Thursday, 10 November 2016

Chillingly prophetic - A Face in the Crowd

"Bible-reading, pork chop eating, just plain folks".  When The People, whoever they may be, place their faith in "demagogues in denim", they aren't taking control but handing it over.  Populism is the Triumph of Id over reason.  If the Fuhrer cheats on tax, wouldn't "we" do too?  If he attacks women, he's just reinforcing what "we" take as normal. Under the cover of The People's Will, any evil becomes aspiration.  Bullying may be successful, bit it's wrong.  Mass movements are not democracy.  Real change only comes when the fundamentals of society change. Misogyny is a symptom.  How can any system change if it's based on fundamental ideas of inequality and lack of respect for others? When people internalize self hate and think it's OK, it's like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Sixty years ago, Elia Kazan predicted the Triumph of Trump in his film A Face in the Crowd.(1957).  Lonesome Rhodes - note the impersonal name - plays "Mama Guitar" which he loves more than any woman because it's subservient and can be controlled.  People love his songs because they seem earthy. "Plain folks" identify with his homilies of home and hatred.  Lonesome becomes a star on the country music circuit.  When he sneers at advertisers, his public love it because they think he's a symbol of freedom. But he's a natural born manipulator, whose only interest is in himself.  He knows how to sell, even if what he sells is illusion: Vitajex pills that do nothing but make buyers feel they're empowered and virile.  As he rises upwards, his speil gets bigger. Eventually he gets into politics.  "Daniel Boone didn't get no welfare", so poor folks don't need support..... Far from being empowered, Lonesome's fans will empower those who exploit them. The movie is frighteningly prescient: phrases in the script pop up in populist movements everywhere. Kazan, a leftwing intellectual, might have been just the kind of uppity outsider "plain folks" don't like, but he understood that mass populism is by no means just small-town America.  Lonesome is Hitler, Stalin or Mao, disguised as Good Ol' Country Boy. Intellectuals don't come out clean, either, because they, too. are seduced.  Watch this movie, and listen to every word.

A Face in the Crowd is brilliant, but falls flat in its happy ending. Lonesome is exposed when his cynicism is revealed live on air, and his fans get mad. and his game collapses.  In real life, as we've seen, people seem to take pride in being selectively gullible. No matter how blatantly they're abused, they take it without demur. Turkeys for Christmas. No matter how evil the Fuhrer, it's OK as long as he is One of Us. Political pundits will analyze Brexit, Trump and other movements, but I suspect the roots lie in wilful ignorance, in a kind of mass collusion. Lonesome has a machine which plays applause when there's no audience.  Lonesome's platform is mass media, which reflects whatever is fed into it, not necessarily the truth, whatever that might be.  A metaphor for those who live in cyberspace where reason doesn't intrude.  Unless change comes from genuine respect for other people, it remains an empty slogan.

No comments: