Urine trouble!: American Masters, with Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly | Bleader

Urine trouble!: American Masters, with Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly

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Noted postmodernist Glenn Beck
When Americans went to the polls earlier this month to select their new leader, I shared in their concern about what the postelection season could look like. As a "writer," what would I do at work all day long if I couldn't spend my time making lowest-common-denominator jokes about lowest-common-denominator politicians? Thus began a search for meaning.

Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly faced the same problem and have reinvented themselves as cultural critics. Glenn Beck heard about the guy who submerged the crucifix in a container of piss and, 25 years later, formulated his rebuttal: he would relieve himself in a jar and stick a little dashboard Barack Obama in it, and deem it art, and explain the project in a rambling disquisition in which he'd repeatedly cite the men's "ding-a-lings" that are so prominent a feature in the annals of Western art. Was this "provocative," as Beck intended? No, it was far too weird to provoke. It read, like any given public appearance by Ann Coulter, like a nuanced, multilayered performance piece, a send-up of a send-up of a send-up: satire so long dead that it had to be revivified, just so Glenn Beck could kill it again. The jar of Beck's piss sells for $25,000. "A fear of sex this latent but pronounced makes for a fantastically charged visual paradox," the art critic Jerry Saltz observed of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, on real television (these days Beck lends his gravitas to something called Blaze TV), Bill O'Reilly discovered "Gangnam Style" and brought onto his show an expert—a psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, MD—to dissect its significance. "This fellow . . . Psy, P-S-Y," Ablow said, "is tapping into the fact that people don't want any meaning right now. The most popular music apparently is that without intelligible words." He meant Korean, a language common to Psy's native South Korea, as did O'Reilly when he compared the viral hit to the music of Elvis Presley. "Elvis Presley could sing. He had a good voice. His songs had words" (in English). On the other hand, "The Internet is a place where people . . . want to numb themselves, to some degree."

Ablow picked back up this Yeatsian thread. "Globally, folks are losing their center. They want not to be reminded of what they think and feel, but more conveyed away from it."

A moment later: "It's the same as getting high, in miniature." What's getting high in miniature—getting low? Anyway, O'Reilly knows about that.

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