Here we are just weeks away from the rottenest election in recent history, stuck between P.T. Barnum and the corrupt corporate Queen of Chaos. Never in my life have I been so disillusioned with American politics, to the point where I just don’t believe in the system any more.
However, we have to take our solace where we can, and I think I’ve found something that is more than a simple distraction. Something that is really very profound and speaks to the miserable process we find ourselves mired in. That gem is the movie “A Face In The Crowd”, which hit the screen in 1957, but is as applicable today as it ever was. It actually predicted the rise of the steaming pile of waste that is Donald Trump.
“A Face In The Crowd” is an adaptation of the short story “Your Arkansas Traveler” by Bud Schulberg, and stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau. It was directed by Elia Kazan, a very controversial figure during the McCarthy Red-baiting era in Hollywood. More on that later.
As the movie begins, we find Trump – er – Griffith in jail with some drunken buddies. Patricia Neal plays Marcia Jeffries, host of a local radio show, who sets up recording equipment in the jail to profile personal stories. There, she meets the larger-than-life character of Larry Rhodes, played by Griffith. With an old guitar as a prop, Marcia transforms Larry into “Lonesome Rhodes”, a dusty corn-pone with the gift of gab who can wrap an audience around his finger. She helps him score a television show in Memphis, and “Lonesome Rhodes” captures the heart of the nation. Think “Hee-Haw” Meets “The Apprentice”.
As advertisers begin to flock to the show, one mentor to Rhodes tells him, and us the viewer, that (paraphrasing) “There is an elite out there, and with the new medium of television they will control the people”. I wish I could find the clip, it’s very powerful. Rhodes fits into their plan, and moves from hocking men’s vitality tablets and mattresses to helping elect a Senator.
Griffith masterfully plays Lonesome Rhodes, foreshadowing Donald Trump’s hucksterism, bluster, and ability to coerce the simple-minded with broad, vapid outlines wrapped in down-home sensible sounding bullshit. Like Trump, Rhodes is an arrogant womanizer who emotionally crushes the person who loves him most (Jeffries).
But much like other tales of champions felled by their own hubris, it all comes crashing down around him when he is exposed as a lying, vengeful, manipulative bully. I expect the same will happen with Trump. If not, this article may put me in a future President Trump re-education camp.
We rented the movie from Netflix, and it came with extra features that probe the background of the movie – really worth watching. Director Elia Kazan perfectly captured the emerging medium of television and the ability to spread propaganda on a scale never before imagined. Kazan is also known for the blockbusters “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “On The Waterfront” and “East Of Eden”.
Kazan came under severe criticism in Hollywood when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. As a witness, it is believed he provided information that ruined the careers of other actors. It was a shameful, paranoid time in American history where anticommunism was steamrolling over authors, actors and public officials. Unfortunately, we seem to be entering a similar cold-war footing with the Russo-phobia coming out of the current Democratic candidate.
So get together with friends and family before the election and watch “A Face In The Crowd”, both for the distraction and comparison to Mein Trumpf. Here’s a few clips: