YEAH THAT'S RIGHT
We're doing this again. And we're reading The Overton Window, written by Glenn Beck, acclaimed author of The Christmas Sweater and professional right-wing shouty-man.
Didn't I just declare last year that my old let's read format was kind of mean-spirited and Not Good Actually? Yes I did, but I offer the following counter-arguments (to myself):
- I'm bored and I need an easy project to work on
- It's Glenn Beck
- Shut up, that's why
Before embarking on this, I had to do some research on Beck because I spent more than a decade thinking him and Alex Jones were the same person. I deliberately don't want to know too much about the guy going into this (it's more fun to extract his views from the book), but according to my in-depth sleuthing, he's not quite on the edge of the rapidly-advancing fringe of right-wing American thought--apparently he didn't like Donald Trump at one point, although he seems to have flip-flopped on that a few times. On the other hand, he once compared the teenage victims of Anders Breivik to the Hitler Youth, so, you know, there's that.
Now, Beck has kind of been sidelined by what passes for the conservative mainstream. He doesn't seem to have jumped aboard the whole alt-right bandwagon, and I get the feeling that a new generation of blowhards with bad opinions has comprehensively replaced him. So why devote an entire blog post series to him now, when there are fresher targets to go after?
None of those people wrote an infamously-terrible political thriller. As soon as Peter Bannon does that, I will be all over it.
Before we get to the main event though, I thought it would be fun to dissect something else Glenn Beck wrote as a sort of aperitif. Thankfully, he provided a handy list of his "core values" in the form of the "9/12 Project", which was some sort of effort to restore America's godly values (Beck is a Mormon). Most of them seem like dog whistles for more controversial opinions, but I'll have a go at answering them in a relatively serious way before we get to the funsies. Take it away, Glenn!
This, I feel, is at the core of a lot of Americans' warped thinking (and I'm not just talking conservatives here). When we decide whether some entity or organization is good or bad, we should look at that entity's actions and make our decision based on whether those actions are good or bad. Beck's attitude is completely reversed: America is good, therefore the things America does are good as well. This includes things that other countries would be roundly condemned for, as their moral value is contingent rather than innate.
I've got no argument with this one, except to caution that religious belief doesn't make one moral or a good person on its own. Many religious people--even moderate religious people--use their beliefs to justify doing horrible things. Making everyone in the world follow a particular religion (or no religion) wouldn't solve the world's problems.
Another unobjectionable point, although it's hypocritical of Beck to make this one of his core values when he's frequently caught lying in public.
No one should ever have unchecked power over another person, for any reason. A cursory google search will bring you to countless horror stories from people whose parents decided they were the "ultimate authority" over their kids. The dynamics of the traditional nuclear family are inherently susceptible to abuse; there needs to be an external force providing some sort of oversight, with the power to remove children from an unsafe environment if need be. If Beck doesn't think the government should fulfill this role, I'd love to hear his alternative.
This is another major glitch in American thinking (and this time it is mostly the right wing at fault): conflating aspiration with reality. Ideally, the justice system should be blind and impartial. Instead of enacting laws and policies to try and make it that way, conservatives simply declare that it already is and will refuse to concede otherwise; examples of obvious injustice are just random anomalies in an otherwise-perfect system, not evidence that the system itself is flawed.
Now we're getting Spicy. This is another one of those viewpoints that assumes a perfect system that doesn't actually exist; namely, it assumes we live in a perfect meritocracy, such that any individual's failure to achieve something is always and solely due to their own lack of effort or merit. This is so obviously false that believing it can only be explained by either willful ignorance or a massive disconnect from how ordinary people live and operate.
Depending on Beck's particular brand of conservatism, this could be a condemnation of anything from particular types of foreign aid to the very idea of taxation as a whole. I'm guessing it's actually a veiled jab at public healthcare and education. I have no response to this, except to say that I don't know how to convince you that you should care about other people.
Indeed. And yet, so many conservatives seem to just love authority as long as they get to be the ones in charge.
It is true that the government should function for the benefit of its citizens. Yet at the same time, a government that kneels before its citizens without question is a tool of oppression, as this power will be wielded by those with the most influence and social privilege. This can easily lead to a tyranny of the majority situation, where people hijack government power to control the lives and actions of minorities and vulnerable populations. Just as there must be things a government can't compel its citizens to do, there must be things citizens can't compel their government to do.
And there we have it! We've comprehensively demolished Glenn Beck's core values and defeated American conservatism for all time, well done everyone.
...Oh right, the book.
Let's start off with the cover. As you can see, it's got a big ol' Statue of Liberty on it--much bigger and closer to the Manhatten skyline than it is in real life (people who haven't seen the thing personally tend to drastically over-estimate both points; it's way smaller and further from the shore than it's typically depicted in fiction). I'll overlook it for the sake of artistic impact, and I have to admit that this is actually a pretty well-designed cover, which is a rarity for thrillers in general.
The inside cover diplomatically describes the book as written by Glenn Beck, with "contributions" from three other people. Beck has been very open about the fact that The Overton Window was ghost-written, although he claims he came up with the whole premise and the outline of the story (there's apparently some suspicion around this, as one of the ghost-writers previously wrote a novel with a very similar plot).
Next, let's take a gander at the synopsis, which I've lightly edited to convey the publisher's intended mood:
A plan to destroy America, a hundred years in the making, is about to be UNLEASHED! . . . can it be stopped?!
There is a powerful technique called the Overton Window that can shape our lives, our laws, and our future! It works by manipulating public perception so that ideas previously thought of as radical begin to seem acceptable over time! Move the Window... and you change the debate. Change the debate... and you change THE COUNTRY.
Noah Gardner IS a twentysomething public relations executive! It’s safe to say that political theory is the furthest thing from his mind! Smart, single, handsome, and insulated from the world’s problems by the wealth and power of his father, Noah is far more concerned about the future of his social life than the future of his country!
But all of that changes when Noah meets MOLLY ROSS, a woman who is consumed by the knowledge that the America we know is about to be lost forever! She and her group of patriots have vowed to remember the past and fight for the future—but Noah, convinced they’re just misguided conspiracy-theorists, isn’t interested in lending his considerable skills to their cause!
And then... THE WORLD CHANGES!
An unprecedented attack on U.S. soil shakes the country to the core and puts into motion a frightening plan, decades in the making, to transform America and demonize all those who stand in the way! Amidst the chaos, many don’t know the difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy fact—or, more important, which side to fight for!
But for Noah, the choice is clear: Exposing the plan, and revealing the conspirators behind it, is the only way to save both the woman he loves and the individual freedoms he once took for granted!!!
COMING THIS JULY TO THEATERS WORLDWIDE! WATCH IT IN REAL3D!!!
Anyway, the book itself opens with an author's statement declaring that the story is deliberately bipartisan and critical of the democrats and republicans equally, which is an attempt at even-handedness that will only work on Americans who equate party affiliation with political ideology (sometimes they're the same thing, but not always; a person can detest the republican party because it's not right-wing enough, rather than because they're more left-wing).
Then there's a Thomas Paine quote. After the prologue there's another quote, from Woodrow Wilson. This book seems to have a lot of quotes.
We open on Eli Churchill (there's no way that name isn't supposed to be significant), who's using a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave desert.
Eli is in the process of revealing the villains' sinister plot to someone named Beverly, who I assume is a journalist, when he gets spooked by a sound.
Why do people in stories like this always go somewhere really remote and secluded before they blow the whistle on the bad guys? If you thought someone was out to eliminate you, wouldn't you avoid places with no witnesses, where your sudden disappearance could be passed off as an accident? I'm sure people go missing in the Mojave desert all the time for non-conspiracy related reasons.
I was initially skeptical of the idea that there'd be a phone booth in an area this isolated, but apparently there was, in fact, a booth located in an extremely remote part of the Mojave Desert. I'm guessing this is the one Eli is meant to be using, although it was removed in 2000 (The Overton Window came out in 2010, which makes me wonder why Eli is using a phone booth at all).
But that just raises more questions about why he'd drive all the way out into the middle of the desert to make this call. If the bad guys have the ability to tap the public phone system, then it doesn't really matter where you make the call from, they're still going to listen in. And if they're following you (spoiler: they are) then you're just leading them towards a convenient corpse disposal area. Wouldn't it be safer to meet this Beverly person in a nice crowded Starbucks, where he could just give her the big folder full of conspiracy evidence he apparently has?
Predictably, Eli only manages to tell Beverly just enough about the plot to be tantalizingly mysterious, but not enough to actually stop it or reveal the story to the audience:
Donald Rumsfeld did indeed say in 2001 that 2.3 trillion dollars was unaccounted for. It sure would be a shame if Beck based the whole premise of his novel on this, only for it to actually be a mis-interpreted quote based on a misunderstanding of how the financial system works.
In the fictional world of The Overton Window, this money is actually missing-missing, and our boy Eli knows where it went.
I thought this was building up to FEMA concentration camps, but apparently Beck has rejected that particular conspiracy theory.
Regardless, I'm curious about the idea of the bad guys creating a new "social structure" out of whole cloth. Social structures and practices are very hard to change deliberately unless you've got an outright totalitarian society, which America, despite what a lot of conservative pundits like to claim, isn't (give it a few years though and we'll see).
Eli goes on to say that the economy is being set up to collapse, with the idea being that the villains will swoop in and reshape America so thoroughly that "a generation from now almost nobody will remember what this country used to be." Gosh, I can't wait to see what the bad guy vision for America will be! Tax-funded schools and healthcare for all, it will be pandemonium I tell you!
And here comes the first big red flag. "Controlled media" is a huge anti-Semitic dog whistle, used by people who want to suggest that The Jews are manipulating the world through the media, without just coming out and saying that.
To be fair to Beck, some people use the phrase without that context, like conservatives who complain about liberal bias or David Icke, who thinks that the media is controlled by humanoid reptilian aliens (and has repeatedly insisted that this isn't a metaphor, he really is talking about space lizards). We'll have to see where the book goes with it. If he starts talking about "international bankers", we'll know for sure.
Beverly finds all of this very interesting and says she wants to meet Eli, even though journalists (if she is a journalist) probably get phone calls like this several times a month. But before that can happen:
Hey, that was kind of a witty way to end a chapter. Credit to whichever one of the ghost writers came up with that.
So why did the assassin turn on his laser sight to make Eli turn around? Is the back of Eli's head bullet-proof or something?
And what is it with thrillers specifying the caliber of bullet someone is using? Is this a cultural thing? Do Americans stand around on the beach chatting about hollow point jackets? A .357 could be a tank shell for all I know.
Tune in for the next installment, where we meet twentysomething PR executive Noah Gardner and a hot woman he sees at work.
Disclaimer: As with all my recent blog projects, how much and how often I can write these posts will depend on the vagaries of my ongoing neurological condition. I cranked this post out in a day because I was feeling better than usual; that will likely not be the case going forward.