The Glenn Beck—Britney Spears Connection

by Randy Shaw on April 8, 2011

Glenn Beck and Britney Spears made big news this week, though their media-driven careers are in different stages. Beck announced on April 6 that he would be leaving his FOX News show by the end of the year, while that same day found Spears returning to the top of Billboard’s charts for the sixth time with her latest album, “Femme Fatale.” Beck and Spears are both creations of a media environment that rewards outrage and scandal over talent and intelligence, and then punishes those it promotes for lacking such attributes (also see Snooki, Jersey Shore). While the media finally backed off on Spears when it became clear that her mental and emotional disabilities were real, it continues to promote Beck’s unhinged apocalyptic rants (a gender double standard also applied to Charlie Sheen). Just as the media brought Spears down and then promoted her resurrection, Beck’s departure from FOX will sets the stage for a widely heralded career rebound in which his problems are “put behind him” and his opinions given renewed credibility.

The Media Promotes Dysfunction

In Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 visionary film, Network, Peter Finch plays news anchor Howard Beale, who in the course of suffering an emotional breakdown becomes a national sensation by asking viewers to stick their heads out their windows and shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.” Glenn Beck clearly modeled his career after Beale, who in the film gained his own show that quickly became the top-rated.

When I first saw Beck’s act on CNN, I could not believe that he was allowed on any national network, particularly one that claimed to have editorial standards. But Beck soon became a national icon, with his racism, sexism and anti-immigrant attacks accepted by the mainstream media as part of his “populist” appeal.

Beck’s “talent,” what separated him from the pack, is engaging in bizarre behavior that would get him fired from almost any job outside the media or entertainment world. Like Snooki, he rose to fame precisely because people cannot turn away from a train wreck. Such unpredictability, the sense that you never know what Beck will do or say next, and better, that even he does not know, drove Beck to the top.

But as always happens, Beck’s act turned stale. His ratings fell, advertisers fled, and the time came for a career redirection.

And what is Beck’s roadmap for revival? Look to Brittany Spears.

Spears’ Back on Top

Has any singer ever achieved greater success with less singing talent than Britney Spears? Spears’ music career exploded through the media’s hypocritical sexualization of teenage girls, and of her emerging at a time when MTV videos still drove album sales.

And what did the media do after it made a young woman with minimal singing skills the top seller in her field? They brought her down with a cruel vengeance that only stopped when she lost custody of her kids, exposed herself in a taxicab, and was order to undergo psychological counseling.

But now Spears is back. Although Femme Fatale has gained mixed reviews, it rose to the top of the Billboard charts this week with 276,000 copies sold (her prior album in 2008 had 506.000 first week sales).

Most importantly, the media attacks on Spears have largely ceased. Like the “new” Richard Nixon in 1968, all of Spears past sins are forgotten as the media now trumpets her fighting back to overcome her problems.

She is a survivor. And there’s nothing the American media loves more, which is why as much as it hated Nixon it enabled him to promote his “survivor” identity all the way to the presidency.

Master showman Beck understands these lessons. He has set himself up nicely for his own “comeback,” a resurrection that will soon have him defined as exhibiting the greatness that is the American fighting spirit.

Beck’s misogyny and racism will be forgotten, and the record of past sins scrubbed clean. Like Spears, he will not regain his former heights, but he will secure at least a decade more of book sales and highly paid entertainment gigs.

Who knows? Maybe will see the two of them join Snooki for a national tour that, given the success of Sheen’s events, will likely produce sellouts.

Randy Shaw is is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century, and

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