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Reel World Politics

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We are only half-way through the Republican Convention and there are still two months to go before Election Day, but the underlying cinematic metaphors in use by each Presidential campaign are already apparent. Although the main stream media tend to discuss election winners and losers in terms of horse racing metaphors, it is clear that for this election, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have adopted the dramatic arcs found in popular movies as their guides. The use of a movie metaphor gives the candidates a pre-written, pre-vetted script from our popular culture of what to do on the campaign in the media environments that they can control, and how to react to the unforeseeable situations that inevitably arise.

For John McCain, and perhaps more pertinently, for his campaign strategists, it is increasingly clear that their motivating movie metaphor is “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” This Steve Martin/Michael Caine comedy follows the competition between two con-men. Caine is a suave, sophisticated poseur who has no trouble convincing gullible heiresses that he is a deposed aristocrat seeking funds to reclaim his rightful throne. Martin is a small-time con artist who stumbles into Caine’s scam-monde and knows a good thing when he sees it. The two antagonists decide to settle their differences by competing for the wealth of an American soap heiress (Glenne Headley). The salient campaigning example found in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is the give and take between the two con-men and the way they adapt their strategies to take advantage of the each other's perceived weaknesses.
In a similar fashion, John McCain’s political campaign seems to operate purely at a strategic level. Issues of fundamental political agendas, moral constants and national priorities take a back seat to strategic imperatives. Thus, the McCain solution to Obama’s commanding performance at the Democratic National Convention is not to confront issues of policy or perspective, but to trump continuing media coverage by nominating Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential co-runner. That Governor Palin is neither qualified for the job, nor was sufficiently vetted by McCain’s advisers, is not as important as winning that strategic round in the Presidential contest.

For Barack Obama, it is clear that his guiding cinematic metaphor is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with perhaps a dash of “Indiana Jones” thrown in. Stigmatized as elitist, arrogant (code word for “uppity”) and aloof, criticized for missing opportunities to exploit the faux pas and verbal gaffes of his opponent, Obama has faced speculation that he’s not tough enough to compete in the world arena. His critics miss the point. Adopting the James Stewart/Harrison Ford persona allows Senator Obama not only to present himself as the “lone” outsider battling the entrenched corruption of Washington, but also to conduct a presidential campaign that is not driven by strategic imperatives, but which raises substance and principle above strategy. Obama’s emulation of “Mr. Smith” allows him to follow the movie’s dramatic arc to ultimate success in his pursuit of the Presidency.

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  • Joe

    Methinks you watch too much TV.

  • Funny, I thought Obama’s cinematic equal was “The Greatest Show on Earth…”

    But really, I’m with #1. You watch too much TV.

  • Thank you for your comment. I assume that what you mean when you say that I watch too much TV is that doing so has given me a skewed view of reality.

    That may be the case for all of us since very few of us get our information first hand. Would it be better to spend my time reading nerwspapers, listening to the radio or surfing the web to get a world view more in line with your own? What media sources do you use?

    You could have said: “What an interesting and original take on the current Presidential Campaign. While I don’t agree with your conclusions, it does provide a different approach to analyzing the tactics of McCain and Obama. Here are my responses, point by point…”

    Instead you and #1 chose to attack me personally by implying that I am somehow deluded or brainwashed by too much media exposure. While not as raw as some of the personal vituperation you find on the web, it is just as insulting and doesn’t advance your cause.

    Try to do better next time.

  • Gee… sorry to get your panties in a twist. It was not my intention. (I don’t know about #1. I can’t speak for him.)I doubt that even the editors would read my (rather flip) comment and deem it a “personal attack.”

    I think society as a whole watches too much TV. For the most part, it’s vulgar entertainment at its best. That is why I try not to watch any, but I must admit, like every drug to its addict, I am sometimes drawn to it. Television news is by far the worst culprit. It tends to amplify the negative while doing nothing to accentuate the positive. Fair and balanced, my eye.

    I get my “news” online, or in random papers, with a minimum of TV thrown in the mix, thanks for asking. I also temper everything I see and read. I don’t believe everything as it’s thrown at me.

    Now back to your interesting, insightful and entertaining article: If you want to know why I chose “The Greatest Show on Earth?” It’s because that’s what I get out of the show last week. I may be relying heavily on my woman’s intuition, but I detected a high level of phoniness with that campaign.

    I’m watching this week and will report on the other side after it’s all over.

  • Arch Conservative

    Joanne, Obama’s campaign is more like the wizard of OZ. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

  • Arch Conservative

    Only in the wizard of OZ when the curtain was pulled back a shy, self concious but genuinely good guy was revealed not some arrogant, condescending, socialist, dickhead from Chicago with a god complex and a wife that looked like Ru Paul.

  • Arch Conservative

    Oh and this article was one of the dumbest in m ost pointless on BC in a very long time. that’s no small feat either.

  • But you have to admit, Arch, Ru Paul would make a fabulous First Lady!

  • Arch Conservative

    He/she would also make a better president than Barry but that’s not exactly saying much now is it?

  • In keeping with the “cinematic theme” all I have to say is that the “cool points are out the window and politics has me all twisted up in the game.” I know it’ll take a little time but somebody here will catch the cinematic reference.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Bringing Down the House is NOT cinematic.

  • Neither was Bedtime for Bonzo.

  • Jordan Richardson

    By golly, I’m the richest man in six counties.

  • Arch Conservative

    Knute Rocke: All American was though.

  • The greatest movie of the last ten years was Idiocracy because it pretty much sums up where we’re headed. Starbucks, anyone?

  • Robert K Blechman

    I accept your apologies.

  • Jordan Richardson

    You better, Blechman.

  • and coming from Arch, one of the dumbest, most pointless commenters, that’s saying something

  • Robert K Blechman

    Thank you Richardson, but I can think of many Blechmans who are better than me.

  • Clavos

    “For a season, A gifted speaker can inspire with his words.

    For a lifetime, John McCain has inspired with his deeds.”

    Excellent closing, perfectly delivered…