Beck and Piven IV: Is Anyone Marginal Anymore?

We’ve got separate updates to report on Glenn Beck, pundit, and Frances Fox Piven, professor, that throw some light on the nature of American politics and culture.

Of course, we’ve covered some of the background on their disturbing and antagonistic relationship over the past few months (See Beck and Piven, I, II, III.):

Basically, Piven doesn’t like Beck and his politics and Beck thinks Piven is one of the nine people who most threatens American life.  Some of Piven’s fans disparage Beck, and some of Beck’s fans threaten Piven’s life.

Anyway, The New York Times reports that Glenn Beck may not stay with Fox News when his contract ends in December, and that he might start his own network.  Beck’s ratings have been falling, and some sponsors have refused to buy time during his television program regardless, not wanting to associate their brand with his politics and style. Fox might want to be rid of him.  (Of course, this may all be posturing on the eve of negotiations…)

Meanwhile, there’s no reason to believe that leaving Fox would cost Glenn Beck his close relationship with a substantial–and loyal–following.  Beck has been investing his time and money in his own media brand, buffing up web properties and his radio show, and selling subscriptions.  He doesn’t need mass media, and even the constraints of Fox, to reach a large audience profitably.  He won’t have fallen out of relevance.

Elsewhere, the New York State Senate passed a resolution honoring Frances Fox Piven.   State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a former student of Piven’s, introduced the resolution, partly in response to the attacks from Beck.  Senator Rivera said,

Studying under her, I came to a realization of what democracy really means. And I dare say that I wouldn’t be a State Senator today if it weren’t for the inspiration given to me by Frances Fox Piven.

Democratic government doesn’t work unless it bends to the will of the people. Government doesn’t work unless those like myself and my colleagues in the State Senate are prodded by the collective action of the people. Dr. Piven taught me that. If you look at the history of this country, progress has come when ordinary people have stood up and fought for their rights. The abolitionist movement, the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, anti-war movements, worker’s rights movements. And let us include in that list the right to life movement and the Tea Party movement. Whether you agree or disagree with the goals, you cannot ignore the fact that American democracy doesn’t work unless people challenge the powerful in both ways big and small.

But as accomplished as she is as a scholar, Dr. Piven is a better mentor to her students. Soon after I took that first class with her, I began my own college teaching career. And ever since, I have aspired to be the type of teacher in the classroom that Dr. Piven is.

I am honored to sponsor this resolution which recognizes a great teacher, a great scholar, a great New Yorker, and a great American, Dr. Frances Fox Piven.

You can see the action, legislative in this case, on youtube, and listen to other state senators who fondly recalled Piven as a teacher.  (For someone who teaches college students, like me, this is inspiring.)

Meanwhile, Piven, along with Cornell West, has been working to organize the kind of labor resistance that emerged in Wisconsin.  She hasn’t backed off her politics or her efforts in any way.

The two stories together suggest that the boundaries of politics and culture in America–if they exist at all–are extremely wide, and there’s room for widely disparate points of view and activities that can gain some elements of support from authorities of different sorts.  It remains to be seen, however, if there are any common standards of civility or evidence that might make debate possible.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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