Glenn Beck’s “The Christmas Sweater: A Return To Redemption”
I just went to a movie theater and sat through the simulcast of Glenn Beck’s one-man show. I’m going to try to organize my thoughts. It’s not going to be easy. It was crazy.
I went with my hilarious friend Brendan McLoughlin, who bought the crucial pre-show drinks. That put me in charge of the tickets, which I purchased like a teenager buying porn. “Two for the Glenn Beck thing,” I whispered into the microphone. We were a minute or two late, so in the dark I couldn’t tell who was there for real and who for fun. But out of courtesy to both parties, there really should have been an open mockery section.
Glenn Beck starts crying almost immediately. Like, in his introductory comments. Like, very early in his introductory comments. Like, literally fifteen seconds into the show. And his tears are the tears of someone who’s trying very, very hard to produce tears. Is there anything more uncomfortable than being in the presence of someone who’s trying to make himself cry? As it happens, yes: being in a movie theater full of people who are eating it the fuck up. The open mockery section, we learned right away, held exactly two people.
"This is my story," he tells us, "This is YOUR story." And thus begins "The Christmas Sweater," which I will do my best to summarize: [Spoiler alert, just in case.]
Glenn, who calls himself “Eddie,” is the son of a poor but proud baker who dies of cancer when Eddie is 10, leaving Eddie and his poor but proud mother alone and poor but proud. For Christmas two years later, Eddie wants a bike, and his mother is working extra jobs to make his Christmas dreams come true. But under the tree, Eddie finds nothing for himself but a sweater, a sweater his mother knitted for him, a sweater that she promises “is just like the ones at Sears that cost $40, and you know there’s no money for that.”
(If she’s right, and Eddie does know there’s no money for that, you have to wonder why Eddie thought there would be money for a much more expensive item like a bike, or why she didn’t level with the kid- who at 12 is certainly old enough to handle it- before Christmas. Anyway:)
Oh, he HATES that itchy old Christmas sweater! He throws it on the floor when he gets back to his room! And then his mom comes in and sees it all in a heap, and she’s heartbroken. And that’s when he realizes that the sweater was LOVE, and love is what’s important. But he hates that sweater and he angrily puts it on for the drive to his grandparents’ house for Christmas dinner, but then he sees his mother’s face and realizes that the sweater is made of human kindness. Stupid sweater! Seriously, it goes back and forth like this approximately 827 times.
Eddie and his mother and grandparents eat poverty and pride, and then Eddie says he wants to go home and play with his friends’ gifts, because they probably got great toys. So they make the drive home, whereupon his mother falls asleep at the wheel and dies. We have not yet reached the point in the story when Glenn Beck lies onstage in the fetal position.
(Oh, also, at key moments, an obese black woman comes out and sings. She’s some kind of one-woman gospel-choir Greek chorus, and I’m not sure she didn’t wander in from another show entirely. ANYWAY:)
Eddie goes to live with his grandparents, and meets their neighbor Russell, who is, and this is a direct quote, “covered with every speck of dirt from every farm in the world.” Russell talks like a homeless Pepperidge Farm guy who owns one self-help book. “You know, this horse is kind of like you.” “You know, this old house here is kind of like you.” “You know, my pleurisy is kind of like you.” Everything is kind of like Glenn Beck.
So Eddie and his grandpa, who you have correctly guessed is cantankerous, have trouble getting along, because they both blame themselves for Mom falling asleep at the wheel. Eddie learns that that bike he wanted was in his grandpa’s shed all along, and if he hadn’t been such a dick, he would have gotten it. So he gets furious and runs away for some reason.
He rides his bike into some cornfield and hits a rock and falls down, and he’s too far away from home to walk back, and phones don’t exist, so he’s stuck. And then A STORM APPROACHES! A violent storm that’s whipping cornstalks right out of the ground! Where can young Eddie go? This is the part where he gets into the fetal position. Mo’Nique sings him back out of it.
That’s when Russell approaches, and tells him he needs to walk through the storm. (If we’re this far away from where he lives, you have to assume Russell came by car, so another option would be to drive into or around it, thereby staying dry. Don’t think too hard about it or we’ll send the black lady out.) “You need to walk through it to get to the other side, Eddie! This CORNFIELD is the dangerous place! You know, this storm,” I swear to God, you guys, “is kind of like YOU." So Russell takes Eddie by the hand and they make the really poor decision to walk through a cornfield in a tornado. They make it to the other side where it’s peaceful and dry, and then EDDIE WAKES UP AND HIS MOM WALKS IN.
It was all a dream. (Or, not ALL of it, just the part after he was a dick at his grandparents’ house. Mom’s alive, Dad is still poor and proud and dead.) So now Glenn Beck believes in God and his heart grows three sizes and he carves the roast beast. Jennifer Religious Holiday comes out and sings a song about how dreams can come true if you believe. (Even though this particular dream was about our hero’s mother dying in a car wreck.)
So that’s how 12-year-old Glenn Beck learned to love himself and God and family. And then later he became a cokehead morning-zoo DJ and now he’s a dick on TV thank you and goodnight!
AND THEN THE CAMERA PULLS BACK FROM A MOVIE SCREEN, and we realize that we’ve been watching Glenn Beck watch last year’s “Christmas Sweater” performance. “This is the first time I’ve seen it since I performed it,” he tells us. (Really? You didn’t take a look, just to give yourself some notes? Your director didn’t play some things back for you? Really, Glenn?)
He then cries.
Glenn reveals that Simon & Schuster urged him to give his story the happy ending we just saw, and that in reality, Mom didn’t come back. In reality reality, Glenn Beck’s dad didn’t die at all, his parents divorced when he was 13, and his mother actually died a few years later, in what he says was a suicide. So this whole thing turns out to be a dream within a false memoir, which he’s turned into a work of fiction, which he altered on his publishers’ advice, which he’s broadcasting himself live watching himself perform a year ago. And actually on a three-hour delay for us here on the West Coast. Jesus, now I’m starting to cry.
He then cuts to taped packages profiling folks whose lives have been changed by his powerful story that isn’t true. (One of them is a heroin addict who makes a point of revealing that his heavy use started on 9/11; if not for the terrorists, he’d have been another heroin success story.) Their stories are intercut with pull-quotes, not from their own words, but from Glenn’s. “Walk through your storm,” etc. At this point, we had had all we could stand.
The moral, which he helpfully spelled out for us just before we split was “Don’t be a victim,” which is a solid message. Too bad he put it across by pretending to cry for 90 minutes.
Anyway, I feel like I get him now. He is plainly a frustrated, self-destructive, angry guy, and what he’s trying to do in saying untenable, indefensible things on TV is what other people accomplish by getting punched in the nuts by a dominatrix. He wants to be punished. He may prove to have some worthwhile things to say in the future, but right now he’s playing out some weird childhood drama in front of all of us. Let’s do him and ourselves a favor and start ignoring him.
After all: you know, Glenn Beck is kind of like you.