03 September 2010

The Overton Window: a summary

Glenn Beck "wrote" a thriller a couple of months ago, with the help of Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler, and Jack Henderson. It's called The Overton Window, ironically named after the political ploy used by Beck himself. You can watch the video trailer for the book (?) here.


I recently acquired the book, and read it. This did not take long; it's very short. But it's filled with so many inanities and such terrible writing that I want to spare anyone else the pain. Following on the heels of a shorter summary by Media Matters, here's my more complete exposition of the plot (?) of the novel.


My favorite line?  “If Molly was right, then a cute but quirky mailroom temp had identified a grand, unified, liberty-crushing conspiracy that had been hatched in the conference room of a PR agency.”

Noah, the handsome playboy protagonist, sees Molly, the clever beauty, putting up posters in their workplace  (his father's public relations company) for a patriotic rally of her group, "Promise Keepers."  He tries to help her and flirt with her, and she rebuffs him.

Afterwards, Noah attends a meeting with his father, where they plot to cover up a memorandum from the government (a more hysterical version of the Homeland Security report about right-wingers). His father gives a speech about how they will build a new world on the ashes of the old.  The father is a maniacal caricature of George Soros, who quotes Alinsky and whole-heartedly believes all the insane things Glenn Beck ascribes to the left.  One his way out, Noah looks around his father's company's building. Clients are revealed: all recent Presidents but Carter and Nixon; the concept of the lottery; trendy use of Che and Mao as symbols; restless-leg syndrome; the Gulf War.  Evil liberal PR men created all of these things.

Noah takes a cab to the rally so he can hit on Molly some more. The cab is stopped by private thugs hired by the government.  Noah uses his father's influence to get away, but consciously declines to help the cabbie who is begging for help.  He is aware it is immoral and wrong, but it isn't very hard for him to do.  It is well-established he is a jerk by this point.

At the rally, Noah gets new clothes to replace his wet ones and meets some people. Molly is still curt. Molly's mother gives a long speech that appears identical to any one of Beck's usual screeds.  It could be lifted almost verbatim from the show, full of emotional appeals to remember the Founding Fathers and take action.

Another long speech follows, this one from a guy with a famous YouTube video.  The book has a lot of speeches.  This one is about various hot-button things like the nature of the Federal Reserve and so on.  It doesn't take too long before we realize that YouTube guy is a stand-in for Beck.  Noah interrupts this speech with a speech of his own about how the tea partiers won't be taken seriously as long as they allow disagreeable people (he points out a holocaust denier, a racist, a Randite, etc.), but then a man in the crowd shoots off his gun. The police break in. Noah intercedes to protect a stranger in danger of being beaten.  It appears that - entirely without any internal change or external event - Noah has been changed from "heartless jerk" to "hero."

From his prison cell, Noah sees the shooter walking chummily with the police, in full view of the people who witnessed the incident. And then as he walks to an interview room, he also sees all the disagreeable characters (racists, Holocaust deniers, etc.) from the rally, sitting in a big room chatting with uniformed police officers.  These guys are absolutely terrible conspirators.

His father's lawyer arranges to have him released through backroom deals, but Noah refuses to leave without everyone else in the rally.  For... some reason.

The cops release everyone after a few cops protest the conspiracy. Noah has dinner with Molly, and details every aspect of how evil and soul-less his father and profession are. They go back to his house, where they sleep platonically together. The most famous line occurs now, when he warns her not to “tease the panther.”

Elsewhere, a federal agent undercover as an extremist meets with the YouTube guy, who is in police custody.  The agent flies with the YouTube guy to meet three terrorists. The agent has been posing as a disgruntled former agent to them, and the YouTube guy is going to reel in the three entrapped people by pretending to be on their side.

Molly makes Noah breakfast, and they indulge in an escalating series of inanities with a crossword puzzle and Kipling's “God of the Copybook Headings.” The erudition feels painfully forced. They go for a walk and kiss, then sit down to discuss the tax code over coffee. He gives her advice about the Founders' Keepers (i.e. Tea Party) and she demands to know the agenda of the meeting he was in the previous morning and what they discussed after he left. She knows he was there because the catering list gave everyone's name. Yes, the catering list gave everyone's name.  Terrible conspiracy.  Molly will go away forever unless he finds out the meeting's agenda.

He breaks into his father's office with her.  They go to the AV room, and start up a Powerpoint which explains the evil plot. Noah uses his override password to get past the blocks, and explains the titular concept of the Overton Window to Molly.  The Powerpoint eventually is a fully-illustrated and interactive description of the grand evil plot of globalization, labeling dissenters as racists and interning them, and setting up a dictatorship. It must be a very good Powerpoint.  They discover that a “causus belli” will occur in three days.

They leave the office, and go to the Founders' Keepers headquarters in the city. It has books and guns. The Founders' Keepers spend much time memorizing the works of the Founding Fathers in case the government burns or changes all historical records.  Because apparently that is the most effective way to preserve them, rather than burying some copies in sealed containers.  There are some Jefferson and Paine quotes, and then a discussion of the Second Amendment. Molly has a bracelet with a Paine quote and the words Faith, Hope, and Charity (hey, those are the Glenn Beck University courses!) and she gives a sermon about those concepts in American history. Then she drugs Noah.

The agent and the YouTube guy have a fake nuclear bomb they're planning to sell to the extremists. They set up the suicide bomb to blow up the office of the Senate Majority Leader, but don't make the sale yet.

Noah wakes up in custody of the company, who take him to see his father. The father reveals that Molly has been leaking secret information. Apparently as a temp she has access to a large amount of confidential information.  Terrible conspiracy.  Noah's father supplies proof that Molly devised their seemingly chance encounter, dressing to imitate Noah's long-lost mother to make him fall in love,  And it seems that after knocking him out, she used his access card to steal files.  This all turns out to be true, but Molly is still the heroine?  Noah's father makes a speech about how the people of America are stupid and need wise rulers.  It is cartoonish.

Noah believes in Molly, and they plan to escape the city together. Founders' Keepers are being detained by DHS, so they develop a plan to sneak out of New York to Las Vegas. Molly pretends to be Natalie Portman and says she's lost her purse so she has no ID. All TSA officials believe her. When a suspicious “Star Wars geek” of a security officer does stop them, she quotes the movies and he lets her through.  With no identification at all, she flies out of JFK on a fully-fueled jet to Vegas.

The YouTube guy and the agent go to meet the extremists again, who are now armed with machine guns. Agent and YouTube are uneasy, and when one of the extremists puts his hand on the other's shoulder, they kill the extremists immediately. Only one escapes their gunfire, and as he drives away, YouTube and the agent jump in the back of his truck. They discover a viable nuclear bomb there.

As Noah and Molly (now in Vegas) speed on in a rental car to try to save them, YouTube and the agent discover a body in addition to the bomb. It turns out that only one other agent knew that the undercover agent was actually undercover, and they killed him after he tried to set them up by selling them a bomb and betraying them. It is not explained why this other agent didn't just make a decoy like the undercover agent had.  Was it really necessary to give them a nuke?

YouTube and the agent decide the only way to stop the guy driving the truck is to set off the nuclear bomb. I repeat: the only way these two guys can think to stop a terrorist from nuking D.C. is by setting off the nuke early. They do so, nuking Nevada.

Noah and Molly are still driving, pursued by the police. Noah jumps out of the car at a bridge and stands in the middle of the road to try to slow down the chasing cars, apparently with his body. As the police approach, the nuke goes off.

The police take Noah into custody and torture him, including waterboarding. He doesn't break. Eventually his father visits, and gives a long speech. Then they start electroshock torture. Eventually Noah lies and claims to be on his father's side.

In the epilogue, we find Noah in an internment camp, pretending to be working for his father in the plan to take over the world. An agent of Founders' Keepers contacts him with words from Molly and the first of several new assignments.

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