When Patricia Neal died earlier this month, most of the obits and memorials played up her co-starring role opposite Paul Newman in “Hud”. And that made sense; it’s a great performance, and she won an Oscar for it.
But the coverage of Neal’s death also puts the lie to the “liberal media” canard waved around by angry conservatives at every opportunity. If there really was a liberal media out there, looking for any chance to embarrass those noble Real Americans who believe in the flag, apple pie and keeping “mosks” away from Ground Zero, Neal’s obit would have put her role in the 1957 drama “A Face in the Crowd” in the first graph.
“A Face in the Crowd” — sprung from the acid pen of Budd Schulberg, and directed by Elia Kazan — was and is a terrific, terrifiying movie. It’s the story of a man named Lonesome Rhodes, who emerges from obscurity to become the voice of simple, humble America in the 1940s. He’s a poser and an egomaniac — nowadays, we’d call him a sociopath — but he’s embraced by the people because he pretends to share their concerns. In the end, he’s exposed as a contemptuous fraud, and balance is restored to the world.
If you’ve never seen “A Face in the Crowd” … well, you really should. It’s a tremendous movie, a biting satire and an incisive drama, and Andy Griffith gives his finest screen performance as Rhodes, playing against his established persona as one of America’s most lovable hicks.
It’s one of Kazan’s best films, too, and that’s saying something. Not for nothing did the Library of Congress add it to its list of preserved films in 2008 — right around the same time Sarah Palin was rising to national prominence, as it happens.
Which brings me to the guy in the picture.
Glenn Beck is holding his “Restoring America” rally in Washington today. He’ll be speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which — it just so happens — is the same place Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his profound and sadly-still-relevant speech about having a dream in
1968, just months before his assassination. 1963. (UPDATE: That mistake was totally my fault.) Beck claims that the time and place of his rally were merely coincidental; he just happens to have been talking about reclaiming the civil-rights movement for weeks. This is disingenuous bullshit, but of course so much of what Beck says is disingenuous bullshit that no one really cares any more.
And that’s the problem.
Rather than fact-checking the wild claims of Beck, and Palin, and Hannity, and Malkin, and all the rest, the American news media — possibly afraid of being tarred with the “liberal” brush — just let things go. They let the crying clown man jump and dance, and leave the mocking to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Not that they don’t do a fine job, mind you, but they provide the same consolation to their audience that Beck does for his — telling them that it’s okay, the world’s not crazy, someone understands.)
So, virtually unchallenged, Beck gets to co-opt King’s legacy. Palin’s there, too; in fact, she’s probably babbling about the glories of America right now, throwing red meat to her admirers, who will tell you without a hint of irony that abandoning her gubernatorial post in Alaska doesn’t make her a quitter. She left the job so she wouldn’t be a lame duck! If she stayed in the post, why … well, that would have been quitting!
That’s the world Beck and Palin play to. Their truths aren’t true, but they feel true. Obama must be a secret Muslim; he has a weird name! (Never mind that he isn’t, and he doesn’t.) And the evil terrorists are planning to launch more attacks on American targets from that mosque at Ground Zero … never mind that the guy trying to build it worked with George W. Bush on American outreach to Muslim nations, and that the community center isn’t actually a mosque, and that it’s not at Ground Zero.
Ronald Reagan said facts were stupid things, and he’s being proved more and more right with every passing week. It’s all about shouting the truth as you perceive it, and shouting it as loud as you can. When the other guy gives up and walks away, you’ve won!
Okay, some people are pushing back. Bob Herbert and Charles M. Blow have some very powerful columns in today’s New York Times. But they’re coming awfully late in the game, and like Stewart and Colbert’s damning work, they can be dismissed as insubstantial lefty blather by people who already have a vested interest in not letting their truths be contaminated by facts.
Glenn Beck, the self-described “rodeo clown“, needs his Lonesome Rhodes moment. He needs to be exposed. The problem is, this isn’t fiction and the rules aren’t the same; if Beck was outed as a phony, his admirers will probably just ignore it and keep watching … just like they did the last time.
I love America, I really do. I just recognize so little of it these days. I guess that’s the same problem Beck’s followers have, huh?