As someone who as taken an interest in what I have called the art world’s ‘pedagogical impulse’ and what others have dubbed its ‘educational turn’, I was of course tickled to read that yesterday marked the first day of classes at Glenn Beck University. As the news outlets have reported, Beck U teaches courses such as ‘Hope’, ‘Faith’, and ‘Charity’, rewrites, apparently, of standard disciplinary topics, such as History, Religion and Economics, though inflected with Beck Inc.’s brand of newspeak and ‘taught’ by some questionable characters (only one of Beck U’s instructors is an ‘academic’ in the conventional sense). And this for only $74.95/year.
That’s a comparative bargain, unless of course you consider iTunes U, which offers an immense array of course lectures taught by academics (some award winning) from institutions (’esteemed’ ones we would say) with brand names such as Oxford, UC Berkley and Yale, and all for the low download price of $0.00.
Of course, Beck U’s point is that it is exactly such institutions of Higher Ed which are mired in what it would call bias and what most everyone else calls reality. (Best that one take American History from the likes of David Barton, whose campaign against the First Amendment of the Constitution is grounded upon the persistent falsification and misattribution of historical quotation, rather than from, say, the Gilder Lehrman Institute).
Now, one cannot but view Beck U as a cynical foray into the education business (and probably something very much akin to Thomas Kinkade’s successful foray into the art business), because a business it is, but I also cannot help thinking that part of what prepared the ground for Beck’s easy entry into this likely very lucrative landscape, aside from the obvious platform of the internet, has to do with a greater crisis of authority, institutional and otherwise, that shapes so much of what we hear and see today, both at large and in the art world itself. And in this, I’m inclined to think that Beck U takes its place next to enterprises such as the BHQFU, or to Night School, or to any of the other ‘alternatives’ to institutionalized programs of art ‘learning’ (though of course not with nearly the same broadcast audience, a difference which is probably all the difference), insofar as they are symptoms of some particular, our particular, social pathology.
The question it seems to me then becomes this: At what turn of the screw do we stop so easily accepting, even desiring, challenges to authority (and their commodification)? What might the project of building or securing authority entail? Or has this notion become so infected with ‘authoritarianism’ that it’s best to let it die?