A ‘Face in the Crowd’ and a Falling Star
I had this movie fantasy about Obama. He would be whining to his closest associates like David Axelrod or Valerie Jarrett and there would be an open microphone. The American people would finally hear him express his utter disdain for them. Then everything would change!
My fantasy scene comes from “A Face in the Crowd” a 1957 drama starring Andy Griffith. Our future loveable Sheriff Andy Taylor played an entertainer fromArkansas, Lonesome Rhodes, who was in reality a mean-spirited, drunk. He was rescued from a jail cell with his guitar and charmed small town radio. Then he rose to national fame on the new miracle of TV. His public persona was crafted by others as an everyman who understood their hopes and dreams. People tuned in and bought the products he advertised even if every once in a while he went off script and betrayed his manipulative power. At first the public just laughed and bought more.
It was the beginning of the age of television and a cautionary tale about the power of mass media. One character realizes it potential for political power and calls TV ‘the greatest instrument of persuasion in the history of the world” Another more concerned character comments” you have to be a saint to stand all the power that little box can give you”
“A Face in the Crowd” may seem to be all about entertainment if it weren’t for the fact Lonesome Rhodes is persuaded to support a Presidential candidate and have him on his TV show. Lonesome understands what it could mean to join the powers of the mass media and politics. He tells his girlfriend” “Marcia you just wait and see. I’m gonna be the power behind the President… and you’ll be the power behind me” Of course later on he dumps Marcia for a teenage baton- twirler but that is another part of the plot.
Obama is a creation of the media. They loved him for giving a great speech in front of those fake columns. It was a TV set!
But he had never run a business or a state. He had never made an executive decision and voted “Present” a lot in the Illinois legislature. Of course these were the cautions raised by the Right. The mainstream media dismissed them. They claimed he was smart. He would gather the best minds around him. Who cares if he had not been an executive. That is just what business types care about. And of course, there is no one around Obama with business experience so it was not important to them. Oh did I mention he hasn’t fixed the economy yet. But of course that is not his thing. But the environment is. That is why the Gulf spill disaster is so disheartening to the Democrats.
As President Obama’s poll numbers are sinking in the oily ooze of the Gulf oil spill I think it is ironic that it was a prominent Democrat James Carville who began criticizing him first about his lack of attention to the disaster. The environment was the Democrats’ issue. Didn’t Obama tell them that the earth would begin to heal when he was elected? Surely a Republican president would have screwed this up but not a Green Democratic president. He would know what to do. It must have galled Obama when the mainstream media began asking if this was Obama’s Katrina. Dare I say it, but his incompetence was showing.
In the movie Lonesome Rhodes, like Obama had a meteoric rise to the top. Those around him became successful because of him. But we know in Hollywoodthat fame can be fleeting just like political power. People like to compare the two, and opine on why we are drawn to each other. Some say Washington is like high school with power and Hollywood is like high school with money. That one is probably from an east coast perspective. I remember when “West Wing” was on TV a D.C. type commented that the real West Wing was much more crowded and the real people that worked there were not that thin.
Political figures and stars both depend on the love of the public for their success. When they lose our love, they lose their power. Bill Clinton understood this. But with Obama it is striking that the most prominent emotion Obama is showing lately is annoyance…with us! He is annoyed that he is being criticized. I also suspect he is annoyed that he has to deal with any problems. As a matter of fact I saw this emotion (if you can call it that) when the Christmas underwear bomber was caught. Then when theTimes Squarebomb was discovered he seemed annoyed again. This pesky terrorism thing was taking him away from concentrating on being the star he was meant to be.
He doesn’t get the ‘fame is fleeting’ thing. He somehow thinks it is owed to him. In Hollywood we would say he believes his own press releases.
In the movie, Lonesome Rhodes goes on a rant about what he really thinks about the public and his onetime girlfriend, who he dumped for the teenage baton twirler, opens the microphone and his words go out over the air. What does the star think of the American people… “This whole country is just like my flock of sheep! …They’re mine! I own ‘em! They think like I do. Only there’re more stupid than I am so I gotta think for ‘em”
As Lonesome rides the elevator down after the show he doesn’t know yet he’s toast. It may be that Obama is on the elevator and does not yet realize what has happened to him. It is hard to recover from the charge of incompetence. Carter never recovered from the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the constant reminder in the media of “Day 212” etc. Every newscast now numbers the days of the spill on the screen. He will try to recover. Presidents can come back.
Even when Lonesome Rhodes was told he was finished he wouldn’t believe it. He yelled “Listen I’m not through yet” But he was told what would happen. It reminds me what happens to political figures that rise too fast and then fall.
“You’ll be back in television. Only it won’t be quite the same as before….. Then a couple of new fellas will come along…..and pretty soon a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody’ll ask: ‘Whatever happened to whatshisname? You know the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that?’
Lonesome is alone in his penthouse listening to his mechanical canned laugh machine as he ponders his fate.
I keep thinking of Obama alone in his room replaying the tape of his speech with the fake columns behind him. That was the high point. Maybe he saved the columns and he could set them up with his teleprompter and give the speech again. Then he could play a tape of the applause and cheers and he can listen to that too.