It happened about 50 years ago before our very eyes. The hero got grubby. His Levis were frayed. His name was no longer Gable or Grant. He suddenly had a past either buried or one that could fill a police blotter. His marriage was doomed. He was on some twelve-step program and stuck at number six.
All this in the name of authenticity. Clean-cut wasn’t to be believed. Or happily married. Or what we used to call well-dressed. The scruffy chin and vomit scene became mandatory short-hand for what is allegedly real. Throw in a few tattoos and a skin rash to make the grit into True Grit.
If Doris Day were a star today her name would be Kappelhoff and Kirk Douglas would stay as Issur Daniclovitch Demsky. Reality is all the rage. We have little patience for artifice. Except, of course, that Reality shows on TV are as fake as commercials. There is a longing among us for the actual, scorn for pretension, even for received truths. One must dress down, talk down, think down.
There is an irony in all this as the middle-class goes slumming in denims with scrupulous holes and have their hair done to look like they just got out of bed. The well-educated have to drop their g’s as in comin' and goin'. Even Obama does this to show he’s just one of the guys. The dumbing down of America has prepared us for this year’s presidential campaign.
Enter the demagogue who knows just what to do. The Art of the Pander is to fake authenticity. He hears them. He mimics the talk and throws them red meat to chew on. He scares the bejesus out of them and then pulls out the snake oil, the panaceas and promises, the wall. His audience doesn’t care that he makes no sense, only that he is one of them in his blurts and his barbs. Believe me, he says, whatta ya got to lose?
Because his opponent is not to be believed. She waffles, hedges and hides. She doesn’t connect. She can’t fake authenticity the way he can. She is what she is, a political animal. He’s just an animal. If she is seen as Lady Macbeth, he is the dangerous fool, part Falstaff, part Richard III on stage… strutting and fretting.
When the curtain goes down on this theater will the audience have demonstrated to the world their gullibility and ignorance the same way they buy cereal because of the hokum on the box? Or will we cast our lot with the woman of substance, in spite of her prevarications, who hears the disenfranchised, listens to Science, addresses underpaid workers and student debt and can move the agenda toward a more authentic society?