Monday, January 2, 2017

The Uncouth Outsider Is Fun In Movies, But How About Politics?


He was an outsider who invaded an institution that did not look kindly upon outsiders.

His skills--if you could even call them "skills"--were effective, even though they were entirely unfinished, unrefined, and unorthodox. Some of the old guard looked on in amusement. Others were downright furious. They even tried to manipulate the system to exclude him.

But excluding him could never happen.

For starters, the media was transfixed, ensorcelled even. Ratings spiked each time he did something that would otherwise ruin another person in his position. Gratuitous acts of violence, obscene language, and "locker room" humor. Some were appalled. But for his legions of followers, all of this fueled an unwavering commitment to their hero.  

And then, against all odds, he won--and won big. No one could believe it. Everything had to go his way for this to happen. And everything, indeed, went his way.

Sound familiar?

That's right. I'm talking about that 1996 film classic Happy Gilmore featuring the comic genius of Adam Sandler.

Last week I managed to attract a stomach bug that put me in bed for a while. When something like this happens, I try to watch movies that won't make me think. So Happy Gilmore it was. But this was my first time viewing this one since the election. Everything looks different since the election.

As storylines go, this is familiar territory for Adam Sandler movies--and for popular movies more generally. Indeed, the animated films that I watch with my kids almost always rely on an unlikely yet endearing hero, from Shrek to SpongeBob SquarePants. The same is true of political movies. For example, the 1993 comedy Dave starring Kevin Kline imagined a presidential impersonator who ends up masquerading as the president. In addition to having fun with the ceremonial duties of the job, he enlists his accountant friend to fix the budget. Because all the budget needs is a CPA to figure it out. And all the presidency needs is "one of us" to use our "common sense."

I am tempted to think that there is something uniquely American and uniquely contemporary to all of this. But then I think of the story of Pope Joan. In the 13th century, a legend circulated of a woman who took on the appearance of a man and rose to become pope. Some of the stories say that she was finally exposed when she gave birth whilst mounting a horse.

So there you have it... Pope Joan was the Happy Gilmore of the Middle Ages--an amusing story that carries with it a popular critique of the ruling powers of the time. I wonder if people then told this story to each other when they had a the plague?

Anyway...

Whether it's folklore or movie scripts, the uncouth outsiders make for a compelling story of populist victories and elitist defeats. When it comes to the very real world of politics and governing, well...

I guess 2017 will tell us how that all works out.

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