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Glenn Beck’s “Revolutionary Holocaust”: Goebbels Meets Madison Avenue

Reported by Alex - January 25, 2010 -

A saying attributed to Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, goes like this: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. The original author is actually Adolf Hitler himself, writing in Mein Kampf:

…In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily… (Adolf Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X)
On Friday, Jan.22, Glenn Beck aired his much-touted (by him) documentary, Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die, in which he attempts to link the horrendous violence and mass murders of 20th-century totalitarian states to modern progressivism. It was just another facet of an ongoing Big Beck Lie that Goebbels himself would have been proud of. With video.

Wearing his eyeglasses, presumably to lend himself an air of intelligence and credibility, Glenn Beck adopted the persona of the serious researcher whose sole concern is to discover the truth and alert the general public to the dangers of what he has unearthed. What he actually presented was a mash-up of cherry-picked well-known facts, video clips and out-of-context quotes designed to scare the living bejayzus out of his audience and then, having made us suitably vulnerable, to deliver the message that “Some government is necessary. Too much is suicidal. Every all-powerful government has elements of what Marx called the “revolutionary holocaust” - the relentless pursuit of nirvana and the price it’s worth paying to get there in human life…”

Okay, we all know that. So what’s Beck’s problem? Let’s use some wingnut logic, drawing on this documentary and Beck’s long history of calling progressives “Communists” :

- The Nazis made common cause with the Soviets during World War 2
- The Soviets were Communists
- Therefor Nazis were really Commies.
- Hitler was a Nazi
- Nazis were Commies (established above)
- Therefor Hitler was a Commie.
- Hitler promoted universal health care;
- American progressives promote universal health care
- Therefor American progressives are Commies and/or Nazis and the heirs of both Hitler and Stalin.

Of course, this example works only if we ignore a few pesky facts like these:

- Stalin convinced the people of the Soviet Republics that they were living under Communism, when in fact they were living under totalitarian Bolshevism (Google is your friend, folks) which reviled liberalism and ideological communism.

- The pact between the Nazis and the Soviets was an uneasy, utilitarian truce which ended when the Nazis invaded Russia

- Government-funded health care programs, including universal health care, can be found in over 35 countries, many of which are democracies.

Damn facts, always wrecking a good story. But unfortunately, we humans tend to like stories better than facts.

Beck’s presentation is pure Madison Avenue meets Goebbels. On the Mad. Ave. side, we have the Ten Rules For More Effective Advertising. Just substitute "video" for "ad":

If a thing is done wrong often enough, it becomes right, and as a result, volume becomes a defense to error.

1. Does the ad tell a simple story, not just convey information?
2. Does the ad make the desired call to action a part of the story?
3. Does the ad use basic emotional appeals?

Experiences that trigger our emotions are saved and consolidated in lasting memory because the emotions generated by the experiences signal our brains that the experiences are important to remember.
4. Does the ad use easy arguments?
"Jumping to conclusions" literally gave our ancestors an advantage even when the conclusions that made them jump were wrong because delaying actions to review information could have deadly consequences. Easy arguments are the conclusions people reach using inferences without a careful review of available information.
Find and use easy arguments that work because it is almost impossible to succeed when working against them.
5. Does the ad show, and not tell?
"Seeing is believing" and "actions speak louder than words"
6. Does the ad use symbolic language and images that relate to the senses
People prefer symbolic language and images that relate to the senses. People are far less receptive and responsive to language and images that relate to concepts.

7. Does the ad match what viewers see with what they hear?
8. Does the ad stay with a scene long enough for impact?
It takes people between eight and ten seconds to process and produce a lasting emotional response to a scene.
9. Does the ad let powerful video speak for itself?
10. Does the ad use identifiable music?

These rules take into consideration consumers' out-of-conscious processing systems.

You may already have watched the clip below as part of Aunty Em’s excellent post about Beck’s documentary earlier today. Now take a look at the clip again and see how many of the Ten Rules you can identify:

Beck’s hour-long presentation is a surprising departure for him since it actually contains some facts. But its pretense to intellectualism is farcical: once again Beck’s viewers are being told what to think, and by exclusively right-wing and libertarian (hel-loooo “fair and balanced”!) guests including far-right-pundit-masquerading-as-historian Jonah Goldberg. Never mind the truth – just feel the fear!

Some professional historians had these things to say:

* "No one in their right mind is going to defend Stalin or Mao or Che Guevara…The implication is that this is what's going to happen if Democrats get their way. This is just a complete lie." - Clemson University professor Steven Marks, author of "How Russia Shaped the Modern World
* Beck "lives in a complete alternative universe." - Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life at Boston College.
* “A classic piece of anti-Communist propaganda…State inhumanity — under different economic systems — is a terrible fact of history, and, yes, Communist regimes were among the worst of them. But Beck is only interested in ‘exposing’ inhumanity on the left. And that's why his film is propaganda.”- Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University

(In the interests of being fair and balanced, other comments in the Politico article praised Beck for his “solid research” and willingness to tackle the popular “myths about Che and Mao”. The author also tells us that Fox News declined to return his request to speak with a network exec about the program).

The anti-intellectualism of Glenn Beck is well known, which is why his pretence of intellectual engagement with history - in the service of right-wing rabble-rousing – is doubly abhorrent. Beck, following in the footsteps of Tom Paine (in this if not in other matters) and Joe McCarthy, knows that one of the best ways to win a public argument is to claim to be on the side of “common sense” and the average Joe and Josephine Soap, regardless of the logic or truthfulness of the argument, and against “experts”, “eggheads” and “intellectual elites” (as long as they’re liberal, of course.) (Read a great article about “common sense” and American politics here.)

Hitler and Goebbels knew this too. They also knew that a populace with a well-rounded education would be more likely to ask pesky questions.

Adolf Hitler:

* "Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.”
* "I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men.”
* "All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it."

Joseph Goebbels:
* “Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state...”
* “Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character”

Karl Rove:
“As people do better, they start voting like Republicans—unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” (Oooops! How did he get in here!?)

Beck’s suposedly big-deal documentary was, as Aunty Em has pointed out, more of the same old, same old. He said nothing that was new to most of us, had many of his facts straight (if cherry-picked, conveniently leaving out facts that might counter the thrust of his argument) and resisted the temptation to openly demonize the Obama administration. All in all it would seem prudent to shrug our shoulders, chalk it up to Beck being Beck, and say “move along, nothing to see here”.

But the devil is in the continuing repetition of the theme of Nazism, which Beck has used so often in connection with Obama and contemporary progressivism, and the newly overt connection he tried to establish between Nazism, Communism, and Progressivism (Right is now Left, and Left is wrong). As silly and disingenuous as it all may seem to those of us familiar with political theory and the history of the 20th century, I would hazard a guess that many if not most people in the US have forgotten more than they ever learned about those topics in school (and why not - most teachers made it so boring!), and don’t have the tools to deconstruct his arguments. So Beck’s fans think he is smarter than they are, better informed than they are, and more alert to the danger lurking in our midst than they are. To them, Beck is the canary in the coalmine. He is Paul Revere. He informs them, thereby protecting them from the machinations of the Evil Left and preparing them to gird their loins for the apocalyptic battle for the soul of America that so many of them seem to believe is on the way. As Hitler put it in Mein Kampf,

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation [than the facts]. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down - a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

Beck's Big Lie may be transparent to some of us, and some among us may still see Beck as nothing more than a far-right nutcase, but his madness has the weight of time-tested and proven methods behind it. My gut feeling is that those of us who value honest discourse, progressive values, and a just society, laugh him off at our peril.