AGORAPHOBIA

Posted in Rants on December 7th, 2009 by Ed

We all marvel at the ability of wingnuts to sell books to other wingnuts. You really have to hand it to people like Malkin, Beck, Coulter, and O'Reilly; they may be lacking in both sanity and brainpower but they know how to sell books. Yes, the sales figures for books like Going Rogue and Slander are fudged – many of the books purchased in bulk by chain stores and internet retailers are eventually returned unsold – but that does not change the fact that a lot of actual sales are taking place.

How do they do it? They do it the same way that McDonald's gets people to spend billions on food that is grotesquely unhealthy and doesn't even taste good – by delivering a cheap, consistent, and utterly predictable product to lazy people who like nothing better than mind-numbing routine. They have identified an audience that is willing to buy books, perhaps even eager to buy books, but insistent that the books contain no facts or opinions that are not already shared by author and reader alike. It doesn't make sense to you or I, but I think it's worth emphasizing that wingnut authors are not merely selling bile and predigested thought to both flatter and inflame the prejudices of their audience. They are also selling predictability. That is an underrated commodity. People don't just watch According to Jim and eat Twinkies because they're stupid; people do it because it protects them from the unfamiliar and delivers a product that will never, ever surprise them or make them think.

Sometimes, however, the wingnut money machine runs into a snag. Case in point: Glenn Beck's "Christmas Sweater" live show. It sold 17 tickets in New York. I know NYC is a tremendously liberal place, but in a city of 17 million it sold 17 tickets. Ditto Boston. Washington proved to be a real hotbed of Christmas Sweater fandom, selling 30 tickets. His best draw was in Seattle (70 tickets in a 450-seat venue). There are but a few potential explanations for the fact that a man who can sell a million books at the drop of a hat cannot attract enough ticket buyers to fill out a football team.

1. Mouthbreathers who buy Beck/Malkin/etc. books have a limit. They aren't bright but they're smart enough to realize that a Glenn Beck Christmas performance is going to be ass-breakingly terrible.

2. The show is guaranteed to flop in big cities but would have more success if it adopted the Palin Book Tour Strategy, i.e. appearing only in forlorn places where hopes and dreams congregate to die.

3. Beck fans simply are terrified of leaving their homes to be near other human beings and refuse to do so without a very good reason.

4. What exactly a Glenn Beck Christmas show might look like is unclear – Is it political? Is it a play? Comedy? Are there musical numbers? – and thus utterly unacceptable to a fan base that demands unwavering predictability.

I lean strongly toward #4, if only that the most logical choice, #1, would require me to give Beck fans credit for having some taste or intellect. That's not happening. No, this is about predictability. Like a McDonald's that decided to sell shepherd's pie and souvlaki, Beck's attempt to pad his wallet and stroke his ego falls flat because he neglected to understand how much of his appeal is tied up in his ability to deliver a consistent ration of shit. To many Americans the fact that it is consistent is appealing enough to outweigh the fact that it is shit.

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