Category Archives: Culture*

Question [Glenn Beck] With Boldness

This is not a post about all talk-radio hosts, nor about the left’s entertainer/newsman Jon Stewart (an interesting comparison to our subject), nor about the theology of Mormonism, nor on how many people attended the Restoring Honor rally, nor about the proper separation of church and state, nor even about how to use the tools of modern media to fullest advantage – as our subject certainly does.

It is about media personality Glenn Beck: where his culture war is taking him, and whether or not we should be along for the ride. More than simply one of many news sources, Beck has quickly gained an intensely devoted audience. Respected, God-fearing friends of mine have a “shrine of Glenn” at their home, full of his books and materials. To his credit, Beck tells his audience continually to question with boldness – so, I am.

I once was part of this crowd. “Here’s a guy who gets it and knows how to speak to today’s audiences,” I thought, never missing his radio show for months. Upon closer observation, Beck’s subtle flaws became clear.

The buzz around Beck has gotten so big, let me address a larger audience. As I am committed to both evangelical Christianity and political conservatism, you may question whether my views are dangerous or wrongly balanced. Perhaps they are sometimes.

Here’s the thing: for many Americans, Christians among them, politics and public policy is a habit picked up every four years or so. Others of us study and think about these ideas everyday because it’s part of our job or calling. If you’re in the former group, especially if you lean more to the left, God bless you. We trusting in the same Father matters more than sharing political ideology.

You may not like this blog though. Ask me sometime why I see politics from the lens of conservatism. For now, “Just smile and wave, boys, just smile and wave.”

Back to where we started… What Beck wants is for you, Mr. or Ms. Conservative, to watch his show; my case is why you should do so with a very critical eye, or not at all.

Conservatives must learn to reason and debate well, which won’t happen if we play it loose with reality (political or otherwise), if we never question simplistic arguments, and if we marry spiritual and political activism in a passionate, emotional fling.

But before the crit, a word on Why is Beck so incredibly successful?

My theory: he is a very talented entertainer, and he is the ultimate coalition-builder.

The entertainment factor gets people in the door – the funny voices he does, witty banter with his producers, soaking a guest with gasoline, and a hundred other things. Beck started as a radio DJ, bicycle horn on-air and all. Today, he still plays the part, though it’s a tongue-in-cheek humor sensitive to not offending his increasingly faith-based audience. As writers tell me humor is the hardest thing to do well, Beck talking four hours on-air daily is no small feat.

In terms of rallying folks to his cause, look no further than those involved in the Restoring Honor rally. From James Dobson to Bishop Harry Jackson, from Rabbi Daniel Lapin to Jerry Falwell Jr., conservative religious leaders are lining up behind Beck like he’s the second coming of Billy Graham. In short: Beck out-Palins Palin. Unlike her, his fun-to-watch programs also bring in edgy libertarians, economy-minded centrists, and right-leaning politicos motivated by many diverse issues.

Influential leaders are among Beck’s fans not only due to his magnetic personality; Beck truly enjoys people and believes each person has unlimited potential.

How could such a funny, outgoing guy – seemingly doing a world of good – create trouble?

1. Glenn Beck Plays it Loose with Reality

Working in a Congressman’s office gives you a new perspective. Today, more so than Limbaugh, Levin, Hannity or Dobson, it’s good ol’ Glenn Beck who generates the highest number of calls to Capitol Hill… usually on bogus issues.

A prime example of this is HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010. Now, the issue of Puerto Rico’s past and future status is quite complex; dig into this 54-page CRS report if you’re curious. This latest bipartisan bill was designed to give the citizens of Puerto Rico a path of self-determination, laying out a long process of possibilities.

Beck boils it all down to the caption of this video: “Call your Congressman or get ready to sew another star on the flag”:

Politics is, by nature, boring and complicated. It’s easier if you color every political issue with red and blue crayons then tell people, “OK, blue is the bad guy.” As long as he’s getting top ratings, Beck has no qualms about miseducating his audience on conservative ideals… not to mention breaking every basic principle of journalism.

To understand how this came to be, look back at how Fox News started with a journalist on a culture war. Like him or not, Bill O’Reilly spent years as a reporter at ABC News. Sure, he has an ego, but O’Reilly is fair and he understands the big ideas of our time. Then Fox ups the ante. To capitalize on anti-media sentiment, why not give a prime-time slot to an “average Joe”? Enter Glenn Beck.

Whereas the purpose of journalism is to inform, Beck’s is to entertain. In this case, a real news outlet would follow-up: “HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, passed the House, here’s where it stands now…” After working his audience into a frenzy over this issue, Beck went right past explaining the bill’s next steps; he just pulled another rabbit out of his hat.

One rabbit Beck keeps tugging on is the need to “go back to simpler times,” to return to the virtuous and untainted past of America’s yesteryear. The problem is, such a time never existed in real life:

WATCH: Best segment ever produced on the ‘Nostalgia’ argument of the right

And the rewriting of history leads us to a related problem…

2. Beck Marries Spiritual and Political Activism – in a Fling of Emotion

I was surprised by what I found at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally. It wasn’t a political event: no signs, no chanting, no get-out-the-vote closing directive. Social issues like abortion were mentioned only in the margins, primarily by Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; trying to censor her remarks would have been disrespectful of the day.

Yet the overall tone of the event was not just reverent: it was downright evangelistic. As I looked out across over 300,000 people (that’s according to a friend I spoke with days later at the National Park Service) gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, anyone could tell: Glenn Beck owns the Christian right. These were church-going, family-raising folks who saw something in this heavyset shock-jock that inspired them to drive across the country and be counted in his crusade.

What did they hear? Stirring music, the soothing voice of Glenn Beck, mixed with some interesting proclamations: “Our hope is based on our founders” … “We can either look at our scars, or let our scars redeem us” … “It is up to us”… and a lot of statements that began with, “There was a time when…”

For Glenn Beck, emotion (laughter, tears, anger, fear, nostalgia) trumps reason and facts every time. He reaches similar conclusions to orthodox Christianity, but how Beck gets there is not in keeping with the words of Christ: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God cares about us using our minds fully for Him. Beck is so good at playing an emotional trump card, you don’t even realize it’s happening.

I can’t deny Beck and those he champions say much that is true. Not only politically, but also about the intersection of faith and government, about family as a central social institution, about respecting our fellow man, about natural law undergirding legislative powers. In fact, they get so much right that Beck is now accorded the status of a prophet in many circles.

Which is where many well-meaning people get derailed. “That Glenn Beck, we need to pray for his protection everyday, the enemy is out to destroy his prophetic voice,” the head of an international ministry told me privately.

Do pray for Glenn Beck, seriously. Just recognize this man is an entertainer who makes no secret of that fact.

3. Beck Trips Up on His Own Ego

My life journey has, for whatever reason, placed me very close to large, influential organizations who grew to critical mass proclaiming our role on the “frontlines of defending truth and right”: Oral Roberts University, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the Republican Party… I could go on.

Each organization has recently faced far-reaching scandals. Most have regained balance in their mission and learned something in the process (jury is still out on the latter).

Why am I telling you this? In each case, we were so caught up in the bubble – the internal culture and excitement of being part of something “good” and bigger than ourselves – that we missed warning signs our leaders’ words and actions were telegraphing to us. Implicit trust in these leaders, without thought of accountability, created a stage upon which their ego had free reign.

Ironically, the one commentator who applied this most purely to Beck said it directly to him on-air. On the Glenn Beck Prayer Podcast (yeah, that really exists), James Robison spoke a message from Isaiah 50 – urging America to “Begin to walk in God’s light, instead of our own light.”

James Robison (Life Outreach International) on Glenn Beck Prayer Podcast – Aug. 25, 2010

Listen carefully to Beck. Even with his move from newsertainment to “inspirational” programming, count how many times in an hour he tells his audience to sign up for his subscribers-only service. Consider how much e-newsletter space is devoted to mocking anyone who criticizes him. And, in his three-hour patriotic love letter to his vast conservative faith-driven audience, where does Beck draw a line between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God? Erasing those lines, muddling theology for millions of Americans, does not line up with the Gospel.

If we platform Glenn Beck as a religious leader, we are setting up new Christians to be sorely disappointed by their patron saint. Result: even more people bitter at Jesus Christ and His followers. Though only in my twenties, I’ve seen this movie many times – the ending is a real downer.

In conclusion

Not only have I been part of Beck’s audience, sometimes I still am. I love a good laugh, and I always get it with Glenn Beck: often at his jokes, sometimes at his inconsistencies.

He's not really a Professor - Beck just plays one on TV

We could all learn something from this singular entertainer about the importance of sharp humor, being transparent about past problems, and taking bold actions based on your beliefs. Not to mention how to master technology and multiple media platforms.

But if it’s cogent political analysis, cultural commentary, or (good heavens) anything coming close to Bible teaching, thankfully, we have so many better sources to turn to.

Happy Holy Days!

I am a bit surprised by Christian groups who engage in the “War on Christmas” campaign. Perhaps if someone presented a clear case for why only “Merry Christmas!” is a valid greeting, I could be convinced otherwise.

Five reasons why “Happy Holidays!” works great as a Christmas greeting

1) Holidays = holy days. Look at the etymology, there’s nothing secular about this greeting. In addition to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, many consider Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve to be “holy days” – days set apart to share in thankfulness to God with close friends and family.

2) “Happy Holidays” respects Hanukkah. Because I respect that Jews observe their religious festivals, and I use the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” in discussing America’s heritage of faith, it seems appropriate to honor their celebration of eight consecutive days of gift-giving in December. Note that the observance of Hanukkah predates when the world began celebrating Christmas.

3) Followers of Jesus should not reinforce stereotypes of being pushy and overly vocal about non-issues. Christians already have a long track record of taking inappropriate actions in the public square: money-for-healing schemes on Christian TV, racial discrimination in churches, Pat Robertson’s remarks about assassinating the leader of Venezuela… the list goes on.

I do not equate the “War on Christmas” with those various scandals/offenses. What I’m saying is those actions came from not thinking through the consequences of speaking for God in mainstream culture. All those offenders perhaps had good intentions, but they harmed Christianity long-term. Surely being salt and light as Jesus exemplified doesn’t look like a pushy PR campaign insisting that the fallen world take certain actions to mollify believers. That seems and sounds wrong on so many levels.

4) The campaign to force the use of “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” is actually a crass commercial itself. After Bill O’Reilly began achieving huge ratings in November and December whenever his cable TV show covered the “War on Christmas,” the marketplace began to take notice. The religious marketplace, that is.

As WORLD Magazine stated recently in an editorial, and I can confirm having worked for a ministry that sold these “Wish Me a Merry Christmas” trinkets – promoting this campaign to Christians leads to hefty sales of low-cost, high-priced promotional items. So rather than spending your limited giving budget on meaningful gifts or charity that could make a difference, it goes toward a self-perpetuating, largely pointless campaign.

5) Tax-deductible resources that Christian donors give for charity and public advocacy would be better used elsewhere. In DC, there is a great awareness of political capital and its limits: an organization or office can only devote time, effort, energy, public reputation, and funds to a select few causes. Otherwise, your message gets very muddy and confusing – very fast. True stewardship calls for using these valuable assets on significant causes like preserving human life or strengthening traditional marriage.

With his research staff and vast audience to provide story tips, Bill O’Reilly will certainly find a few examples of blatant religious liberties abuses in searching nationwide for juicy stories. All the best to O’Reilly in righting these perceived injustices.

Since Fox News is “looking out for the folks” on this issue, the question becomes: should religious non-profits be in the business of fleecing the flock by drumming up more outrage? Or is the message of Christmas something completely different, without a fundraising component to it?

Of course, it’s a free country and organizations will do as they please. But if I see this “War on Christmas” as nonsense, maybe other 30-something-and-younger Christians do too. And we’re tuning out the self-appointed judges of retail and media.

Your thoughts? Always interested in hearing facts or perspective I’m missing…

Who doesn’t love Amazon?

Following their no. 1 ranking for Customer Service in BusinessWeek‘s annual survey, made the short list in the Marketer of the Year honors from Advertising Age. The write-up briefly gives 5 lessons everyone can learn from Amazon’s consistent success. The full Ad Age section has insights from Hyundai (2009 Marketer of the Year) and other runners-up.

You know who won AdAge’s 2008 Marketer of the Year? That would be Team Obama. And it makes a lot of sense: it was marketing, not substance, that won the day in Election 2008. It is vital that conservatives work to understand new media, marketing tools and strategy that the progressive movement is using so well. Amazon teaches us that it’s really fairly simple to create good marketing.

P.S. Of course, I always have a sizeable Wish List at Amazon <– click to check it out.

Don’t be a Troll

Marketing guru Seth Godin just posted a slice of wisdom about “trolls,” the sort of person who visits and comments on blogs – but only has interest in tearing down the author and/or his work. Good advice to anyone who’s blogging.

My philosophy on commenting is that I try to be civil, even if the writer seems totally off their rocker. At bare minimum, you can end a comment with: “Thank you for providing this forum for ideas to be discussed freely.” Because increasingly blogs are not allowing comments (including Seth Godin’s) due to the lack of civility among trolls.


A review of Prince Caspian

I have had the good fortune to work with some folks at Disney, to help promote the new film Prince Caspian. It was especially cool to attend a special screening of the movie in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, a few days before the theatrical release.

My contact at Disney asked if I could send any thoughts about the movie the next day. Here’s the gist of  my notes, a review from a few different perspectives:

As a moviegoer who loves fantasy and great stories—

** Incredible! The screenplay, directing, and landscapes were much richer and more interesting than the first Narnia film. Prince Caspian is a film I will watch many times.

** Except: It was strange plotting that Peter’s pride was never dealt with. His castle raid led to the deaths of many Narnians, and I was surprised that neither Aslan nor anyone “reprimanded” him for his selfish strategy. Perhaps a scene was cut that would’ve addressed this better?

As a member of Focus on the Family’s Narnia campaign team—

** Many true messages and moments of spiritual insight. A powerful metaphor for where modern culture is, and calling for return to the good that once characterized it.

** Except: The level of violence concerned me. It really pushed the PG rating, in my opinion. I expect Focus may get backlash from some parents, who take their 5, 6 or 7 year-olds and find it too intense (if families read the Plugged In review, they will be warned). I’m not sure my mom will like the film for this reason, though she loved the first Narnia film.

As a fan of C.S. Lewis—

** Wow, Reepicheep was awesome. The characters were accurate to Lewis’ vision, the Narnian creatures richly detailed, and the visuals stunning. It was wonderful to see his story come alive.

** Except: The film is a significant departure from the novel. The story structure, with its added set pieces, gives you a different impression than the novel—like Narnia is a warring culture, which is debatable. Peter and Caspian’s rivalry was interesting, though the Caspian/Susan relationship is something (as Edmund said) I don’t understand.  : j

There you have it. Ultimately, a very fun time at the movies for me, and families with older kids.

Two links to leave you with: Interview >> Star Ben Barnes says the Telmarine accent he created is inspired by the Spainard Intigo Montoya in The Princess Bride >> Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet is collecting reviews and articles that show how the movie Prince Caspian “botches the meaning” of C.S. Lewis’ novel

Your thoughts on the film?


p.s. the marketer in me forces me to mention… if you want to enjoy a version of Prince Caspian that’s much closer to C.S. Lewis’ novel, check out Radio Theatre’s Prince Caspian audio drama. ok, the commercial’s over.