I wrote this back in April, but never got around to finishing it. I figure 6 weeks is enough of a break…
So I was in Barnes and Nobles near Gwinnett Mall trying to get some work done, obviously that didn’t work out too well. I started wandering around when I noticed something interesting about the layout of the store’s layout. There are currently: 4 shelves marked “Bibles,” 2 shelves marked “Christianity,” 6 “Christian Inspiration,” 1 “Christian Gift Books and Devotionals,” and 1 “Inspirational Gifts.” “Christian Inspiration” equaled both “Bibles” and “Christianity” combined, which to me says something about the confidence society has in people making up their own opinions. For the most part “Christian Inspiration” is made up of the works of Joel Osteen, TD Jakes and other famous pastors, with a few random celebrities thrown in for good measure.
They also had 2 shelves marked “Religious Fiction,” I just skimmed the titles, but I was wondering what Barnes and Noble’s criteria was when deteriming the differences between normal and “religious” fiction. I would guess that a huge majority of fictional works deal with the concept of religion in one form or another, the only difference I felt with the books in those shelves were that they seemed to use religion, more specifically Christianity, in order to sell books in a shelf marked “Religious Fiction.” Either that or Christians are careful to point out to their children what types of fiction they should be reading, namely those that are intentionally written to reinforce beliefs rather than have them possibly think any other way. I’m probably being a little too heavy-handed or conspiracy theorist on that point, but the simple differentiation between Christian fiction and other types of fiction gets to me. So I got two things from those shelves: one, Christians consider other Christians reading the Bible to be problematic unless they provide their own commentary; and two Christianity is the only religion out there worth reading about since the one shelf marked “Religion” had books that should’ve been in previously mentioned shelves or were books with Western writers that conceptualized religion through an approach similar to anthropological studies. If I were an alien that just landed in a Barnes and Nobles, and had to send a report to my superiors defining the dominant world religions, I would probably have to devote most of my time to Joel Olsteen rather than to trivial matters such as say the Bible or Jesus. Apparently humans can’t agree on what version of the Bible to read, but they can agree on who they want to interpret it for them.
There were about three shelves marked “Spirituality,” and “New Age,” but those were jokes. They had more to do with Tarot Cards and Horoscopes than anything else. Unless you went to “World History” (2), European History (1), “Cultural Studies” (1), or “Social Sciences” (1) you would be hard put to find anything mentioning a religion other than Christianity. In a way though, I didn’t care that much about the lack of diversity in the books they offer, technically we are in the Bible Belt, and the inventory probably reflects the community more than the store. I was more concerned with the image that they projected. Christianity, according to Barnes and Nobles, has more to do with what greased up, wealthy celebrities with perfect smiles consider important above all else. It reduces Christianity to a poorly written sitcom or a teddy bear; although I rag on it all the time I think it deserves better than that.
About the time when I was about to punch Joel Osteen in the face I went to the “Current Affairs” section (2 shelves) to stare at Glen Beck’s and get my daily dose of rage. The book with the most prominent position was Glenn Beck’s An Inconvenient Book: Real Solutions to the World’s Biggest Problems, which came out November of 2007. He also had about four others that pretty much dominated the shelf:
1) America’s March to Socialism: Why we’re one step closer to giant missile parades (May 2009)
2) Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine (June 2009)
3) Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government (September 2009)
4) Idiots Unplugged (February 2010)
Now two of those are audio books (Idiots Unplugged and America’s March to Socialism), but still that’s an insane output of 5 books in the span of 3 years, with the last four coming out in a year’s time. One of my professors when asked told us that it took him over 6 years to complete his doctoral thesis, and that it takes an average of 5 years to write and publish a book. So I was staring at this insane output and set out to find out how he could squeeze about 20 years of work into one.
So the average person types at a speed of 50 words per minute, and given that Beck must be above average given that millions of people listen to what he has to say everyday, we can mark him up to a safe 75. Now assuming that there are 500 – 700 words per page, we’ll just take the average of 600. That comes out to 8 minutes per page. Now the Inconvenient Book ended up at 320 pages, requiring 1.77 days; Common Sense only 174 so that’s 0.966 days, Arguing with Idiots 1.8. I guess with that sort of speed you can come out with 4 books in less than a year. So if I get moving I should be out with my first book by the end of the week. You see what I did though? This is pretty much what I consider to be Beck’s defining strategy; the math is right, there is no way you can refute that it takes 1.77 days to write 320 pages with a typing speed of 75 WPM, but the conclusion is derived from made up numbers. I don’t actually know the average typing speed of the population, or how many words per page there are, and this assumes that he is typing non-stop without fail, which leads to why he’s so fast, he never cites his sources (at least in Arguing with Idiots he doesn’t). The thing that scares me most about Glenn Beck is that he’s a smart man; he does all of his math right. He balances humility and confidence in a way that is very appealing to conservatives, but the thing is he never says where he’s getting his numbers from. I would agree with him that the country needs to expel illegal workers given the hundreds of thousands of stolen jobs, and an estimated increase of only $8 spent on produce a year. But where in the hell did the $8 or the hundreds of thousands come from? I could make a convincing argument for anything if I was allowed to make up the evidence supporting it. That’s why 85% of high school science fair projects are made up, at least mine were.
Beck along with the number of other faces up on the shelves: Dick Morris’ “2010 Take Back America,” Hannity’s “Conservative Victory,” Gingrich’s “Real Change,” and a number of others take some pretty serious shots at Obama. It’s funny that Gingrich mentions change when the last time I heard his name on TV was from SNL, when I was still in elementary school. However, the thing that baffled me the most was that the dude’s been in office less than two years how is there so much stuff out there already? Now I might be idealistic but I feel as if books are supposed to be more credible than say newspaper articles when it comes to forming opinions, but apparently if they’re coming out at practically the same speed you can’t expect much more.
Side note: I was taking pictures of the books with my phone because I was too lazy to write them down when some guy next to me, reaching for one of the books I was taking a picture of said: “I guess great minds like the same great books.” I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded numbly and smiled like I always do.
My favorite teacher in High School was the one who first taught us to stop thinking of textbooks as a factual account of the world, textbooks like all others are written by people with specific agendas and perspectives. I think Dave Chappelle said it best:
I’m not saying Beck is a celebrity for the same reasons as Ja Rule, and I’m sure he worked hard to get where he is; but at the same time why are millions of Americans looking to a radio broadcaster for answers to the country’s problems? Beck can say whatever he wants, he has no stake in whether the economy bottoms up or not, he’s pretty safe at this point.
For those of you who still have not experienced the greatness that is South Park indulge me. I would say 95% of what I know in life has come from South Park, the remaining 5% I guess I would have to say everything else, but really that too is probably from South Park as well. Those guys are geniuses, I guess attributing my knowledge of current affairs and politics to the Daily Show and South Park makes me a stereotypical liberal yuppie college student but Stan, Kyle, and Cartman seem much more grounded in common sense than Beck.
I couldn’t embed it…
I understand that I make very broad statements from a limited amount of information, but I’m not making millions and stirring up fear and hatred in the process, so hopefully that gives me more credibility than Beck.
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