It was a day that wasn’t much – actually here in Hollywood just off the Sunset Strip it was a day to hide. It was Emmy weekend and although the big do – the awards show itself – was downtown and not in Hollywood at all, all the before and after parties were here at the fancy hip hot-spots along the Sunset Strip and down the hill at the Pacific Design Center. It made it hard to get around. Here’s the scoop if that sort of thing interests you. Does anyone watch network television anymore?
And this was also the weekend of the annual the Sunset Strip Music Festival – they shut down Sunset at the major clubs for two full days of loud rock, in the streets. You know – Slash, Smashing Pumpkins, Common, and so on. Ah well, the twenty-six ten-foot tall fiberglass Gibson Les Paul guitars – each made into a statement of some sort by a local artist – were cool. But for those of us who live on the quiet shady streets a block north of all this, this was just a bother. After almost twenty years here you shrug. America is an odd place, at least through the lens of pop culture.
But America is an odd place in general. In April, on a whim, it was a visit to Angelus Temple down Sunset in Echo Park – you know, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, where America’s first real celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson made it big starting in 1923 – see The Evangelist and The Parsonage for detail. The photos came out nicely, but Sinclair Lewis dealt with her best as the notorious and somewhat sexually disturbed Sister Sharon Falconer in his novel Elmer Gantry. That was amusing.
But Aimee Semple McPherson was a big deal – behind the scenes supporting William Jennings Bryan during the 1925 Scopes Trial. Bryan and McPherson had worked together in the Angelus Temple and believed Darwinism had undermined students’ morality, and they wanted to stop people from teaching that nonsense. It was all about getting America to return to God, and ending the dark days America had found itself in. It was an age of tent meetings, of revival meetings. It was an odd time, but this is an odd neighborhood.
But there is no hiding from the oddness. McPherson is long gone, but we do have Glenn Beck:
Conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck issued a Christian-themed call for a national rebirth of traditional values to a massive throng that gathered Saturday on the National Mall in a mostly nonpolitical twist on a tea party rally.
Conceived and promoted by Mr. Beck, the “Restoring Honor” rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial drew hundreds of thousands of people on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, also delivered at the memorial. Although the rally’s tone was heavily religious, its sheer size helped demonstrate the potential national influence of the tea party movement.
Sarah Palin spoke, but was easy on Obama. She told everyone in the crowd to pray more and serve God more. And of the crowd, that most pegged at about a hundred thousand, Beck said this – “They have come here to the Mall to stand with America and God” – and with him of course. He just wanted to end America’s “dark days.” But he didn’t explicitly say the problem is that we have a family of darkies in the White House, which is named that for a reason. He just did his Bryan-meets-McPherson thing:
I know that many in this country think I am a fearmonger. It is not a label I think applies. I do talk about frightening things. But I don’t think the man who saw the iceberg on the Titanic and said, “It’s an iceberg” was a fearmonger. He was warning the people on the ship.
Apparently it’s okay to call Obama an iceberg.
But some find all this disturbing, like Clive Cook:
Doubtless it marks me out as a member of the uncomprehending godless elite, but I find the popularity of Glenn Beck very hard to understand. Sarah Palin’s popularity, I think I do understand. However much of an illusion it may be – all politicians deal in illusions – she projects an appealing, proud, self-sufficient ordinariness that makes her a credible spokesman for many Americans. Beck sets himself up not as a spokesman as much as an inspirational teacher and guide, blackboard and all. There he stands, with the answer to everything, gravely propounding his theories of life, the universe and everything that surrounds it. Wrapped up in his own psychodrama, his self-regard seems limitless.
He strikes me as a huckster drunk on his own pitch, a true believer in his own cult, ready to hurtle off the rails at any moment – and all of this seems obvious. Yet he, not Palin, was very much the star of the rally in DC on Saturday. They love the guy.
Cook could be talking about Aimee Semple McPherson of course, and adds this:
I find Beck a tragi-comic figure. And as an atheist (I didn’t deny being godless) I do not thrill when a speaker says, “America today begins to turn back to God”. Quite a claim, that: Beck’s signature modesty again. At the same time, though, this gathering – as it turned out, far more of a religious revival than a political rally – was completely un-sinister. No anger, so far as one could see; no racism. Beck says his choice of date and venue was initially a coincidence, then an act of God; either way, he meant no disrespect to Martin Luther King. I had thought Beck did not believe in coincidences: arrows connect everything to everything else in his mental world. On the other hand, at the event, he praised King effusively as an American hero and sounded as though he meant it. Perhaps he was insincere; even so, an odd thing to say if you are addressing a quarter of a million bigots.
The truth is it was an enormously friendly, good-natured event. There were families with children everywhere, all smiles. “The event had the feeling of a large church picnic,” said the New York Times. The most political statement was on the T-shirts that said, “I can see November from my house.”
It was all very odd. Many on the left could choose to be outraged, but it was just odd. It was like Aimee Semple McPherson returning from the dead, with the help of Fox News, Dick Armey and the Koch brothers – see Frank Rich on those two sons of the John Birch Society. And the rabbi on stage was Daniel Lapin – the rabbi who laundered money for Jack Abramoff. And he stood next to Reverend John Hagee – the end-times preacher who said Hurricane Katrina should be blamed on gay people. Hagee also called Catholicism “the great whore” and said all Muslims “have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews.” John McCain welcomed Hagee’s endorsement in 2008 and then had to reject it as more and more of this stuff came up. This is restoring honor? John Walsh has all the details here. And she points out that “nothing terribly interesting went on at the Beck event.” Everyone had been denouncing the thing all week as a crass poke in the eye to Martin Luther King and generally tasteless. This forced Beck to revise his plans – organizers asked attendees not to bring signs, or the usual guns and whatnot.
The King thing was odd. Beck has said this – “We will reclaim the civil rights movement.” Huh? “We,” he added, are “on the right side of history.” After all, it was “we” who launched the civil rights movement “in the first place.” It seems that Beck’s notion is that everyone got King all wrong. King was a good guy – and that must mean that King hated the whole idea of social justice, and hated the idea of the government intervening to fix things, and hated labor unions, and would agree with him that Obama is a racist who just simply hates white people and white culture. How Beck got there is anyone’s guess.
See Dick Armey:
One of the things that we see as we look at Glenn Beck’s work that’s been fascinating to me, is we see a more true and accurate history of the United States, and we see it documented at levels of rigor that, in fact, one would expect out of Ph.D. dissertations – it is serious, scholarly work…. Liberal critics don’t have to argue with Glenn Beck. They have to argue with his documentation and they can’t match that level of rigor.
See Kevin Drum:
Somebody just shoot me now.
Or see Leonard Pitts Jr. explaining here that this isn’t just shameless nonsense – “It is obscene. It is theft of legacy. It is robbery of martyr’s graves.”
Dick Armey thinks Beck has this more true and accurate history to offer us, and Pitts thinks not:
Beck was part of the “we” who founded the civil rights movement!? No. Here’s who “we” is.
“We” is Emmett Till, tied to a cotton gin fan in the murky waters of the Tallahatchie River. “We” is Rosa Parks telling the bus driver no. “We” is Diane Nash on a sleepless night waiting for missing Freedom Riders to check in. “We” is Charles Sherrod, husband of Shirley, gingerly testing desegregation compliance in an Albany, Ga., bus station. “We” is a sharecropper making his X on a form held by a white college student from the North. “We” is celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Pernell Roberts of Bonanza, lending their names, their wealth and their labor to the cause of freedom.
“We” is Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, Cynthia Wesley, Andrew Goodman, Denise McNair, James Chaney, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, shot, beaten and blown to death for that cause.
“We” is Lyndon Johnson, building a legislative coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to defeat intransigent Southern Democratic conservatives and enshrine that cause into law.
And “we” is Martin Luther King, giving voice and moral clarity to the cause – and paying for it with his life.
The we to which Glenn Beck belongs is the we that said no, the we that cried “socialism!” “communism!” “tyranny!” whenever black people and their allies cried freedom.
The fatuous and dishonorable attempt to posit conservatives as the prime engine of civil rights depends for success on the ignorance of the American people… This, then, is to serve notice as Beck and his tea party faithful gather in Lincoln’s shadow to claim the mantle of King: Some of us are not ignorant. Some of us remember. Some of us know very well who “we” is.
And, who “we” is not.
Well, that’s righteous and all.
And expect CNN to cover this new controversy. Did Martin Luther King publically and vehemently oppose the Voting Rights Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and repeatedly argue that the government should stay out of it all and just let people be free to do what they want? Did Martin Luther King repeatedly call the whole notion of social justice a crock and a communist plot? Did King often just come out and say people should stop picking on George Wallace and Bull Connor, who were just defending their honorable and traditional way of life? Would King be an avid and enthusiastic Tea Party Republican were he alive today? Beck says yes, others say no, and news outfits like CNN don’t take sides – everyone gets their say.
There’s not much to say to this. Straight news organization cannot just say this or that is preposterous – that’s bad form and unprofessional slating of the news one way or the other. Kevin Drum is right. But there was not much to say to Aimee Semple McPherson either. Yeah lady – whatever you say.
No wonder people were confused, as Mark Benjamin reports:
Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on Saturday was big and white and agitated. But in an informal survey of attendees, it was difficult to pin down what exactly motivated them to come to Washington, many from far away.
“I am here because of America,” Ann Gardenhour told me, adding that the purpose of the rally was to “remember America.”
What, she’s been thinking she’d been in Holland all this time? Actually it’s hard to see what see meant by that at all. Maybe it means something. Maybe it’s some sort of code.
And there’s more at the link, with video:
Gerald Chester, a truck driver from Elkhart, Ind., said he came because of Beck. “What he is about is a good thing, restoring honor,” Chester said. “Bringing God back into Americans’ lives is important.” When asked what attendees should do to accomplish this, Chester replied, “That’s a good question.”
He hadn’t thought of that. And there are these:
Kristine Sullivan said she was “here to take back America. I want it back. I want our country back.” She said the purpose of the rally was to encourage people to vote for “whoever is up there to support the American people.”
Alexander McGhee said he was “afraid of where our country is going.” He said people should “do absolutely everything and anything they can possibly think of that might further the cause of restoring honor to this great nation.”
“I believe in God and I think that Glenn Beck does, too,” was Joe Sheerau’s explanation. He said Beck is “trying to bring back what made this country great” and that he fears “a force in our society and in our culture that is trying to marginalize what made this country great.”
It was pretty generalized, and vague:
At the rally, a Beck-narrated video displayed on the massive screens attempted to co-opt King’s story, calling attention to the supposed similarities between King’s struggle and Beck’s own vision for the future. In her speech, Palin wrapped herself in “the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” The audience members I spoke with didn’t mention race at all, just a broad concern about America.
They’re unhappy, about something. They feel it. But that’s about it. Aimee Semple McPherson made a career, and a fortune, on these people.
Steve Benen offers this overview:
Movements – real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time – are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change – transformational change that sets nations on new courses – is more than vague, shallow promises about “freedom.”
Labor unions created a movement. Women’s suffrage was a movement. The fight for civil rights is a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for. Their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect.
The folks who gathered in D.C. today were awfully excited about something. The fact that it’s not altogether obvious what that might be probably isn’t a good sign.
But it is a sign that nothing much changes over all the long years. There are important movements. And then there are those who get a thrill and a lot of fame, and may obtain a lot of power, by leading those who are uneasy and want to be led, to nowhere in particular.
But of course we understand that out here in Hollywood. We’re in the business of leading the culture nowhere in particular for fun and profit. And right now Smashing Pumpkins is playing something or other far off in the distance, and the streets are full of limos as the awards show is now over. It’s probably best to shrug, and hide.