The Overton Window Review

Cecil Marcos
Book Review

“The public has lost their courage to believe. They've even given up their ability to think. They can no longer even form their opinions, they absorb their opinions, sitting slack-jawed in front of their televisions.” ~Glenn Beck, p. 42, The Overton Window, apparently written without irony

The role of Tearful Cherub of Reactionary Paranoia probably leaves limited time for clicking through literary web mags, but judging by the 300+ pages of flag-waving masturbation that constitute The Overton Window, Glenn Beck strikes me as the kind of guy who'd be tickled to see his book trashed in an outlet called KGB. It'd line right up with the fantasies of secret police and tyrannical cabals that crowd the novel, his second after 2008's The Christmas Sweater. The Overton Window graciously offers multiple avenues for such a trashing.

I could, for instance, concentrate on the outlandish prose that wallows in clichés like “the woman of his dreams first caught his eye” or my favorite, “These liberated chestnut curls framed a handsome face made twice as radiant by the mysteries surely waiting just behind those light green eyes.”

Alternately, I could shred Beck & Co.'s (the cover page confesses that the book features “contributions” from three other writers) consistent talent for arbitrarily poking holes their own plot, but it looks like Media Matters beat me to that one.

Every critic loves to write a curb job, and sometimes they can even be fun for the reader. (This takedown of Sex and the City 2 from earlier in the summer left me slightly in love with Lindy West.) Unfortunately, though, we live in a country where we can't relegate the weepy, lying shit-stain that is Glenn Beck to the entertainment trash bin along with Carrie, Samantha, et. al. A large, sad segment of America takes him seriously.

The Overton Window — this ridiculous turd of a novel — sold 132,000 copies in its first week, and most of the Beck-faithful who read it are going to trust Glenn when he writes that this is a work of “faction,” meaning it has a “plot rooted in fact.” While I'm not going to pretend that his ideas are serious or well considered, Beck as an entity needs to be taken seriously because his specter is enough to boss a cabinet official into senselessly firing a smeared woman. So I read his crappy novel to peek into the terrifying America that Beck and his followers think they live in. That way, I might be able to protect you from the displeasure of having to sludge through it yourself.

Let me hammer out the requisite plot summary. Our hero is Noah Gardner, a “puckishly amusing” ad man “with all the bona fide credentials for a killer eHarmony profile.” Noah falls for mailroom clerk/Tea Party crackjob Molly Ross, a young lady who possesses “an aloof and effortless hotness” and has “all the goodies ... in all the right places.” Molly is a member of the Founders' Keepers — a crew that combines the “politics” of the Tea Party and the clandestine tactics of the RAF — and Noah is quite taken with her fanaticism even though her raison d'etre appears to be lying to him and putting his life in danger. In a terrifically unshocking twist, Noah's own father — PR god Arthur Gardner — turns out to be heading some sort of a Wall Street cabal to strip us of our freedoms, because of One World Government and Saul Alinsky (Beck apparently thinks every Gordon Gekko on in Lower Manhattan keeps a library of radical activist classics). Hi-jinks ensue, a nuclear bomb explodes, Molly tricks everyone into thinking she's Natalie Portman, and the fight for the sanctity of our republic — or something — continues.

Got that? I fear that I made the book sound more exciting than it actually is. The murders and guns and fights with police are relatively rare and punctuated with long didactic asides that don't add up to anything coherent and consistent enough to be called a philosophy. Ayn Rand was a vile narcissist and a tone-deaf writer, but she offered points that a reader could dissect, analyze, and agree or disagree with (or one point, really: capitalism kicks ass!). It's not so much that Beck's points are illogical; it's that he puts no effort into making them. In fact, the message of The Overton Window is closer to that of the undirected paranoia of Thomas Pynchon (provided, of course, you strip Pynchon of his insight, humor, intelligence, and any other redeeming qualities). 

Conspiracies are woven into the material Beckian reality, and the whole malevolent fabric is designed to smother freedom, vaguely defined, for reasons that are never fleshed out. The dichotomy of oppressor and resistance movement is a funhouse mirror reflection of how the most idiotic and self-righteous elements of the New Left saw themselves in 1960s and 70s. Beck's bellyaching over Bill Ayers during the 2008 election is almost funny in light of The Overton Window.

If you swapped Mao for Jefferson, the Founders' Keepers would be tough to distinguish from the Weather Underground. Both groups are obsessed with what they interpret as the collusion of corporate (capitalist) interests and a corrupt government. Both paint their enemies in broad, disingenuous strokes, defining them as evils worth eliminating no matter the duplicity, lies, and even human danger involved in doing so. Beck can rant about Obama's “connections” to “domestic terrorism” all he wants, but then he asks readers to sympathize with a character who handcrafts his own hollow-point bullets in an apartment just blocks from the townhouse where three Weathermen blew themselves up with their own bomb in 1970. (Hollis, the big friendly bullet-maker described earlier in the novel as resembling Winnie-the-Pooh, waxes poetic about his homemade ammo, comparing it to “a nice, warm cookie fresh out of the oven, that your sweetheart cooked up just for you.”)

Beck, of course, couldn't have you think that he's hoping to incite violence, so he concocts a subplot about a popular right-wing rabble-rouser named Danny. After realizing that his overzealous rhetoric has inadvertently inspired some folks to — remember, this is the Glenn's idea of “faction” — fucking nuke Harry Reid's Las Vegas office with the complicity of the US intelligence community, Danny atones by bravely sacrificing himself to save Sin City. Further, one of the book's more noble characters exhorts an audience to “renounce anyone who suggests violence” (i.e. Glenn Beck is trying to cover his ass in case of more incidents like this).

But at bottom, Beck strains to tether his fictional world to our own (to the point of giving a cameo to that old “horndog” Eliot Spitzer), and in this world, the government is happy to turn its 28th largest city into a mushroom cloud to consolidate power.

This is Glenn Beck talking out of both sides of his mouth. If a government were really ready to go Hiroshima on its own populace, would it be sensible to “renounce anyone who suggests violence”? Of course not. Beck doesn't even believe that. But if his audience isn't terrified, they won't watch.

In “A Note from the Author,” Beck reassures the reader that “the scenarios I create ... are entirely fictional,” but with a solemnity that is either affected or demented, he states, “Let us hope they stay that way.” It's the same slimy tactic he pulls on his show. He's not saying you're a terrorist. He's just asking questions here. He's not saying conservatives should turn to violence. He's just valorizing a group of ammunition-crafting fanatics and suggesting that the government and Wall Street would literally kill you if they could get away with it.

I could go on and on with examples of this double-talk bullshit. He blabbers about the “diversity” of the Founders' Keepers, but every character that he finds worthy of a name is identifiably white. He praises Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, but bastardizes their message by pretending social justice and, yes, socialism were not fundamental to it. We get a lecture about how those who love this country want to “restore” rather than “transform” it, with nary a thought given to the fact that this logic suggests Bull Connor loved America more than Rosa Parks.

Beck and his followers are a co-dependent pair. Stinging from an ugly economy and a massive flogging at the polls in 2008, Beck's largely white, thoroughly conservative audience is desperate to know how they lost control of a country that was so seemingly “theirs” in the Bush-Hastert-Frist era. So with the imagination of an especially wimpy child, Beck invents monsters where there are none: death panels, the Black Panthers, and the New World Order. His audience is salivating for these simple explanations that leave themselves blameless. It must be easy to blame your anxieties on mustache-twirlers like Obama and Arthur Gardner who are all set to tie Lady Liberty to the railroad tracks.

The take home message of The Overton Window is probably not a revelation. It's that Beck is either so comfortable with lies and duplicity or so unmoored from reality that he has abandoned any gestures toward intellectual honesty. He twists facts and disassociates himself from the disturbing conclusions that his own assertions beg for. And he disrespects his audience enough to think they won't get wise to his aggressively obvious bullshit. Sad thing is, he's probably right.


Cecil Marcos

Cecil Marcos invented Animal Collective for his eighth grade science project. Panda Bear is a ventriloquist sock puppet worn on his left arm when he gets bored on the weekends. Aside from pioneering the luxury sundial industry and being named Georgia's All-State high school quarterback in 2003, Cecil is one of the nation's most accomplished recumbent tandem bicyclists. Time Out New York describes his bicycling performance as "virtuosic ... a must see. Like Lance Armstrong playing co-op Mario Kart with God." In his free time he enjoys watching Friday Night Lights while absently flipping through old issues of the Financial Times Weekend Supplement.

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