A FACE IN THE CROWD

I don't usually associate my 60 year-old parents with quality movie suggestions but I am grateful to my dad for making me watch Elia Kazan's 1957 satirical masterpiece A Face in the Crowd. For those of you who have not seen it, it could just as easily be named The Glenn Beck Story or How Rush Limbaugh Became Famous without being the slightest bit misleading.

To make a long story short, Andy Griffith portrays a miserable drunk who, through a series of unlikely events, parlays his folksy, down-home shtick on an Arkansas AM radio station into the role of political kingmaker and media superstar in New York City. Elected officials clamor for the opportunity to appear on his show to trade low-brow populist anecdotes and use the kind of corny expressions and affected aw-shucks accents that they imagine simple 'merican folk use. This clip really captures the flavor of the film:

Behind the scenes, "Lonesome" Rhodes is actually a neurotic tyrant, cynically manipulating the system for his own benefit, abusing his friends and coworkers, and acting vindictively toward anyone who isn't sufficiently deferential. Eventually he is destroyed when a hot microphone overhears him referring to his fans as mindless cattle, and Rhodes ends up alone in his apartment performing his shtick for hired servants and fulfilling his desperate need for adulation with a recorded applause track played repeatedly.

As Glenn Beck's show on Fox News has effectively been canceled due to declining ad revenues and plummeting ratings (Media Matters does a nice retrospective of his greatest hits) I am reminded of Walter Matthau's character in the film complaining in exasperation that despite having voiced contempt for his audience Rhodes will be back; the audience is dumb enough to accept any excuse Rhodes offers and the networks can't resist the temptation of a proven earner.

What comes next for the real life Lonesome Rhodes, now booted off the set at both CNN and Fox? I see a few possible outcomes:

1. Walter Matthau was right and Beck resurfaces elsewhere doing the same horseshit under a different call sign and sponsor.

2. Beck, whose calling card of insanity has always been his willingness to traffic in extreme conspiracy theories and make apocalyptic predictions that will inevitably be proven foolish, goes full Alex Jones and starts devoting his entire media presence to chemtrails, FEMA concentration camps, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, and buried yard gold.

3. Freed from the minimal standards of taste and decency imposed by Fox – which after all IS a mainstream media outlet – Beck goes Westbrook Pegler on us, slowly killing himself with liquor while making a career out of increasingly anti-Semitic and racist outbursts in increasingly obscure media. By the 1960s Pegler had become so unhinged that the John Birch Society newsletter fired him because his views were too extreme. I have very little difficulty seeing Beck go down this path, shambling about in the gutters of the right wing media machine launching tirades of invective against the Goddamn Jews and the Shiftless Negroes before dying of cirrhosis at a city-run men's shelter in Brooklyn.

4. Let's not rule out the possibility of pulling an Al Capp – going on a highly paid college speaking tour until one too many female undergraduates come forward to tell the police that he exposed himself and attempted to sexually assault them.

I don't know with any degree of certainty what is going to happen to Beck, but I am sure that he isn't going to go quietly into the night. He still has an audience willing to hand him money (and do just about anything else The Leader asks) and an insatiable need for attention. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up with a major radio network, nor if he ended up in his basement paying a coterie of homeless people to nod solemnly during his long rants to no one in particular.

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53 Responses to “A FACE IN THE CROWD”

  1. Townsend Harris Says:

    "before dying of cirrhosis at a city-run men's shelter in Brooklyn"
    Gosh, I love Brooklyn. Any chance it'll be the shelter off Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights?

  2. Greg Says:

    I put this in my Netflix queue. Thanks for recommendation!

  3. J. Dryden Says:

    Radio.

    The pattern has been long established by Limbaugh, Schlessinger, et al.–when ideologues fail on television, they retreat back to the format that suits them well: AM Radio, and the silent masses who listen for hours on end in their pit-stained undershirts, in apartments strewn with pizza boxes and unemptied ashtrays–as Michael Savage's continued career has empirically proven, you simply cannot be too crazy, too hateful, or too stupid for radio.

  4. Noskilz Says:

    I'm just pleased that he's had this much of a setback – I was afraid Fox would just keep him around forever as some sort of lunatic subsidy program.

  5. RT Butte Says:

    Glenn Beck will make a very tearful public statement in which he proclaims Jesus and his Salvation for just a very small Love Gift, $5, $10, $25, whatever you feel the Lord is leading you to give.

  6. Greg Says:

    Two words: presidential candidate.

  7. Zeb Says:

    Televangelist.

    He's already mostly there, anyhow!

  8. doug Says:

    I am in with Greg's prediction….Now, who will be the VP candidate with him?

  9. Middle Seaman Says:

    In a spirit of postpartisanship and the interest of budget cuts, Obama nominates Glen Beck as ambassador, without pay, to liberated Libya.

  10. Meredith Says:

    I don't much care where he goes next. What I'm worried about is what fresh hell Fox will find to replace him.

  11. Edward Says:

    "…he is destroyed when a hot microphone overhears him referring to his fans as mindless cattle…"

    I once saw a clip of an interview Beck did with William Shatner in which he said something along the lines of "I make no guarantees about accuracy". Effectively he made Rhodes comment on his show and no one batted an eye.

    How is the war on Christmas going?

  12. mds Says:

    "… starts devoting his entire media presence to chemtrails, FEMA concentration camps, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, and buried yard gold."

    Wait, doesn't this already describe his current job? Or has he not bothered with chemtrails yet?

  13. bensbias Says:

    I'm torn on this.

    While I'm full of joy that Glenn Beck is gone, at the same time, the longer he's at Fox the better chance he has of bringing them down.

    Fox will probably find a few more Newt's or Huckabees to come on and give them "respect". and keeping whichever viewers on that were teetering on leaving Fox as a result of Beck.

    As far as where Beck will go- nowhere. Even on Fox in recent months/years Beck has only been catering to his core followers. That won't change and he won't need Fox to reach out to them or their wallets.

  14. ladiesbane Says:

    Isn't he forming his own network? It's easy for me to picture him in some isolated shack, doing a Weird Al / UHF / Krusty Broadcasting number, sweating and wild-eyed in his 35th straight hour live.

    p.s.: I want to see BYG on the currency exchange.

  15. tommytimp Says:

    It's a great movie. Olbermann had been calling him "Lonesome Rhodes Beck" for over a year before he left. Personally I would love to see Beck and Limbaugh forced to live together in Limbaugh's decaying Palm Beach mansion until because of insanity and poor fiscal planning the food runs out and they have to eat each other.

  16. glf Says:

    Beck will get his own late night infomercial selling both gold & his conspiracy theories.

  17. Elder Futhark Says:

    I have 970 sq. km in Guyana available. Hell, I'll even throw in some Koolaid to sweeten the deal.

  18. Zach Says:

    Do people not realize that Beck has his own radio syndication already? That's how he got famous…

    http://www.glennbeck.com/content/affiliates

    He's 3rd behind Hannity and Rush on the radio.

  19. ladiesbane Says:

    @tommytimp: your vision of Beck and Limbaugh together evoked "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?", with Rusty in the title role, and Glenny as Blanche. Chills.

  20. "Fair and Balanced" Dave Says:

    There's another possibility you haven't mentioned:

    He'll limit his activities to churning out one or two ghost-written books a year which will briefly show up on best-seller lists–thanks to wingnut Sugar Daddy bulk buys–followed by years gathering dust in bargain bins.

  21. SaminMpls Says:

    Ed,

    I have to ask, knowing you've mentioned your father is a Republican, what he thought about the Glenn Beck comparison?

  22. DocAmazing Says:

    Glenn Beck can't go Al Capp. For all his loony crypto-fascism, Capp had genuine talent.

  23. tommytimp Says:

    @ladiesbane: I'll leave it to you which version is more awash in bad, creepy makeup and coded gay subtext.

  24. acer Says:

    This dude fucking nails it:

    http://joelmathis.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-glenn-beck-prediction.html

  25. mothra Says:

    As Zach said, Glenn already has his radio show. He'll continue with that and I expect Fox will still air Glenn Beck specials which will feature a couple of hours of him ranting. Beck is going nowhere–he is lurking right there under the kitchen sink.

  26. Southern Beale Says:

    A love "A Face In The Crowd" and perhaps you know this is why Keith Olbermann always referred to Glenn Beck as Lonesome Rhodes. But another movie of that ilk — and one which somehow I managed to catch in a double-header with "Face In The Crowd" on some cable channel on weekend — is "Ace In The Hole," later re-released as "The Big Carnival." It's a must-see.

    I wrote about it here a few years ago. Another one which people often forget is Tim Robbins' "Bob Roberts." Go to YouTube and catch some of the clips posted over there … if he didn't accurately predict the Tea Party movement, I don't know who did …

  27. Southern Beale Says:

    Amazingly, the county clerk in Wisconsin's most conservative "found" 7,500 Prosser votes. Isn't that .. just … so .. conVEEEEENiet?!!!

  28. Southern Beale Says:

    ..most conservative COUNTY … sorry….

  29. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Being off Fox gives Beck the possibility of going all the way down the conspiracy road. He wanted to be a sort of Republican Alex Jones(though he often pretended to be against both parties), but the thing is that Jones speaks to paranoid people who don't trust any public figure whatsoever. Beck is hawking conspiracy theories but working for a station which everyone knows as a shill for the GOP. Moreover, you buy into Alex Jones, and you must buy into the 9-11 conspiracy. Nobody on Fox would ever espouse that view, so Beck has no appeal to Jones' audience.

    Free now of these fetters, the Beck will roam the radio waves, free to rant about holographic airplanes, thermate, gold, the federal reserve, da Jooz, whatever he wants. But be that as it may, he shall do all of this WITHOUT his chalk board. And this shall be his undoing. His power remains tied to the chalk board, and if that is cast into the fire from whence it came, he too shall be destroyed.

  30. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Of course the ending I'm hoping for is something more like the Third Wave experiment. (Search The Wave + afterschool special on Youtube).

  31. Bill Says:

    So much Schadenfreude! It's a proof that capitalism works; can you think of another system under which performance is the measure of worth? If we lived in a country in which a burocrat can decide what's good for us to watch, populist pressure (by switching Beck off) would have no effect. So rejoice, all you wise men with your whiney comments, but not in the going of Beck but in the system that enables a Beck to strut on stage for his provrbial fifteen minutes.

  32. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Or poor Bill, if performance were a measure of worth under capitalism, why would bankers who screwed the whole economy be among the richest people? In addition to not receiving any bonuses, they wouldn't even receive their salaries or any severance package whatsoever.

    That capitalism "works", in the sense that it has thus far survived, doesn't mean it "works" for most people. In order for it to "work" for the few that rule, it must not work for the many. This also extends to countries as well. A high standard of life for a few nations must come at the expense of most nations- and this is precisely the case.

    Another point on which you fail is why Beck, a man who has no idea what he is talking about, was on the air to begin with. Sure, capitalist pressure in the form of lost sponsors and lower ratings is one reason why he is leaving, but the inequality in the exercise of free speech is why he was on in the first place. People with money are able to elevate a radio DJ to the level of a professor of economics, politics, and history, whereas people who actually study those fields often have no chance of getting any airtime.

    Personally I can't help but laugh at the "you have X because of CAPITALISM!!" argument. I can imagine some time around 1700 to about 1900 when some member of the church or feudal nobility is screaming at the rising bourgeoisie, "How can you spit at our feudal system? The bread you ate came from my lands! Some of you are descended from nobility! The monarch recognized your ownership to your lands, etc. What better system could there possibly be?"

  33. mclaren Says:

    The question no one thinks to ask: How much worse will the next Glenn Beck be?

    Everyone thought it was impossible for Rush Limbaugh to get any worse…then Beck proved him wrong.

    The next step down will be doozy. The earth is hollow and full of reptoids? Democrats kidnap old people at night and make dog food out of 'em in secret liberal meatgrinders?

    The sky's the limit.

  34. Bill Says:

    Ah Aslan; you're confusing ideology and reality, methinks. Man is essentially competitive and motivated by self-interest, has been, always will be. The only game in town is capitalism – you may not like the rules but you gotta play. You can quit, of course, but the problem is that you can't go home, taking the ball with you because you don't own the ball. So you vote democrat because they promise to spread the wealth around, thus giving you access to free balls. How happy you'll be, standing with your trotters in the through, without having to play the game. Dream on, though, because they're just as motivated by self-interest as the next man and eventually you'll have to pay the piper by having to re-elect them. Shudder.

  35. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    "Ah Aslan; you're confusing ideology and reality, methinks."

    Methinks you couldn't find reality with a GPS.

    "Man is essentially competitive and motivated by self-interest, has been, always will be."

    Prove it.

    " The only game in town is capitalism

  36. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    "Ah Aslan; you're confusing ideology and reality, methinks."

    Methinks you couldn't find reality with a GPS.

    "Man is essentially competitive and motivated by self-interest, has been, always will be."

    Prove it.

    " The only game in town is capitalism

  37. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Cutting off my posts for some reason:

    " The only game in town is capitalism – you may not like the rules but you gotta play."

    Since capitalism hasn't been the only game in town for most of human history, you have already disproved your first claim.

    " You can quit, of course, but the problem is that you can't go home, taking the ball with you because you don't own the ball."

    I love how you conservatives can't but rely on simplistic, child-like metaphors handed down by radio DJs. The funniest thing here is that the success of the US and Western societies, is largely due to China, which is considered by conservatives to be a Communist country. Figure your way out of that.

    " So you vote democrat because they promise to spread the wealth around, thus giving you access to free balls. How happy you'll be, standing with your trotters in the through, without having to play the game. "

    The level of dumbassity is staggering in this statement. First of all, I have never voted Democrat(or anyone else for that matter), and never will. Next, your comment about "spreading the wealth" around is idiotic. The wealth has been concentrated from the working class to the ruling class since 1970, as plenty of historical data shows. Is this not redistribution of wealth?

    The argument for a welfare state(not that I see this as a solution) is not so people can just live off the government. It is because in reality(not conservative la-la land), workers produce wealth. Ideally, they should be fully compensated, but the rules of the capitalist system ensure that most wealth accrues to the owners of property and stock, as opposed to the workers. Since the workers actually produced the wealth, that is an argument for measures which help them, such as health care. Also, welfare state programs make it easier for workers to buy back the products, thus stimulating the economy. When workers cannot afford to buy back enough of what is produced, a crisis occurs.

    "Dream on, though, because they're just as motivated by self-interest as the next man and eventually you'll have to pay the piper by having to re-elect them. Shudder."

    There are plenty of arguments against the invisible hand self-interest view of the world. However, I prefer not to argue against it. You see, to be a worker in a capitalist system requires unnatural altruism. You may produce thousands of dollars worth of goods, and yet you are paid a small fraction of that. If I had to make a pizza from scratch, just so I could have one slice while you claim the rest, I would have to be extremely altruistic indeed.

    So let us be motivated by self-interest, let us overthrow the property owners and seize what ought to be ours. From each according to his abilities, to each according to his work. (in b4 "HA HA YOU DIDN'T QUOTE IT RIGHT, OR AT LEAST I THINK SO BECAUSE I NEVER READ CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME!!")

  38. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Sorry about the duplicate posts.

  39. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    1. Strong tradition in America of thinking that being an ignorant unsophisticated yokel makes you better and smarter than anyone else.

    2. That Sen. Worthington Fuller rant about Social Security shows that nothing much has changed in over fifty years, or that America prides itself in going backwards….

  40. Bill Says:

    What's the opposite of capitalism, Aslan?

  41. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Way to let your ignorance shine, Bill. What's the opposite of capitalism? Well let's see, primitive communism, slave-master society, feudalism, socialism, anarchism..SURPRISE! There is no "OPPOSITE" to capitalism because this is not a dichotomy. Human society has evolved over time and just as feudalism gave way to capitalism, so shall capitalism give way to socialism one day or another.

    As I said, you're no different than a feudal lord questioning a rising bourgeoisie as to how they could possibly imagine a better system than the god-given hierarchy.

  42. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    The funniest thing is that you probably can't even properly define capitalism. From the look of your comments, it would seem that you think that capitalism stretches far back into human history. PROTIP: It doesn't.

  43. Pat Says:

    God, I can't believe I'd never heard of that movie before. I've seen the Gabbo episode of The Simpsons probably a dozen times, and never knew what his on-camera outburst ("All the kids in Springfield are S.O.B.'s") was based on.

  44. Bill Says:

    See, Arslan, capitalism is the fundamental way men interact and is always transactional in nature – that means you don't have to buy if you don't want to; what it is not is a system like those that you suggest might be seen as opposites because those are political systems.

    We "conservatives" (how did you know?) like to speak in parables in order to help the little people understand what we're talking about.

    What does PROTIP mean?

  45. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    "See, Arslan, capitalism is the fundamental way men interact and is always transactional in nature – that means you don't have to buy if you don't want to; what it is not is a system like those that you suggest might be seen as opposites because those are political systems."

    Laughably incorrect. You took all this time just to come up with that crap? Capitalism is a mode of production defined by: the predominance of the market(unlike past modes of production, people must enter the market to survive), "free agents"(nobody owns anyone, there are no bonds between employer and worker), and of course, the role of capital(self-expanding value). Capitalism emerged due to a number of certain conditions, as a product of human development- but it has not existed eternally and it will not continue to exist as such.

    And I have a different idea as to why you speak in parables, because oversimplified folk-wisdom is the only way you can even begin to grasp complicated concepts.

    We "conservatives" (how did you know?) like to speak in parables in order to help the little people understand what we're talking about.

    What does PROTIP mean?

  46. Bill Says:

    Were you foaming at the mouth, Aslan, as you wrote your last comment? You remind a little of your compatriots in Wisconsin – get your way by being aggressive and intimidating? It would be interesting to know whether you're self-employed or not and, if you are, whether you get any repeat business at all. Or do you perhaps suckle at the teat of the State?

    I don't really care, Aslan; I know what works for me and so I think I'll take my ball and go home – metaphorically, of course.

  47. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Ok here we go..now it's the old "Oh you mean lefties are persecuting and intimidating us poor conservatives." Yes, back in 2001-2007 or so, the left was nothing but "limp-wristed hippies" who wanted to surrender America to the Taliban. Come 2008 conservatives would be shitting their pants as they compared ACORN to the Waffen SS. Non-stop contradictions on the right.

    For your information I am employed, though I hardly see how this detracts from the fact that you are here defending capitalism, while simultaneously not even knowing what it is. Good luck with the ignorance. I'm sure it will pan out some day.

  48. calinazaret Says:

    Arslan, why are you wasting you time?

    Also, does this mean we're going on the assumption that Glenn Beck is a genuine person? I have always found that hard to believe. Or maybe I just don't want to believe. I would much rather believe it's an elaborate act to make money . . . no one is really like that, are they?

  49. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    It is largely an act; radio DJs are supposed to maintain some kind of persona.

  50. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Ah, Westbrook Pegler. A trip down memory lane. One of the nastiest shits ever to comment on American politics. Basically, Rush Limbaugh without the sense of humor.

    Poster is correct that he got tossed out of the John Birch Society. Do you know how he lost his mainstream newspaper gig in the first place? Telling a gathering that the Jews who died in Nazi camps were all Communists. I doubt Beck will ever say anything that outrageous, but you never know.