Politicians as Would-Be Movie Stars

James Hillman died last fall at the age of 86.  Even though I only met him twice at lectures, I’ve read his books for decades, and he is one of only a few people who deeply shaped and changed the way I see the world.  Hillman was an influential post-Jungian thinker.  As I said in my “About” page, from Hillman I learned to search for the fantasy in our “realities,” and the reality in our “fantasies.”

James Hillman

Hillman considered literalism one of the great diseases of our time, but one area where I have trouble “seeing through” the illusion of “fact” is election year politics.

On Sunday I got a clue about why so much of the rhetoric sounds like bad dialog in a B grade movie – to a great extent, it is!  A guest on Sunday’s edition of Moyers and Company was Neal Gabler, a film historian, cultural critic, and author of Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality (2000). Gabler says our politicians are trying to play movie heroes.  We-the-people demand it, but it makes us cynical because we know it’s a sham:  “we’re…in a campaign season where what we’re really watching is not so much political debate, though it’s called that, as we are watching a movie in which candidates are contending to be our protagonist-in-chief.”

Neal Gabler

Gabler continues:

“There’s a kind of American schizophrenia about our politics. On the one hand we love to sit back and see these people be compelled to seduce us because elections are basically about seduction…But that also gives way to an incredible cynicism about the process…And one of the reasons we’re cynical is because we get it. We get how it works.”

Gabler says now that we have an Occupy Wall Street movement, we need an Occupy Media movement.  We need people fed up enough to say, “I want a real debate on issues.”  Otherwise, “if we don’t start asking those questions we can’t move this forward at all. All we’re going to get is punditry and analysis of who’s winning and who’s losing and a movie. We’ll get nothing but the movie. But the problem is movies don’t answer the pressing questions of America. Policy answers the pressing questions of America and we have to demand to know what these guys are going to do and what choices they’re going to make.”

I personally don’t have much hope that it’s going to happen in this election cycle.  Meanwhile, Gabler’s image of the candidates-as-would-be-actors, trying to be Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, makes their actions intelligible.  There is Hillman’s “fantasy in the reality.”

If this sounds as interesting to you as it is to me, you can watch the 20 minute interview or read the transcript here:  http://billmoyers.com/segment/neil-gabler-on-how-pop-culture-influences-political-culture/

The good news is, Moyers promised to have him back on the show as the election year continues.

4 thoughts on “Politicians as Would-Be Movie Stars

  1. Protaganist-in-chief! Hah! That is perfect. I am so tired of the non-stop electioneering that goes on in this country. I heard one candidate complain yesterday that another had played dirty politics by actually playing his own voice saying his own words from four years ago. The silly season just seems to get sillier and sillier and never ends.Feh!


    • Thanks to the miracle of instant gratification by ebook, I started Gabler’s, Life, the Movie, today and I will certainly have more to say about his ideas. Provocatively, he calls our culture, not post-modern, but “post-reality.” Nothing we don’t already know, but organized in a way that gives it a punch.


  2. Hi Morgan… it was probably after reading one of your posts that I realized this whole year, election-wise (since they started campaigning in the media for this election at least a year ago, now), is really the year of the new graphic novel about the 2012 election.- for one, the Elephants really (REALLY) don’t want to win, but prefer instead to leave the Asses taking another four years of abuse over things that can’t be fixed, like the economy, separation of church and state, civil rights, mid-eastism, et al. So, I think that’s why we have all these characicatures of not funny candidates (don’t forget Sarah and Michelle), who in true comedic style, take what they’re doing (and themselves) way too seriously, when the whole world knows it’s all a big joke!!! Secondly, more than I care to think about, believe in the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, so there’s really nobody left to even pretend to care what happens this year.
    So the Comic Strip “2012 Election” will be the best thing to come out of this year of bad jokes and worse jokers.
    I sure wish I could draw!!!


    • I had not thought of it quite that way, but something is desperately wrong. Graphic novel? Interesting, though I still think in terms of reality TV. That’s certainly what “the debates” amounted to. Very frightening when you think of the gravity of some of the issues.

      I think part of the problem with this year’s crop of Republicans is their demented compulsion to cater to the fantastical wing. Don’t you just want to see one of them say, as McCain did to Rush Limbaugh, that’s bullshit (I paraphrase).

      I mean some of what we have already seen is so bizarre it would be hard to include in fiction. A candidate who wants to fix the economy by colonizing the moon? What a rich vein for a screenwriter who wants to create, Dr. Strangelove, 2012!


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