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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Our national cinema, when we need to show that something is important, that will rock us deep to the core, we always go for the presidential seal. Once things get all the way up the chain to the Commander-in-Chief you know that’s where the buck is going to stop. But what does it mean to have the highest office in the land (well, here in the ol’ US of A that is) used so freely in our national storytelling?

Recently while watching the movie Air Force One I couldn’t stop wondering what the founding fathers would have made of Harrison Ford’s portrayal as president James Marshall. Would a bunch of dudes who were so eager to create a new form of government where no one branch would be more in control than another have appreciated this portrayal of the head of state as a man of action, able to single-handedly defeats terrorists on board, fly the plane itself for a bit, and then perform a dramatic escape in air via zip line to another plane? The events themselves are patently absurd – if we had a presidential candidate that buff I’m guessing the election would have been decided in an epic arm wrestling match. But leaving aside those improbabilities, why was it important to make fictional American president the hero?

When you look at the history of actors who have played fictional presidents it seems like there was a hands-off policy at either portraying or making fun of the office until after Nixon. There are a couple portrayals in the 30s (including the most bizarre Gabriel Over the White House in which divine intervention converts a fat cat into a benevolent fascist with a little help from god) and a few more in the 60s (Dr Strangelove) but seriously, after Nixon, the gloves are off and the president transitions from wimpy buffoon (Being There, Escape From New York) to in-your-face catchphrase-spouting dudes (Air Force One, Independence Day) to everything in between (Dave, Americathon).

Is the United States the only nation that does this, that creates fictional versions of its top official for entertainment purposes? Occasionally, yes, an international spy thriller will need various heads of state to give the nod or order the plot further into motion, but are their European movies whose leaders are taking names and busting heads of CIA task forces who dare threaten them?

And at the very least, what could the rest of the world make of so much Hollywood product dedicated to projecting our elected officials as heroic stoics or power-mad? Once you compare these cardboard toughs with the actual candidates running for office in any election year the disconnect is so great that it wouldn’t be hard for outsiders to assume American citizens are clueless to their own delusions. We want Arnold Schwartzenegger, or at the very least Morgan Freeman, but in the end would settle for Tom Hanks.

In the end I don’t think it does us any good to focus so much time and energy on this idea of a president being as integral to our entertainment as they are to running the country. In fact, I would rather our politicians quit trying to manage their images in appearing “presidential” and instead focus a little more on the real heroics of making things work.

I don’t imagine Hollywood would make a movie of that. Not enough ass-kicking going on.

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Things were bad all over, though the powerful had seen to it that no one truly understood how bad things were. Things might have been different during the Great Depression if they’d had their own version of dollar menus at fast food restaurants and clothing made in sweatshops overseas. But this time around there was credit, and flashier toys to distract people from their lives, and media to inadvertently help politicians hide the truth.

The truth was that things weren’t just bad all over, they were worse than they had ever been.

This one woman, raising two kids on her own, she was finally able to afford a house a few years back. And even though her credit was stretched to the breaking point she felt a sense of pride that she’d been able to achieve the Great Grimmoirian Dream. But the economy tanked, her employer took advantage of the downturn to make a reduction in workforce, which meant that this woman was suddenly unemployed. Because hundreds of thousands of other people lost their jobs suddenly the woman couldn’t afford to pay her credit card bills. Then she couldn’t pay for the house. Then they found themselves on the street, shuttling around between shelters, with the kids education in chaos, spending their nights wondering how they ended up in this condition.

Eventually the woman became unhinged and began spouting nonsense to her kids, scary nonsense like “I think I might have to sell you kids” and “You think we could work together and collect recyclables for a living?” and “Perhaps scavenging at the town dump like they do in third world countries isn’t such a bad idea…”

And the kids were all like “Mom! No! We can figure something out!”

So the kids went out and found a bunch of people protesting against corporate greed. These people had set up a camp in the city and collected resources from sympathetic people and were living in tents and makeshift shelters. When the kids brought their mother to the protest camp they found a community and food and fellowship and were happy for a while. But then the woman realized they still had no home, no stability, and that their community was tenuous at best. She began to say things like “I suppose we could get arrested and then child protective services could take care of you guys” and “Jail probably wouldn’t be so bad, at least I’d get to shower regularly again” and “Why don’t you kids go throw some garbage at those policemen over there…”

And the kids were all like “Mom! That’s crazy talk! Just give us a little more time to figure things out!”

The kids realized that their mother was losing it, that decades of constant lies and the long, slow decline in the standard of living had taken their toll. The kids had learned in school – before they were forced to give up their public education, which was designed to make sure they bought into the Great Grimmoirian Dream – that a democratic government is judged by how it treats the citizens, and it was clear that their democracy was failing them. They knew that there had been populist uprisings in the past, and recently in other faraway countries, and that perhaps the time had come to change the way things were in the Grimmoire.

But what could they do? How would they change their world and save their mother at the same time?

I would like to say that this story has a proper ending, but it does not. In the Grimmoire of old there was a similar story of a mother and her two daughters. Starving from famine the girls scrounged for bread to keep their mother sane and so they wouldn’t starve to death, but their solution in the end was rather extreme. The girls promised their mother to lie down and sleep until the famine was over, and they did, and nothing could ever wake them. Stoically, they died. And their mother is reported walking away and never heard from again.

And so it was, but so shall it be again?

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* a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.

* a person who terrorizes or frightens others.

* a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities

We call Osama Bin Laden a terrorist. We consider him responsible for those who act as his advocates. He doesn’t move about Iran or Iraq or Pakistan informing and instructing people in how to act, he merely inspires those around him to shout “Death to Infidels” and “Kill Americans!” and to set off car bombs in a campaign intended to undermine the efforts of others to maintain order.

We’ve seen less blatant but equally effective terrorism in the past. We’ve seen leaders use fear and terrorism as a political weapon. Despots and dictators, certainly, and those who hide behind the skirts of religion and power to engage in acts of violence, censorship and ethnic cleansing.

Currently we have a pair of terrorist operatives in this country inciting their small cells, their “base,” into a frothy fury of fear and hatred. They speak of the evils of other Americans and, like Bin Laden, are willing to let the individuals carry out their message. They even go around the country calling themselves radicals. And when their followers shout out words like “traitor!” and spit out “off with his head” at their rallies then there is no doubt who the real terrorists are.

John McCain and Sarah Palin are no less terrorists than Osama Bin Laden.

The campaign has gone beyond any previous level of partisan anything-to-get-elected tactics and has moved into the realm of the truly evil. To those who have never understood how a thing like Nazi Germany came about — remember, Hitler was elected Chancellor in a democratic election — I only need to point to the current phase of the McCain campaign as a living reminder. This isn’t a question of ideological differences, this is a campaign of terrorism, plain and simple, based on fear, anger and hatred.

No matter who wins the election, if anything happens to Barak Obama or his family — or any innocent American for that matter — as a result of the current campaign rhetoric I will personally hold John McCain and Sarah Palin responsible for the rest of their natural lives. They have done nothing to quell the rabble, to talk the villagers from gathering with their pitchforks and torches of hatred, and in doing so encourage those they consider their supporters, their base, to act on their behalf. These are the people McCain calls “my friends” and who Palin identifies with as “plain folks.” If they want to play a game of guilt by association by tying Obama to a former domestic terrorist like William Ayers then they better ready themselves for the inevitable. The first person who carries out an act of violence or terrorism on behalf of McCain or Palin, that blood will be entirely theirs.

Just like we do with Bin Laden.

We are standing at the brink of history. There is an opportunity for that history to fall to either side. We will either move forward or tumble backward. There are terrorists among us.

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I see teens and hipster kids wearing the various Hargreaves characters all the time.  You know, the Mr. Men and Little Miss booklets that showcased a variety of moods and behaviors?  No?  Go here for a refresher, then continue.

Okay, so it’s no secret that I wanted to be an animator when I grew up.  Grow up.  When I was eleven I announced that’s what I would be.  I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a lack of drawing talent get in the way.  I share the same birthday as some famous animator dude, so why couldn’t that just sort of, you know, rub off?

That I didn’t become an animator, and how I didn’t, is a much longer story for another time.  But I love keeping tabs on animators and visit about as many animator’s blogs as I do kidlit writer’s blogs.  I can’t help it.  It’s just never going to go away.  One of those bloggers is Nate Wragg.  I love this thing he has for yeti.  His style speaks to my love of mid-century modern, the 1950s visual style of Disney’s Toot, Whistle, Plunk, Boom.  One day (when I win the lottery or a MacArthur Foundation grant) I will buy some of his work.

Right now, though, he’s done a brilliant thing and created, for fun, Roger Hargreaves-type characters to match the current American political race.  If someone were to make a t-shirt with these two side by side I think I could afford that.  Do, go check it out.

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So I’m looking at the footage of the protest on the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday.  You know, the “Free Tibet” banners that were hung from the bridge?  Nice to see a bit of the old home, remember just how politically active the Bay Area is compared to the rest of this great nation.

But… wait.  Isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge one of the high priority targets for protection by Homeland Security?  If a group of protesters can mount these banners on the bridge with this sort of ease, what does it say about our ability to protect the bridge from terrorism and sabotage?

It’s just as I have always believed: terrorism in this country is built on fear, a fear perpetrated by our own government for its own political ends.  We’re not any “safer” than we were before 9-11, just as we’re in no greater danger than before.  The fear and terror are created within and come from the top down.  If we were serious about securing the homeland (which always sounds a little too close to the Fatherland for my taste) then things like this protest on one of the most visibly public American structures couldn’t have happened with such ease.

Americans should be afraid.  Of their own government.  The founding fathers said so.

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