As he was doing his standard daily channeling of Howard Beale Thursday, Glenn Beck referenced an even earlier cinematic cautionary tale. In the middle of a rant about President Obama‘s remarks to the AFL-CIO, he said he felt as though he’d slipped through a wormhole in the middle of the night, exclaiming “It’s like the damn Planet of the Apes!”
This looked like nothing more than a rather unfortunate melding of foot and mouth, especially for a guy with Beck’s tenuous grasp of race relations, until I got a load of Joan Walsh‘s Stormfront dot-connecting. We’ve let the clip run a little longer to make sure we didn’t miss any context.(h/t Michi)
There are probably a lot of pop-culture references that Beck could’ve used to evoke a world turned upside-down (I would have gone with “It’s like that time Mr. Spock had a damn beard!”), but for a guy Beck’s age, Planet of the Apes (POTA) would be an appropriate touchstone, especially since it starred conservative idol Charlton Heston. Finally, this isn’t a premeditated, editorially approved jab, like that New York Post cartoon that drew so much flak, but rather, an apparently off-the-cuff remark.
What I didn’t know was that, according to Walsh, there’s an entire POTUS/POTA meme in the White Power Stormfrontosphere:
Nope. No racism there. Beck didn’t mean anything by the reference to “apes.” Don’t be oversensitive. How could Glenn Beck know that you can find “Planet of the Apes: A four year Obama survival guide” on the white supremacist site Stormfront.org? Or countless Google images and blog posts comparing Michelle Obama to the character “Dr. Zira”? Or the fact that, frankly, you can’t swing a cat on the Internet without coming across some comparison of Obama’s political rise to the apes’ ascendance in, yes, “Planet of the Apes” (but some of them are careful to state upfront that race has nothing to do with the comparison!)
Couple that with the ill-timed, rampant perception created by this week’s Glenn Beck White Power Twitter favorite story, now being promoted by the aforementioned Stormfront, and this becomes more problematic. It makes it appear as though Beck is either dog-whistling to the White Power audience, or he’s some kind of Chauncey Gardiner for racists. While Beck critics may not be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, this might still be a good time for him to clarify the POTA remark, and his much-publicized bookmark.
Of course, Walsh goes on to explore a racial subtext of Planet of the Apes that I’d never noticed:
And of course Beck never read “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America,” where historian Rick Perlstein places “Planet of the Apes” in the panorama of racial paranoia and fear that defined early 1968. In the wake of bloody Newark riots, armed white vigilantes patrolled the streets, while across the country, 5,000 Black Panthers celebrated the birthday of Huey Newton, in jail for killing an Oakland cop, where H. Rap Brown saluted Newton “as the only living revolutionary,” and asked, “How many white folks did you kill today?” One book advised families on how to defend themselves “as the crime rate continues to soar in the Great Society jungle.” And, Perlstein added, “A new movie, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ imagined what life would be like if whites found themselves a subject population.”
Really? I’ve seen that movie a million times, and I never got that. I thought it was a cautionary tale about nuclear war and the destructive side of human nature. Heston’s main character is an unsympathetic, misanthropic prick who retains his sense of innate superiority right up until he discovers (SPOILER ALERT) that he’s already home. There was at least one black guy in the film, Heston’s fellow astronaut, who gets killed in the first five minutes. Now, there’s a racial Hollywood tradition.
Still, Walsh does note the current pattern of racial exploitation that’s been ramping up since Obama took office, more sharply of late. The divisive Arizona immigration law, the Cinco de Mayo flap, Beck’s own pledge to take back the Civil Rights movement at his 8/28 rally, the concoction of the New Black Panther Party as Obama administration puppetmaster, and the NAACP/Shirley Sherrod stories have all been pushed by Fox News, raising the racial temperature in the process. Innocent or not, with all that fire around, Beck’s “Planet of the Apes” reference may leave a bit of a burn.
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