches for some way to put in the last word. “As long as someone introduces it…it’s what should settle it.” I wondered if Roger Ailes was watching. Please, I thought, someone give this woman a TV show.
Beck’s television career exploded in late 2008. Anticipating the election and looking to boost the numbers for the historically low-rated 5 pm slot, Roger Ailes plucked his new star from CNN’s Headline News, where Beck had doubled his audience in two years. The Glenn Beck Show debuted on Fox in January, 2009, auspiciously the day before Barack Obama’s inauguration. At long last, he had found a target worthy of the unfocused, mischievous, spottily educated sensibility he had displayed as a Baltimore morning zoo DJ and later as a talk show host and “commentator.” Beck was ready for his close-up. To his ever-volatile mix of free-floating rage and shame, he added a new component: a saccharine sensitivity. He became a man who had only to mention how much he loved his country to theatrically choke back and then let flow a flash-flood of tears.