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Glenn Beck puts on his tin-foil art critic's hat -- again

August 28, 2010 |  3:07 pm

Beck Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
Glenn Beck brought his traveling demagoguery circus to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, and in the process restored, if not honor (as the religiously inspired political event was billed), then at least his reputation as a slippery and ill-informed art historian-slash-critic.

Last year it was nutty conspiracy theories about Diego Rivera's mural for New York's Rockefeller Center, plus his unwitting use of historically socialist and Communist graphic motifs for the logo of his so-called "9-12 project," both promoted on Beck's Fox News television show. This time it was an erroneous -- and unintentionally very funny -- take on the design of the Washington Monument in the center of the National Mall.

Pointing to the place about 150 feet up the Egyptian-style obelisk, where the color of the stone suddenly changes, Beck gravely exhorted the crowd to note the "scar" on the founding president's memorial. It happened, he said, when construction was halted for the national trauma of the Civil War -- the apparent implication being that Saturday's rally would perform some necessary plastic surgery on race-related social divisions splitting the country.

Well, close but no cigar. In fact the "scar" predates the Civil War.

Beck 3 monument KAREN BLEIER AFPGetty Images Work on the long-planned Washington memorial was finally launched during the presidency of James K. Polk, a Democrat, in 1848. Costs for building blocks were being sponsored by citizens, states, territories, foreign dignitaries and others. But after six years of work, and long before completion (almost 30 years later), funds largely dried up. Construction didn't take place during the War Between the States, but it had already long-since stopped -- in 1854, six years before South Carolina seceded from the Union and nearly seven years before Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter.

When building ceased, a private group of political activists grabbed the project's reins -- but they promptly made a huge mess of things. Among other problems, they were rabid anti-Catholic nativists, religious fanatics who believed only native-born Americans should hold any public office. They stoked popular fears that waves of Irish and German immigrants were overwhelming the United States.

When Pope Pius IX donated a building stone from the Temple of Concord in Rome for the restarted Washington Monument project, the activists had it destroyed. Through in-fighting, ideological division and bursts of election-related violence, the group fell apart after two years The shoddy work they had done on the monument had to be removed. Hence the "scar" we see today.

What were these hardy exemplars of fear-mongering religious nativism called? The Know-Nothing movement -- all of which might help to explain Beck's heartfelt misdirection to the crowd.

--Christopher Knight, Times art critic

Follow @twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photos: Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally; Credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images; Washington Monument; Credit: Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images; Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream speech; Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Recent and related:

Beck 2 AFP Getty Images Glenn Beck's art criticism explained

Glenn Beck's '9-12' logo based on communist and socialist designs

A graphic design conspiracy goes nuclear

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