Glenn Beck’s ‘Christmas Sweater’: A Viewer’s Guide
The Christmas Sweater may seem to be the same kind of run-of-the-mill holiday tale of redemption and hope that we see every year about this time. But considering that the climax involves right-wing talk-show host Glenn Beck, in the guise of a 12 year old version of himself, crying on the stage floor in the fetal position while a large black woman sings hymns to him, I think it might leave viewers with a few more questions than the usual family fare.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer my services. Being True/Slant’s resident expert/masochist regarding Mr. Beck’s artistic side projects, I was naturally drawn to the multiplex to check out the live-action version of his debut novel. I also convinced my wife to accompany me to the show, and I’m thoroughly confident that she’ll start speaking to me again by at least the beginning of next week. I can’t answer all of these questions, but maybe seeing your confusion in print will help calm your inevitably shattered nerves.
1. Why Does It Look So Damn Cheap?
Glenn Beck is a lot of things, but hurting for money ain’t one of ‘em. He reportedly pulls in around $18 million a year from live events and his TV, radio, and book deals. So why does the production budget of The Christmas Sweater look like it topped out at 11 bucks and change? I’ve seen small-town Christmas pageants with better production values than this thing. OK, so there’s a small orchestra onstage and a singer to add an extra layer of schmaltz to the ‘story’ from time to time. But the only real value they bring is the joy in watching their pained expressions while Beck mugs and shuffles beside them.
The bulk of the evening consists solely of Glenn Beck acting out every role in his hokey story, with only his limited repertoire of accents and pantomime filling out the ‘cast’. Sure, there are a few TV’s behind him on stage, but they only show, at the most, ten or twelve still photos the entire time. And they couldn’t even get that right. Despite only needing a few sound effects, I counted several missed cues, and near the end, Beck talks to the wrong camera for a solid minute. I’m at a loss as to how someone so media-savvy could put out something so aggressively half-ass.
2. How Can One Man Expel That Much Liquid From His Body?
If Barney Frank and Michael Moore ran a marathon train session on Rush Limbaugh, I doubt it would produce the amount of sweat Glenn Beck expels in five minutes. Not even counting the words coming out of his mouth, I’m amazed at the amount of disgusting stuff that exits this guy’s body on stage. Spittle, sweat, and tears ooze of out of him constantly; I think I counted four shirt changes in an hour and a half. Nipples, shoulders, neck, stomach: every part of Beck’s body is a soldier in his sweat army. I was in constant awe at Beck’s inability to stay even moderately dry for more than two minutes, and my perpetual scanning for new leaks to spring probably meant I missed some gems of wisdom to share with you, and for that, reader, I apologize.
3. What The Hell Was the Point of All That?
OK, so I guess I have to do a capsule summary of the utterly ridiculous story at the heart of The Christmas Sweater. Keep in mind all roles are ‘performed’ by Glenn Beck.
Eddie – a 12 year-old kid that is/isn’t supposed to be young Beck – is traumatized when his father kicks it at an early age, and quickly becomes an ungrateful twerp to his newly-widowed, now-poor, mother. Posing young Glenn Beck as a nasty, petulant little shit is probably the only believable part of the whole narrative. So, anyway, little Eddie wants a shiny new bike for Christmas, but the family’s heavily reduced income puts the kibosh on that plan. Cue the saintly single mother’s knitting skills, and soon enough the titular sweater sets the whole saccharine scheme in motion. Obviously, like most spoiled kids, Eddie regards handmade as almost as lame as second-hand, giftwise. He tries to feign gratitude for the sweater while at the grandparent’s house, but does a piss-poor job of acting (foreshadow of Grown Beck?), and Mom nixes their plan to stay the night there since he’s being such a brat. She decides to drive them home, in the rain, despite being pretty tired. See where this is going? Yep: Smash Crash Mommy Go Bye Now.
Now Mommy and Daddy can hang out in Heaven! Except, oops, now little Eddie doesn’t believe in it, or God, anymore. A more accurate title would’ve been Little Glenn Beck’s Atheist Summer, but something tells me the marketing guys would’ve 86’d that. So, Eddie’s now living with the grandparents, hating God, and just generally acting like an all-around insufferable twit. Almost out of spite, he befriends a mysterious farmer neighbor, Russell, who, like most of the adult characters, speaks exclusively in cornpone cliché. But forget that guy for a second, because Grandpa’s ‘bout to drop a bombshell. They bought Eddie his bike!
Or they did, back at Christmas. But Eddie was being such a jerk about his other gifts that they decided to “punish” him by sending him home sans bike. And, of course, that means they also ended up sending him home sans Mom. Naturally, Little Orphan Eddie is pissed at hearing this, and soon runs away on his ‘new’ bike. But then he gets lost in a cornfield during a storm, wrecks his bike, and is basically screwed. (Re) enter Russell, who delivers the least-believable monologue in stage/movie/anything history, the gist of which is something like this: “Be a man and walk through the storm because all of life is storms and rain and thunder but also God and your mom and love and something something strained metaphor.” So, naturally, Eddie grows a pair and hikes back home, lesson learned. The End? NOPE. Turns out, he spent the night at the grandparents on Christmas and dreamed the accident and everything after.
4. Wait, Wait, Wait! The Whole Mommy Dying Thing was a F@#$%ing Dream?!?
YES. SOMEHOW, YES. BECK ACTUALLY DID THAT.
Incredibly, beyond all belief, diving way below even the subterranean expectations I had for Glenn Beck as a dramatist, this guy, this hack, this joker, actually wrote a “The Whole Thing Was a Dream” story. Actually, worse – he wrote a “Half of This Thing Is a Dream” story, making the half that was painful the part he could take back. So, Little Eddie gets to keep his bike, his mom, and his hard-earned life lesson. Yuck Yuck Yuck. But wait, it gets worse.
When it cuts back to the live portion of the program, Glenn Beck reveals that Simon and Schuster told him to make the ending happier, and that’s why he came up with the whole dream sequence twaddle. He tears up (for the 434th time), and says, “In real life, Mommy never came back.” So, in summary: Glenn Beck decides to honor his real-life dead mother by 1) exploiting her death in the most cloying and heavy-handed way, with a story so obvious and manipulative it wouldn’t make it past the pitch stage at the Hallmark Channel and 2) change the most important fact of the story (the mother dying) the second the corporate overlords tell him to lighten it up for mass consumption.
I don’t usually presume to judge how people grieve, but, then again, most people don’t choose to grieve through two-and-a-half hour therapy sessions in the guise of a heavily promoted one-man show. Most people don’t choose to grieve by selling their crocodile tears by the truckload. Most people don’t choose to grieve by turning their own mother’s death into a object lesson for a bizarre mixture of conspiracy-loon Libertarianism and Prosperity Gospel hokum – which leads us to:
5. Isn’t It Creepy That the Political Stuff Is Mostly Subtext?
Damn right it is. For example, after the taped portion of the story is told – and right before he lets some fans share their own, uh, Sweater stories – Beck expounds on the moral of the whole production, which he has handily encapsulated in a hand gesture:
[Making the peace sign]
“Before you can find peace, you have to go from being a Victim to a [turns hand around to make the Victory sign] to being a Victor.”
I can’t argue with his point – ‘In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as it is how you handle it’ – in the abstract. But you’d have to be pretty ignorant of him and his audience not to realizing how much ideological baggage is riding along on such a seemingly banal statement. He could’ve also worded it “Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Bootstraps”, “Better a Hand Up Than a Handout”, or more colloquially, “F*ck The Poor”, but he knows those are tainted phrases. He’s out to create his own set of proverbs and fairytales. What separates Glenn Beck from a Rush or an O’Reilly is that he’s outgrown mere politics. He’s into mythmaking, because that’s where the real power lies. He knows you can’t argue with tears or debate a fable. He’s tapped into the reptile brain, the collective unconsciousness of Us and Them, Dark and Light. In one of the more disturbing parts near the end, Beck relates the storm of the story to the turmoil our country is facing. I’m paraphrasing from memory here: “A storm is coming in this country. You better know who you are.” My wife knew little of Glenn Beck before this show. She left the theater genuinely terrified.
6. Did Glenn Beck Really Tell That One Lady That Her Daughter’s Death was a “Blessing In Disguise”?
7. What Ethnicity was Glenn Beck’s Grandmother Supposed to Be?
Given the accents he alternated between, I’d say she was either Southern Scots-Irish, just-off-the-boat Italian, Romanian Gypsy, or life-long New York Jew.
8. Why Did That One Guy At the End Say He Started Using Heroin?
Because he watched 9/11 footage on television.
9. What Word Did Glenn Beck Comically Misuse?
Irrevocably [he meant inevitably].
10. Why Did My Husband Subject Me to This Unending Parade of Horrors?