Lately, this old Jamaican saying keeps popping into my head: “One fool makes many.” The way things are going, it could be the mantra for today’s western society. But I suppose it was always true. My mother used to tell me the story of Bedward, a Jamaican prophet who promised his followers they would ascend to Heaven with him. I have never verified the historical accuracy of this story but here it is the way she told it to me:
Bedward went about the countryside preaching and urging his listeners to join his religion (whatever that was) because he was a prophet and would soon ascend to Heaven with his followers. When the time came for his ascent, he told the followers to get rid of all their possessions and assemble at Race Course, in downtown Kingston. Meanwhile, a crew was busy constructing a tall platform from which he would rise into the sky.
The day of his ascent arrived, and hundreds (thousands?) of Bedward’s followers assembled at Race Course. They had divested themselves of their worldly goods and were ready to soar into the blazing blue sky with their prophet. After some obligatory mumbo-jumbo, Bedward leaped into the air. Naturally, he fell to the ground, breaking his legs. And, according to my mother, his followers dispersed and went about trying to get back their possessions.
(Photo shows a scene from a play by Louis Marriott, staged at the Ward Theatre five years ago.)
If that story makes you turn up your nose at those gullible Jamaicans, you might want to consider how gullible Americans can be. I’m sure you’ve received those email messages advising you to claim some inheritance or whatever from a Nigerian “official,” and I am also sure nobody smart enough to read my blogs would be taken in by such a transparent scam. But as a reporter, I used to get quite a few complaints from poor souls who had been separated from their money by the Nigerian scammers.
And even those innocents are intellectual giants compared with the millions of morons who listen to talk-radio mountebanks like Rush Limbaugh and the charlatans at Fox News. Credulous viewers have made celebrities (rich celebrities) out of creeps like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and – worse – Glenn Beck!
Who would have thought that anyone would take Glenn Beck (photo at left) seriously? The former Morning Zoo radio clown makes a living by spouting outrageous theories supported by obviously concocted “facts,” hoping to get a laugh or two from perverse people who enjoy that kind of thing. To titillate his wide-eyed viewers, Beck gets up to various schoolboy antics, such as pretending to boil a frog. (Like everything else on his show, the frog was a fake. He later confessed it was a rubber toy.)
I am sure he never in his wildest daydreams expected to become a political power and make the cover of Time Magazine. Yet his foaming-at-the-mouth indignation over invented injustices have brought him so much attention that even the White House feels obliged to rebut his trumped-up nonsense.
Among his current targets is Chicago’s crusade to be chosen as the site of the 2016 summer Olympics, which provides an excuse for his favorite shtick – baiting President Obama. The President and First Lady are in Denmark as part of the U.S. team presenting Chicago’s case. And, as you might expect, the radical right is raging against this allocation of presidential time and resources at a time when, etc., etc.
Naturally Beck has jumped on the bandwagon. And as usual, he pulls “facts” out of thin air to support his wacky accusations. He claims, for example, that “Vancouver lost a billion dollars” by hosting the Olympics. That would be strange indeed as Vancouver has never hosted the Olympics. The Canadian city is to be the site of the games in 2010. Yet Beck’s fictitious “fact” has gained so much traction that the White House has taken the trouble to set the record straight on a specially created web page:
What am I to make of the fact that the White House has gone to so much trouble over Glenn Beck at a time when President Obama is besieged by so many crises at home and abroad? How many more normally serious people will be caught up in Beck’s mischievous folly? How many more fools will this one nitwit make?