I was watching some clips of ‘The Daily Show’ today, about Glenn Beck and his plan to hold a rally on the anniversary of, and at the site of, Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. For those of you not paying attention to American politics, this is causing a tiny bit of controversy, on account of how Beck is an unapologetic racist who is espousing philosophies that would make the non-violent King want to punch him in the crotch until his balls implode.
But here’s the thing: Beck and his supporters insist that he’s not racist at all, apologetically or otherwise. They might even pop up in this very comments section to do so. They insist that they’re all good, kind-hearted people who are just espousing principles of common decency and humanity, and the Evil Lib’ruls are trying to shut them up by making baseless, unfounded claims of racism that just happen to be supported by easily misunderstood video evidence.
They’re lying, of course. We know they’re lying, because we have the aforementioned video evidence. They know they’re lying, because there’s not a single person in the world who could be so utterly lacking in self-awareness and basic intelligence as to hold a giant rally for white conservatives on the anniversary of a famous civil rights speech, in the exact same place that speech was held, and not notice that there might be some sort of problem. Beck is being totally disingenuous and everybody knows it including himself, but Beck, like Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Malkin, and Ann Coulter, simply refuse to admit that they’re being disingenuous. They have decided that as long as they’re consistent in their denials, the truth of what they’re denying simply doesn’t matter.
And that sounded familiar to me, as I was thinking about how to describe the phenomenon for this column, and I finally remembered this post from the excellent blog, Kung Fu Monkey. (Please read it, I spent a long time looking through the archives for it. Then I got smart and just googled the keywords. But I digress…) What he describes there is the problem of shamelessness, and he describes it perfectly. Glenn Beck has no sense of shame. He doesn’t see any problem with lying, and confronting him on his lies is no use, because he will simply continue to lie. You cannot shame the man into admitting that he’s a terrible person, because he’s such a terrible person that he doesn’t care that he’s lying about being terrible. And he’s got a national TV show.
Now obviously, this isn’t going to last forever. Most of Beck’s sponsors do have a sense of shame, or at least can put a dollar amount on exactly how much they’re willing to sacrifice in order to support a shameless man, and they’re dropping his show in droves. And the remaining ones are being indicted for fraud, because while there are no laws about shamelessly lying on a national television program, there are laws about false advertising, and coincidentally most of the people still selling ad space on Beck’s show are turning out to be fraudsters. But when Beck goes away, someone else will take his place, because these guys have figured out the loophole in the system. Just deny it all. Even if you know you’re lying, even if they know you’re lying, deny it all. You’re not breaking any laws. The only way they can punish you is with social contempt, and you’re already beneath that.
John Rogers hit it perfectly. These guys have found the exploit that allows them to game the system of civilized conduct. That’s why irony is dead: Stephen Colbert and his fellow comedians are trying to make an absurd statement in a serious way, but all they can ever hope to do is match the stuff Glenn Beck is trying to say for real. You can’t even make fun of these guys, because they’re crazier than the craziest satirist’s dreams. All you can really do is hope that people get smart enough to see through their bullshit, and that’s a pipe dream.
Someone broke human behavior. We need a patch.