What Life Was Like

Maudlin showman Glenn Beck has the blogosphere yapping over a new schlocky spiel that features saccharine eulogizing for a mythical lost era of innocence and sweetness. In a popular YouTube clip from last Thursday’s show, Beck is seen tearing up repeatedly while fondly remembering “what life was like” during “simpler times.”

The insidious nature of nostalgia is on full display here, since Beck’s rose-colored glasses help him forget what life was really like back then. Like most sappy trips down memory lane, Beck’s “life back then” is an ache for his childhood days — ie, late ’60s and through the 70s. Which is what makes his sentimental jibberish confusing, amusing, and sad. When we hear Baby Boomers pine for “the good ol’ days,” they usually have the supposedly-desirable days of the ’50s in mind. I think the clip has gained notoriety for portraying as idyllic two of the most controversial decades in US history. This is the era of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre; of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; CIA-backed dictatorships and assassinations; peak oil in the US and massive inflation; race riots and the slayings of R.F.K. & M.L.K. Jr. We had Watergate, the introduction of AIDS, passage of Roe v. Wade, and the start of the culture wars, etc ad nauseam… For anyone, especially a Republican, to claim (albeit with a hollow recognition that everything “wasn’t perfect’) that this was a “simpler time” is just laughably ignorant.

Based off the commercials he referenced, Beck is particularly wistful about 1975 through 1979. You know, the beautiful days of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter (a man who characterized the period as an age of malaise). Beck is kitsch personified, but there’s sadness here too. The Coke/Joe Greene commercial aired just 4 months after Beck’s mother mysteriously drowned in Puget Sound. Perhaps that provides better context here, even if Beck might’ve been unaware of this dark connection when he focused in on that specific ad.

The ads, of course, provide further reason that this clip is so revealing: Beck’s remembrances are inexplicably tied to consumerism; and here, of course, he’s not alone. In postmodernity, corporations have not just co-opted our nostalgia, but re-written our recollections in order to almost entirely structure them around advertising & branding. Our memories are mediated by the images that pop culture has stamped onto our collective consciousness. Notice the layers here: a commercial sells a product by appealing to an idea, then decades later a demagogue sells an idea by appealing to a product. Or rather, the manufactured mystique of a product carefully designed to sell a lifestyle. And that lifestyle is still persuasive today, a lifestyle unhinged from spiritual, political, economic, and social realities in a mad dash for unbridled consumption of goods to satisfy our every whim.

And after all that pulled from two-and-a-half minutes, Glenn Beck graciously treats us to a nonsensical extended metaphor about some straight-edge dude who went to a crazy party. This part is ironic, of course, because Beck hasn’t historically been one to ever avoid hard drugs & alcohol, with or without a party to do them in (well, at least until he converted to Mormonism).

5 thoughts on “What Life Was Like

  1. I’m older than Glen and I don’t remember any “simpler” times. I also disagree that America was more united years ago…perhaps in 1776 ?? I lived thru the Vietnam debacle, and believe me, America was NOT united. What a bunch of drivel from Beck!

  2. Addendum: I was reading more today and found another angle on the constant emoting:

    Finally, Beck’s oft-ridiculed penchant for punctuating his tirades with tears is the hallmark of a distinctly Mormon mode of masculinity. As sociologist David Knowlton has written, “Mormonism praises the man who is able to shed tears as a manifestation of spirituality.” Crying and choking up are understood by Mormons as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. For men at every rank of Mormon culture and visibility, appropriately-timed displays of tender emotion are displays of power.

    This is from “How Mormonism Created Glenn Beck” by AlterNet’s Joanna Brooks.

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