Glenn Beck's Christmas Sweater Live Broadcast: A Rude Review (Updated Again):
The Rude Pundit would rather have his balls waxed by a beautician with hooks for hands than have to sit through Glenn Beck's performance of The Christmas Sweater again. While recognizing that Beck's daily ear and eye mauling on radio and TV certainly have an effect on his perception, the Rude Pundit can say that, based on everything he's seen of or read by the man, Glenn Beck is one of the most despicable human beings on the earth who does not have the power to decide life or death. A truly just God would have buried him up to his neck in dense shit and then sent a plague of flies to lay eggs in his head.
Which, come to think of it, is not unlike watching The Christmas Sweater. This is not merely a response to Glenn Beck or his "politics" (the quotation marks will be explained later); the Rude Pundit must see at least 100 plays and performance pieces a year, as well as having done his own one-person show thing (and, you know, having a PhD in this shit). But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The idea of The Christmas Sweater, as promulgated by Beck, is that the "media giant," as his promotional video modestly calls him (he'd say it was a joke, you can be sure), is that the conservative talk show host is going to reveal "my greatest shame." Instead, what Beck did was write a novel about a young boy and said sweater. That led Beck to create and act in an elaborate one-man show, with a small orchestra, video, and the obligatory large black woman singer, one performance of which was simulcast and "rebroadcast" several times to movie theatres around the country last Christmas, which leads to this year, when Beck staged The Christmas Sweater: A Return to Redemption last night at the Skirball Center in New York before a live audience, with simulcast at movie theatres around the country (and a re-broadcast next Thursday).
Here's what Beck promised for the show: "Before a live audience, Glenn will tell you about the real life events that inspired him to write The Christmas Sweater, and he’ll share stories of the overwhelming response he received about the how tale’s message of redemption literally changed people’s lives, bringing many back from the brink of collapse and restoring family relationships. Then, Glenn will show a brand new, re-mastered and exclusive version of The Christmas Sweater taped live during his 2008 cross-country tour. Afterward, Glenn will introduce you to some of the people who were touched by the story, and through inimitable interviewing style you’ll experience their intimate journey of transformation through the simple gift of redemption."
The show itself started 15 minutes early, with Beck talking to us in that passive-aggressive, aw-shucks, fuck-you-wanna-punch-him-in-his-pudgy face voice of his, about how great his story is and how the economy sucks. Then we get a few minutes carols sung by a second-tier black choir (apparently, in Beck's world, only black people can sing Christmas songs), the first having bailed on him when someone pointed out that they'd be singing for Glenn Beck. After a brief, teary intro by the man himself, revealing that one year he had to buy Christmas gifts for his kids at CVS, and gesturing to some very uncomfortable-looking people sitting on the stage, he tells us we're gonna watch the video from last year. It should be mentioned here that this cost 20 bucks.
You can get an awesome summary of the story at Dave Holmes's place. Short version: a 12 year-old boy named Eddie lives in some ridiculous parody of an idyllic Americana town right out of the Disney garbage bin. Eddie's dad is dead, his mom works a couple of jobs, and it's Christmas time. Eddie wants a bike, Mom gives him a sweater she made, Eddie throws it in a corner, Mom is sad, they drive to Grandma and Grandpa's farm, Eddie's a dick the whole time, they leave early, they get into a head-on collision, Mom dies, Eddie ends up living with the grandparents, he meets a mysterious filthy old ranch hand named Russell who wants him to accept that shit happens, Eddie's prick grandpa shows him the bike he would have gotten if he hadn't been such a douchebag, Eddie steals the bike and runs away, he crashes in a corn field, he curses Jesus, he sees a giant storm heading his way, he's scared, creepy Russell walks out of the cornfield to get Eddie to walk into the storm, Eddie does it, he ends up in a field of flowers, it turns out Russell's God or Jesus or something, Russell-God-Jesus-or-Something tells Eddie he has to face his storms, Russell disappears into light, Eddie wakes up in bed on Christmas morning with his mom still alive and he gets a re-do of the day. There is much crying.
Beck's performance involves lots of throwing himself on the floor, rolling around, doing stereotyped voices for every character, and crying, to the point that at some point it becomes a parody of crying. That would probably be when Beck is fetal on the ground, sobbing while the fat black woman sings something. Al Pacino at his most scene-chewing, barking mad would look at Beck and say, "Too far, motherfucker, too far." Oh, and he uses a teleprompter:
The script itself (and one presumes the book) is so vilely calculating, conceived to parade every possible cliche' in front of us, that, if Beck were a smarter man, it might seem like some Andy Kaufman-esque prank that mocks the audience for believing there actually was an America in the 1970s, when this takes place, where kids rode red bikes and said, "For Pete's sake" and "Golly" and "This is the bestest Christmas ever" (that's not a joke). It's like he took every overused Christmas story element short of a Grinch, tossed it into a blender, and then threw in a bleeding Jesus doll.
The Christmas shit is fine, bland, whatever. But when the story gets into redemption mode? That's when it goes bugnuts. Beck's image of the swirling storm that represents life's challenges and the urgings of Russell are the stuff of sub-Joel Osteen hope-mongering. And it left the Rude Pundit wondering, "What's that skeevy fucker up to?" Beck's put himself into the role of motivational speaker, about how once you face the storm in your life, you can heal or some such shit. Fuck him. Read Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant new book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive-Thinking Has Undermined America. It is like a wrecking ball to this entire heal yourself movement.
But, mostly, Beck is a fucking liar, a con artist, and a sociopath. After the video of his sweaty, slobbering, sobbing performance, Beck cries and tells us that his publisher made him change the ending to have Mom come back to life. How does the Rude Pundit know Beck is lying? If all that choking up and crying is real, this fucker is dangerous to himself and others. Besides, he's got a fucking tell. His pause just before each time his throat catches. It's consistent and exactly the same each time. No one cries the same way every time.
But that's not the worst of it. Put aside for a moment that the entire enterprise was a two and a half hour infomercial to make us buy his goddamn book. The lies just start to pile up. Beck told us he was going to reveal the truth behind the story. But he doesn't. He teases us with the notion that "elements" of it are true so that people watching it conflate his story with Eddie's. But that's another lie, a lie he doesn't dispel at all. He's not Eddie, his mom didn't die on Christmas, his parents got divorced - death is less messy than divorce, no? - but Beck is consciously tricking his audience into believing a story that is as much a fantasy as It's a Wonderful Life. Beck's redemption wasn't an overnight transformation in a cornfield when he was 12. It was actually years of work to overcome alcoholism to be the dry drunk, hateful maniac he is today.
And nothing is below him to ennoble his fucking lie of a story. Here's the worst part (yes, there is a worst part): The last segment of the evening was Beck showing us videos of the stories of people he says were "inspired" to face their "storms" by reading The Christmas Sweater or hearing Beck's voice. No, really, one guy was said he was heading into a drug store to get sleeping pills to off himself; then he heard Beck speaking, and it caused him to fall to the street sobbing and not kill himself (although public degradation is fine). These people are a former heroin addict (who got serious about doing drugs on 9/11), a breast cancer survivor, and the aforementioned suicidal guy. Their stories are highlighted with quotes from the book about, you know, facing storms. They were brought out to a couch to vouch for the greatness of Beck and the sweater. Each of them said they're glad they suffered, glad they were addicted to drugs, glad they had breast cancer, because of what it taught them about life. Whether or not such lessons might have happened otherwise are never part of this equation.
But the fucking con job is completed in a sloppy way. For there's one other woman. She is there to illustrate getting past loss. See, one Christmas day, she, her husband, and their 3 year-old daughter were riding to the grandparents' house when they got in a collision with another car, killing the husband and little girl. The woman went through a long recovery, but she decided to live her life to the fullest, doing things her little girl loved, like learning to ride horses, and she devotes her life to rescued dogs. It's actually quite a lovely tale. What does Beck's book have to do with it?
Fucking nothing. The accident happened in 1986, while Glenn Beck was a nobody jerk-off DJ, and Beck had nothing to do with the woman's "redemption." In other words, Beck was looking for someone who had lost someone in a car accident on Christmas Day just like Eddie in order to illustrate some fucking point in his awful story. In other words, it's a lie to prop up his other lies.
That cynicism, that utter contempt for humanity and suffering, that ability to freely exploit the awful events of others, that is what Beck does. Whether it's about God, the nation, or your pain.
Update o' Fun: If you want to read the Rude Pundit's live-Twitter musings from last night while watching Beck, go to http://twitter.com/rudepundit. Scroll down, go back, enjoy.
Update o' "Politics": The Rude Pundit was called away before he got to finish this point: The word "politics" is in quotation marks because there are no real political foundations behind Beck's beliefs. He spouts a vague, nebulous form of nationalism without grounding in any real world policy (except a complete set of lies about what the Founders wrote). It is governance-lite; or, more accurately, it is anarchy. His religious beliefs, as exemplified by the fictional story of Eddie, are devoid of actual Christian suffering and redemption. It's faith without much more work than a good therapy session. In other words, he has no beliefs at all, other than to suck your wallets dry, but he disguises that fact in words, words, words and tears, tears, tears.