Friday, August 5, 2016

Hollywood and the Longest Word

As kids we use to bandy about that elongated one which, in spite of itself, was easy to spell. The word is antidisestablishmentarianism. And I didn’t even use spellcheck. You have to admire a word with two negatives on its back. I am now exhuming it from 16th century England to our election year.

When the 8th Henry (Charles Laughton, Damien Lewis etc …), in order to install the 9th, wrested himself from papal strictures to form his own Anglican church, he disestablished the Catholic grip on his royal zipper. Those opposed were the anti-dis…….

Fast forward almost 500 years. Today we are witness to feeling the Bern and enduring the Donald. Polar opposites but both disruptive to the established ways of their respective parties. Jefferson reminds us that the tree of liberty (establishment) needs to be refreshed from time to time. Of course that didn’t include his six hundred slaves.

Populist voices have emerged in our political theater from William Jennings Bryant (Frederic March) to Huey Long (Broderick Crawford) as well those concocted by Frank Capra (Gary Cooper and James Stewart). The two Capra characters in Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington were lightweight entertainments with a bit of an edge.

A more serious treatment of the populist demagogue was Bud Schulberg’s, A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan. Andy Griffith was memorable in his film debut. His depiction of the rise and fall of a down-home troubadour turned into a demonic fool, was chilling. The guy who seemed like the salt of the earth had bitter herbs behind his mask. The film revealed the power of media to manipulate an uninformed and aggrieved public using an, aw shucks kind of guy. In its way it prepared us for Ronald Reagan.

Today we are living inside an outlandish script of a B movie. A plot that wouldn’t get past the first reader in a Hollywood studio. Who would ever buy into a confection of an arrogant real estate tycoon living in a Manhattan penthouse adored by unemployed coal miners and high school drop outs? The only one who could pull this off is Meryl Streep in her greatest role. The candidate blurts his way to the White House door. Send in the clowns.

We are witnessing the rise of disestablishmentarians. There is much about our establishment that begs for overhaul. But the demagogue is less interested in a substantive agenda than in self-aggrandizement. If we had a serious and viable alternative to Hillary to register our disestablishmentarianism I would say, count me in. But we do not. The specter of Dr. Strangelove controlling the nuclear button is too horrific to chance.

I’m willing to wait it out until Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch meets Martin Sheen as Pres. Bartlet with a touch of Pacino or Lancaster to shake the rafters and of course Meryl again to risk everything.

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