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Glenn Beck and the Society for (In)sanity in Art

September 3, 2009 | 10:55 am

Last night Fox News ranter Glenn Beck went off on the art made more than 70 years ago for Rockefeller Center, corporate headquarters of NBC and -- not coincidentally -- supposed arch-enemy of Rupert Murdoch's television empire. To the surprise of no one, but to the great amusement of the blogosphere (here, here and here) -- Beck donned his art critic's tin-foil conspiracy hat to find hidden evidence of "progressives, fascists and communists" in the carved reliefs and paintings of a landmark Manhattan building complex that was made a national historic monument in 1987. (Let's see; who was president that year? Oh, yeah: Commie-symp Ronald Reagan.)

How nutty did Beck get? As nutty as usual. He pointed to a portrait of Lenin in Mexican master Diego Rivera's destroyed Rockefeller lobby mural, "Man at the Crossroads," but forgot to mention that old John D. had the mural removed because of it. (Facts are stubborn things -- even more stubborn than demagoguery.) With comedy stylings like that, Beck is turning out to be the Harold Harby of our day.

Who was Harold Harby? A Los Angeles city councilman in the early 1950s, Harby took up propaganda-arms with a paranoid group of right-wing loonies called the Society for Sanity in Art. They made it their patriotic duty to search out Communist symbols they just knew were hidden in that weird, postwar abstract art.

Here's an explanation of what went down back then, from a Times interview I once did with venerable L.A. artist June Wayne, witness to those events:

We had a little city councilman named Harold Harby. The occasion was a city-sponsored exhibition at Griffith Park, and in that exhibition was a watercolor [of a sailboat] by, as it happens, a Republican artist whose name was Rex Brandt. Rex liked to sail, and he had a certain class of sailing sloop, the insignia of which vaguely resembled a hammer and sickle. Harold Harby went to the exhibition and saw this painting, and the next thing we know, "communists invade the Griffith Park exhibition!" Before you knew it, the police were out there gathering in works of art and dragging them downtown to the City Council to be investigated.

So I thought to myself, this I have to see, because how do you investigate a painting for communism? I went down to City Hall, and it just scared the wits out of me. They had a circle of easels, with various paintings, semi-abstract. People came up and testified. There was one complete abstraction, and some woman got up and testified that this was really a secret code, and that this was how the communists were getting the details of Boulder Dam so it could be sabotaged. From this painting!

Remember that tale if you watch the Beck clip above, when he gets to the part about the hammer and sickle and how President Obama is trying to brainwash America's children.

-- Christopher Knight

Comments () | Archives (123)

Beck takes contorting facts to a new level. Most symbols and artistic themes can mean many things. For example, beating swords into plowshares is an aspirational excerpt from the old testament. As a self-avowed Christin, I thought he would have known this. Beck takes the more recent communist adoption of this imagry as proof that Rockefeller was a communist... I don't see a real connection nor the significance.

Unfortunately, Beck's just a nutjob with a huge following. The fearful in our society allow him and others such as Limbaugh to do their thinking for them. These gentlemen are doing more to destroy this country than any communist ever could.


Please be on the lookout for a very ordinary wide eyed looking little man with a burr type hair cut (similar to German SS), wearing a blue suit, and blabbering incoherently.

He goes by the name of Glenn Beck, and is not a threat, except to himself.

No need to exercise caution if approached by anyone with an IQ of 100 or more, as little Glenn will run to a corner and cower until his psychiatrist can take over.

Keith Olbermann's rebuttal to Beck's piece is priceless and left me crying.


He analyzes the Fox Broadcasting building on Avenue of the "Americas." He also works himself up to a fake frenzy, just like Beck, and brings it all back to a map of National Treasure.

Worth a compare/contrast.

It is pretty funny reading left wing rants about Glenn Beck in a newspaper going bankrupt in a city that is bankrupt in a state that is bankrupt. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Biggato, I don't know what hole you pulled your facts out of, but your stance is completely without any historic merit.

Art Deco was more an aesthetic sensibility rather than a philosophy, like neo plasticism, fauvism, or even futurism. And if you knew anything about Futurism, you would know that although Marinetti was a supporter of Fascist politics, there were leftist and ant-fascist artists within the Futurist movement.

I would strongly suggest you read and learn a little more about art history before commenting on it so ignorantly.

Ha ha, what a lunatic! Beck and Fixed News are better than Comedy Central. You phonies pretending to back his insanity crying that "hate" is directed at him are in denial, so let me remind you: You lost the election, a good smart man won, he's our leader, we're finally headed in the right direction and don't worry, art is not the enemy.

Although Glenn Beck is hit-and-miss most of the time, and he probably missed here, he still is serving a very valuable service in pointing out those within politics that have a questionable resume. As the dust is settling down after those frenzied first months of the Obama administration and the economic malaise we were in provided the impetus for Obama to ram through some very steep economic bailouts that unfortunately will simply be tacked on to our gi-normous mammoth running deficit. However, as most of the news focus has now gone beyond our economy, commentators like Beck have started looking more closely into those many czar's and political appointee's that Obama has put in place, and some very unsettling things have appeared about a good many of them.

Beck is providing a very valuable service, his poor art 'critique's' notwithstanding. Although he does pace his shows at a frenetic rate most of the time, sometimes only having guests on for a minute or two, enough for one or two questions, and his chalk-board usage really looks like unintelligible chicken-scratch, he does point out things that are not talked about elsewhere. Unfortunately because I happen to agree that much of the press exists at a left-of-center slant, someone that tries to be moderate and thoughtful is forced to turn to FOX News and that network in order to even hear what 'the other side' is saying. CNN is getting more slanted, and MSNBC is completely unwatchable, the network news shows are outdated. Thank goodness for BBC, that is where someone like me goes, along with FOX and some PBS NewsHour when I can catch it.

Glenn Beck, keep it up, you may miss as often as you hit, but when you do connect it's usually for a 'grand-slam'!

People can laugh this crap off as "trivial" and "unsubstantial" all they want, but when you've got town hall meetings overrun by people screaming about Obama being a socialist/communist/nazi, and saying "I don't want to see this country turning into Russia", I would think you'd pay attention. The nutbags are being fed a steady diet of paranoid-inspiring lies these days not just by Beck, et al, but by Republicans in leadership positions ("Death Panels", "Pull the plug on Grandma", "Death Pamphlets"). Debate on the bill aside: It's moronic propaganda to anyone with half a clear head, but it's certainly appealing to the reptilian brains of those who are just looking for an excuse to freak-out. You put people in "survival" mode, and there's going to be trouble. As funny as this buffoon is, it's no going to be funny when people start "fighting for their lives and country".

Listening to Beck talk about art is like listening to a priest talk about sex.

Glenn Beck thrives on what you just did: give him ink. Let the Becks and the Limbaughs rave and rant: just don't give them added coverage, though the ridicule does feel very satisfying. Neither Beck or Limbaugh are by themselves either; not only are they the loudest of the genre, but also merely just two of many, many more. And let us rememer the multitudes that swallow the swill they hand out, feeding at the trough of some of the vilest and most vituperative broadcast and TV material America has ever produced. There is only one commendable aspect to it: that it is constant and living proof that despite such scum-bags, America is a great country because it lets them shelter under the provisions of the Second Ammendment.

Beck hater are jealous because HE CAN FEED HIS FAMILY BETTER THAN THESE LOSERz CAN:)


They shoot horses don't they? nuff said.....

The only reason Glen Beck gets a rise out of lefties, centrists and sane Republicans is that we recognize that G.B. himself is a fascist. He is a racist. He is a closet Nazi sympathizer. G.B. would be a laughable clown if people weren't taking him seriously. The same people who believe G.B. are the type of people who would have believed, in Germany circa 1944, that the factory outside of town really did make toys and that the ashes falling on them were harmless.
We live in dangerous times, and we should not be complacent when it comes to these foolish people.

This explains why I do not spend much of my time watching TV, that's entertainment. Thank God that I live in a country that allows this narrow minded ranting!

Not since Joe McCarthy shuffled off this mortal coil in 1957 has anyone made a career by accusing people of being communists. Glenn Beck has resurrected the practice. Not only has he found a cabal of secret communists, he has uncovered an entire communist corporation chock full of commies. The name of this company, you may ask?


You heard me right, boys and girls. The network that gave us Uncle Miltie and Ma Perkins has apparently been secretly sending subliminal messages endorsing Marxist doctrine since it was formed in 1926. This would make perfect sense to me. Every time I watched the Rockford Files I had an unexplainable desire to read Das Kapital. But seriously, folks. Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, red baiting not only seems silly, it's also kind of nuts. It's not-at-all surprising that an organization would give this idiot a forum (after all, he's on FOX Noise). What's really stunning is the fact that his ratings are relatively high and that so many Americans take his word as gospel.

All kidding aside, half-witted ideologues are a dime a dozen. What separates Glenn Beck from his peers is the fact that he is doing some serious damage to the country he professes to love so much. For all of the comparisons to the Nazis he likes to make with respect to Liberals, Beck's program has much in common with Adolf Hitler's 1923 screed, Mein Kampf. Eighty-six years ago, Hitler attempted to arouse the anger of his fellow Germans by spouting half truths and utter nonsense - exactly what Glenn Beck is doing in 2009. So much of the insane dialogue that has been spewed forth at these Town Hall meetings across the country in recent weeks might have been lifted straight from a transcript of Beck's program.

Beck and his strange ilk have done the impossible. They have deflected the blame for America's current economic distress from where it should be aimed toward a man who is trying to clean up the mess that was created - in large part - by people like Glenn Beck. They have also let loose with a vengeance the very worst angels of the American nature. Opening Pandora's box was relatively easy. Closing it might prove to be a bit of a problem.


Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Biggato's comment at 6:28PM was right on the money. The murals in East L.A. and Olivera st. exhibit the same radical leftist politics ...always the "Haves" oppressing the "Have Nots". Take a good look at them next time you drive by
the Socialist/Marxist/Anti-USA messages are there for all to see!
PS.....Many paid for by our taxes!

Glenn Beck is paying attention to art? This must mean that he is not a Real American. Real America is not about Culture. Hasn't he listened to Palin and Cheney?

Conservatives rule the airwaves because the majority of Americans agree with them.....and that just drives you pervert liberals nuts!!!!!
The election of Obama was an accident...and the polls show it. Sorry lefties....it's over.

Glenn Beck obviously has parasites living in his brain. He's not responsible for what he does--lay off him.

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