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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Madison's Glenn Beck Brown Shirt Club: Mostly Harmless?

Last night I went to the meeting of Madison's Glenn Beck fan club—the local 9.12ers group—organized by fellow MHS alumnus Jason Bjorklund. What did I see?


Madison Glenn Beck fan
and picnic planner Jason Bjorklund

No, really. The Madison Glenn Beck listeners have chosen brown as the color of their club uniform. They wear... brown shirts.

Brown shirts. For a political protest group organized by a charismatic national leader who writes bad prose. Two possibilities:
  1. If they didn't realize the connection, the Madison Glenn Beckers suffer a bad case of cultural perspective.
  2. If they deliberately chose brown shirts, they are at best tasteless and not funny.

The Glenn Beckers are also apparently into phallic imagery on their flags. The cannon, the snakes... but I still enjoyed my hot dog.

I saw and heard some anger and frustration, some good ideas and some bad ideas. I also saw a number of people I know: my cousin Aaron (yes, over 10% of the people at this meeting were Heidelbergers!), my antipodal blogger Steve Sibson, Madison insurance guy Lee Stoddard, former student Emyle Elliott, hog raiser Ben Elliott, good neighbor Imogene Ellis (she brought me cake one really hot day 21 years ago), fellow frequent foot power fan Jerry Heckenliable, and local media stars Neal and Linda McIntyre (see the front page of the Voices section of yesterday's Sioux Falls paper).

Alas—and I mean that: alas—I did not see or hear any sign of an effective political movement that can move general political discourse beyond the entertainment with which Glenn Beck makes his millions. Of course, even the putschists took a few years to progress from clumsy beer hall antics to actually winning an election.

But I enjoy almost any public political discourse breaking out on a beautiful summer evening. So I'll spend some time this morning analyzing the discussions I enjoyed last night while surrounded by brown shirts. Stay tuned....


  1. It truly amazes me how Beck can attract such a large following by simply pandering to the lowest common denominator, in this case Conservative's fear after losing most of the power they've enjoyed over the past 8 years.

    This guy displays moments of true craziness/incoherence that are only outdone by the craziness/incoherence of many of his supporters.

    With that said, the wearing of the brown shirts at the gathering you attended seems almost fitting when looking at it from a historical context.

  2. You know, my concern when I first saw these shirts was the same thing. And you did not disappoint as regards my concern. BTW, the color was not the color that was requested, but that's a done deal I guess.

    Instead of attacking the color of a shirt, maybe you should try to understand that many people are not happy with the direction this nation is taking. You might not agree with our concerns, but we don't agree with many of your concerns either. How about we try to understand each others concerns and not just out of the box attack each other over unimportant details like the color of a shirt.

    The speaker of the house uses the same strategies. But it would be nice if we in South Dakota could be a little wiser and have discussions instead of attacks and labeling.

    Linda M

  3. Linda, if you saw the potential problem and didn't send the shirts back, well, then you asked for it, jsut as I would be asking for it if I ordered red shirts for the Lake County Dems written in Russian.

    I understand your concerns. I also understand you're packaging them poorly.

  4. Sorry if my packaging offends you. Maybe I don't have the fancy tape and packaging materials you think necessary, but my package will get there nonetheless.

  5. It's not about "fancy" packaging, Linda. Look again at the things I listed as elements of good public speaking:


    Those aren't bows and ribbons: these are essentials for making sure your message turns into action. Your package won't get there without them. That's exactly what I've always taught speech students and debaters, not because they need to get an A in class but because they need to be effective public speakers.

    I also teach them using symbolism that undermines the message won't help.

    So you and the club have two choices: you can try to dismiss criticism as fancy-pants elitism, or you can respond to criticism as constructive advice to make your movement stronger and more effective. I would love to see a genuine grassroots movement mount an effective challenge to corporate interests that dominate politics. But if you think effective speaking and organization is unnecessary, well, you won't do much beyond picnics.

  6. Speaking of undermining the message with unintentional symbolism, I had a nice adolescent chuckle at the "COME AND TAKE IT" printed next to the very phallic cannon. Is the accompanying star meant to symbolize "ouchies"?

    Ironically, the word verification is "tactical".

  7. For everyone's information, I was in charge of getting the shirts ordered. We went with khaki rather than colors like blue or red because it was the only color the printer said he could order that would come in all the sizes we wanted.

    Emyle Elliott


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