Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just Like in the Movies!

My husband and I just got back from a double-feature at the local, second-run theater up the street, where they charge $3 to get in, and serve beer and pizza. I am not sure if it was officially a double-feature, but we hung out in the bathroom long enough to not be sitting there when they cleared the theater between shows. We bought enough pizza and beer to justify seeing each movie for a mere $1.50, and enjoyed a rare, long night out without the usual time constraints brought on by the babysitter's bedtime or our dogs' bladder capacity.

We watched Hancock with Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Justin Bateman, and followed it up with HellBoy 2 with Ron Perlman and a string of actors not talented enough to mention here. While I enjoyed Will's acting (and just looking at him), you might guess from my previous comment that I only tolerated HellBoy 2. One movie pleased me; the other left me disappointed.

As I was leaving the theater, it hit me that what makes a satisfying movie-going experience is similar to what makes voters happy. Will Smith is good to look at, 10 points. Will Smith is a good actor, 20 more points. Great supporting cast (one academy award winner!), 30 points. Hancock had a familiar, but still interesting story to tell, 30 points.

Hellboy 2: Ron Perlman - not terribly sexy, but cute in his own roguish way - 5 points. Acting skills - 9 points. The supporting cast consisted of a stoned-looking Selma Blair, who had nothing much to say, but got all hot and fiery with emotion (drawn in with CGI to make up for her inability to emote with her actual face), a bunch of actors in costumes so thick and immobile that they should have been CGI (it would have been cheaper), and some great martial artists that were so slick and fast the camera couldn't follow their moves. Supporting cast - 11 points. Storyline: far too familiar. In fact it brought to mind Saturday morning cartoons with Tom and Jerry when I was a kid. Tom chasing Jerry. Tom trying to eat Jerry. Jerry miraculously escaping all harm. Tom getting hit in the head with a frying pan. Storyline - 18 points.

Let's apply these standards to our politicians.

Good Looks
Although it is truly sad that we care about the way our elected officials look, it is true that people don't vote for poorly-dressed nerds with highwaters and spinach in their teeth. I think politicians have figured this one out, but some get extra points just for their genes (although age is also a determining factor).

Looks - Obama: 10 points, McCain: 3 points

Acting Skills
Some politicians just exude confidence and authority. They make you feel in your bones the direness of a situation. They light a fire in your belly. Call it what you will, I call it acting. I am not saying this in a derogatory way - not at all. We all have to act as part of our daily lives. I act one way in front of my children, a different way at work, and yet a different way when my grandma is in the room (grandma doesn't approve of fart jokes).

We are all just individual people. Authority is not within us, but given to us based on our ability to act like leaders. Leaders don't have nervous ticks. They stand up straight and look you in the eye. Leaders use their faces and their bodies to add impact to their words for the benefit of the audience, which is you and me. If Will Smith were running against Selma Blair, guess who would win? Turn the sound off the next time you watch the presidential candidates speak.

Acting - Obama: 18, McCain: 10

Supporting Cast
No president can run the country by him or herself. When one tries, cries of impeachment are not far off. No, a presidential nominee needs a strong supporting cast. There has to be the preferably strong female interest (assuming the candidate is a male) to create chemistry and emotion; and the good guy/best friend trying to get by or maybe make a difference in the world. A "Professor" is always a plus, too, with cool gadgets and inventions to perk us up.

Now a Presidential nominee can choose to play his cast like the sad, out-of-touch comedy troop from Gilligan's Island. The three stereotypes of womanhood are represented: Mrs Howell - the rich bitch, Ginger - the sexpot, and MaryAnn - the girl we all wish we would have married before we ended up with Mrs. Howell (but little did we know MaryAnn was a Valium addict, with those glazed eyes...). The only problem with this approach is that real women are nowhere to be seen. Woman as equal, as protagonist, moving the conversation (or the plot line) forward, does not exist. Even Gilligan, representing the best friend, is abused and his efforts for a better life are ridiculed. Like on TV, the only keeper in this political staff is the Professor (but then again, he was the only cute male on the show - 5 points).

McCain has selected a rabid Mrs. Howell as his running mate. Palin is obviously a strong woman, as required for a film that aims to captivate watchers. But she is unsympathetic to viewers. She does not accentuate McCain's role, nor does she serve as a model for women to identify with. She could be construed as "everywoman" to those who live in small towns and have extreme, out of touch views about science, but that is a minority among women today. Believe it or not, most women agree with most men that evolution and global warming are true. Her presence, however, certainly moves the story forward. Paradoxically, McCain and Mrs. Howell (I mean Palin) together have ridiculed the everyman in Gilligan, and I don't see any Professors on their slate.

Another approach to casting for the presidential campaign is to treat your actors with respect, providing human depth and complexities that most movie-goers appreciate. While McCain's bleach-blond wife prefers to take a "traditional, symbolic" role in the White House, Obama has a real woman (although she looks like a Ginger) in his wife Michelle. This is the role model most women prefer. Strong, sexy and smart. And her role compliments Obama, for a compelling reason to watch this film to its conclusion.

Biden was selected, I am sure, for his ability to win votes in his home state. But he also happens to be a respected and experienced senator who would bring added benefit to the White House. I don't know enough about Biden to say for sure, but he looks a little like the Professor to me.

So, while McCain has selected cast members that give him a big bang for his buck, Obama is hoping his audience will make it past the previews and dig into the heart of the matter.

Supporting Cast - McCain 20, Obama 15

There is a reason why action flicks primarily fascinated with gun fights and explosions don't win academy awards. But they often make a lot of money! The conundrum for the presidential nominees is finding a story that excites the masses, but also offers a wonderful story worthy of repeat viewings. McCain has gone with the tried and true. He is remaking the classic "Shoot-em-Up" film with his campaign by pushing abortion into the center of the conversation. The shots are flying as this highly emotional issue is paraded up main street in an effort to mobilize people who would have ignored him otherwise. Unfortunately for him, this mobilizes both those passionate for and against. McCain knows, however, that those passionately for abortion rights are already voting for his opponent.

The problem with this approach, in all of its manifestations, is that it depends on voters to determine their president based on their immediate anger and fears. McCain is relying on various shock factors for his platform, and that requires an unbroken stream of reasons to be mad and scared. Can he "keep it up" through November? Not a very feel-good movie if you ask me.

Obama's previews show his candidacy to be "Schindler's List" or "The English Patient" - thought-provoking stories of hope and - I'm embarrassed to say it - love. The love of mankind, including those who are dying in the war in Iraq. The love of the earth and trying to slow the devastating effects of our lifestyles. Pretty sappy, huh? What real man votes based on hope and love? Well, I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (5,800 actors and film industry representatives who determine Oscar winners each year) is made up primarily of men...

The storyline for the two candidates couldn't be more different. Do you over-stimulate people's synapses so they stay seated (with mouths agape) for four years of meaningless, high-speed car chases, or do you promise captivating plot twists and in-depth character development for all who cast their vote?

Storyline: Obama - 32, McCain 20

Obviously there is more to getting votes than this! Let's hope that the American voters can see past these surface elements to what really makes a movie great. "The unifying idea that is a recurrent element in an artistic work" is the theme. Car crashes and sappy kisses aside, voters need to look at the substance of each candidate and vote for what will make this country a better place, and maybe even win us an Academy Award, perhaps for "Most Improved Nation."


Totals: Hancock - 90, Obama - 75, McCain - 53, HellBoy 2 - 41

1 comment:

Andi said...

One wants to believe that the American public is not that shallow, but it is difficult to dispute. I remember listening to a radio interview in which the person pointed out that all recent presidential races have been won by the candidate with the better, fuller head of hair. Bush/Kerry was the only race in which this was false, so this seems just as reliable as all of the polls and detailed statistics in predicting the outcome.