Tuesday, June 15, 2010


(Edit: Stripped out all the terrible formatting that was turning quoted paragraphs black. I hate the span tag sometimes.)

Wait just a goddamn minute. Beck's latest book, the one that's apparently a paranoid "Turner Diaries" fantasy about some future America that is run by them horrible libruls...

...is actually about the Overton Effect?

Beck has been exercised for some time over a concept called the Overton Window. Under this theory, put forward by public policy expert Joseph Overton, the public is willing to consider only a few ideas or scenarios as reasonable -- those are the ones that reside within the window. Radical notions remain outside the window, unfit for serious debate. However, in some cases, powerful forces can move the window, allowing for consideration of extreme ideas. And this is why Beck picked up his pen -- to warn readers that disregard for the Constitution is becoming acceptable, is creeping into the window, and must be resisted.
So, uh, is Beck a reader or something? Because while the Overton Window is an incredibly important concept in political science, it's not exactly ominous. Hell, the greatest example of the Overton Effect at work is Beck himself, as he's taken a lot of completely crazy shit into the "mainstream" by repeating it ad nauseum and giving it a prime-time platform.

(Like, say, the whole crazed militia fantasy book genre.)

In a foreword, Beck notes that his thriller belongs in a category called " 'faction' -- completely fictional books with plots rooted in fact." He attaches an afterword of nearly 30 pages that contains citations to references in the story: information on the financial bailout, unemployment, measures to ensure government operation after a disaster and the like. He laces his plot with these facts in the same manner he employs them on his TV show, to lend credence to his fantasy of a nefarious government scheme to subvert the Constitution.
"Faction". Amazing. It's like he knows what words are, but is just unclear on what they do.

Glenn, if you are a reader, then let me help you out. What you've written is speculative fiction. Either fantasy or science fiction, depending. It's not a straight-up thriller, because those are rooted in the present-day, and despite your fantasies, America isn't on the verge of some librul takeover. That you researched things is meaningless; Isaac Asimov researched the holy hell out of his books, but I don't have a starship, do you?

Asimov isn't the appropriate comparison, though:

The suspense of "The Overton Window" comes largely from wondering when the thrills will begin. There's the obligatory prologue murder, but then the pulse of this novel flatlines. In place of thrills, we get entire chapters in which characters lecture on the rightness of their viewpoints.
Yep, he's basically rewriting Ayn Rand. Is he EVER rewriting Rand. Yes, there's maybe a pinch of Clancy and a touch of the aforementioned Turner Diaries.  He's trying to use speculative fiction to sell a viewpoint, though, and he's doing a hamfisted job of it. That's Rand through and through.

The ironic part about all this is that for all that he's railing at the Overton Window, this book is an example of trying to shift the Overton Window. He's clearly trying to change the boundaries of acceptable discourse using this book. As I said above, he's doing everything he can to turn the ideas of the paranoid right-wing fiction genre into mainstream American thought. You'd think that he would be a bit concerned at the implications of that, considering that the genre—as typified by the Turner Diaries I mentioned—has a tendency towards the unbelievably racist. The End War that these books are forever discussing is almost inevitably a RACIAL war. You might think that Beck would have an issue with that.
But, then again, Beck's the guy who was steadfast in his praise of a Nazi just a few weeks ago. He really, really loved a book that contained this:

...few years, under the opportunities of the American government and the inspiration of Christianity, the American Negroes have acquired professions, property, banks, homes, and produced a rising class of refined, home loving people. This is far more remarkable than that many Negroes are still backward. The Reds play upon the Negroes' love of their own people and represent them as persecuted in order to inflame them against the very white people who have in reality given the colored race far greater opportunities than their fellow negroes would give them in Africa today. [page 36]

...[S]peakers for the debasing and degrading Hindu, Mohammedan, Pagan, and Agnostic Cults are placed in "fellowship" and on an equal footing with speakers for Jesus Christ. The audiences chant a mixture of prayers and ritual from all of these. The savage Mohammedan call of the muezzin as heard in darkest Asia is mingled with the propaganda of the Hindu, Jew and agnostic. Negro choirs and performers give an interracial touch to the meetings. [page 152]
Perhaps he doesn't have an issue with right-wing racism at all. I'm thinking that it suits him just fine.

1 comment:

  1. I am as surprised and amazed as anyone at Beck's use of the Overton Window and this contribution to the theory of moderation.

    I have spent the last year wondering if the people of America are really as daft as Beck treats them...and they apparently are more then that.

    He actually named his book after the theory that he has utilized to turn the American Right into the a true fascist regime with the Tea Party effectively being the Sturmabteilung... I came to realize that Beck may very well be a genius. I think the best comparison would be to Steve Martin. Only a genius could have done The Jerk... and it seems like only a true, manipulative genius would have the foresight to act like a neo-conservative fascist idiot, make millions of dollars doing it, and move the entire political dialogue so far Right that Reagan and Thatcher would be considered Socialists.

    The other sad effect is that, those of us who actually study politics, and enjoy it, have become totally marginalized. :(