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Hullabaloo


Thursday, January 27, 2005

 
Popular Kulturkampf

I missed this yesterday, but apparently the little mice in The Corner believe that lefties should be as dumb as the wingnuts who are embarrassing themselves with nonsensical cries of "liberal bias" because "The Passion" didn't get nominated for Best Picture. The fact is that people who follow politics and popular culture (and don't live in a right wing prayer group telephone tree) know how these things work and don't pitch fits when the world works in thoroughly predictable ways.

For instance, people who read know that Michael Moore declined to submit "F9/11" for the "Best Documentary" category (in which he was the odds on favorite to win another Oscar) back in September because he was hoping to get a TV airing prior to the presidential election. The rules specify that you can't air a documentary within nine months of it's theatrical release to contend for a Best Documentary Oscar. Therefore, the only category for which his film could qualify was Best Picture, an extreme long shot.

The Academy can vote en masse for documentaries and it's highly unlikely that the highest grossing documentary of all time would have been overlooked in that category. It is highly likely that he would have won that award. Therefore, it was actually quite a sacrifice on Moore's part. Winning Oscars is no small thing and any filmmaker would love to have a couple of them on his mantle. He gave up what he knew was his best shot at winning --- and getting a chance to make a big speech that would be heard around the world --- in order to try to get his film seen by more people before the election.

He certainly has my gratitude for doing that, and for all he did during the campaign. I believe that he and many other representatives of popular culture helped our turn out. And for those who think we should distance ourselves from Hollywood, I can only laugh. Popular culture is our single most potent weapon in the post modern political world in which we live. It continues to prove day in and day out that the liberal consensus still exists in this country and that the way people actually live (as opposed to how they think they are supposed to say they live) is tolerant, progressive and as far from the cramped, hypocritical Republican worldview as can be.

But, we've barely scratched the surface of how to use it for partisan purposes. Any thoughts that we should leave Democratic politics completely in the hands of dry, boring wonks and political junkies is about the most obvious recipe for ongoing disaster I can see. In a world of millions of competing voices, we'd better find a better more hueristic way of translating the liberal consensus into political action or before we know it, the other side will have completely cowed the public into believed that up is down and wrong is right.

The other side has created its own blatantly partisan politico-entertainment sector with talk radio and FOX News. But they are a bunch of angry, ugly wankers. We can do much better than that if we put our minds to it. In fact, we must.

Do the Democrats have guys like these working for them? Do they think in these terms?

Mr. Schriefer said he and a team of White House big shots transformed Madison Square Garden into a giant TV studio, "stealing" elements from network TV newsmagazines, awards shows, David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. Mr. Bush's intimate podium-in-the-round was designed by Joe Stewart, who has created set pieces for magician David Copperfield and Comedy Central's The Man Show. The giant movie screen used for broadcasting video shorts and Reagan requiems was ripped directly from the Academy Awards. "We realized the big screen actually became a character in the whole thing," said Mr. Schriefer.

[...]

"We live in a time when there's a real cross-pollination between politics and pop culture," he said. "As Republicans, we're often thought of as behind the curve in popular culture, and we don't have to be, and we can certainly compete on that level just as well as the Democrats can."

[...]

"If you think about what images you have in your head from the Kennedy years, it's really not video -- except one awful piece of video," he continued. "It's stills. They deliberately modeled the West Wing intro after that; they've modeled it after these famous photos of Kennedy, standing by the window and stuff like that. They clearly studied this. These are the images you have of the Presidency. So in that sense, if you're trying to elicit an emotion more than tell a linear narrative, stills can work -- with great words."

The movie also used "rotoscoping," the technique used in the Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, that allows moving 3-D elements to be added to still photos. For instance, in the images from Yankee Stadium, they made the flash bulbs flash. They also used natural sound, "like a radio play," said Mr. Stevens, "like an NPR story, so you'd hear these live sounds. You hear their breath and their footsteps. We wanted to get the other voices of the people in there -- the firefighter. Those are obviously their real voices."


Sure, Spielberg comes in and makes a nice film for Kerry, but he isn't devoting his entire life to putting on the Democratic Show like these guys are. He doesn't create a seamless road show from lighting to backdrop to sound to music that follows the campaign everywhere it goes that fellows like Stuart Stevens do. We are all aware of how they compose the shot to make Bush look more presidential and how they put the words they want people to absorb in a backdrop, but did anyone ever notice how they compress the sound at a Bush rally to sound as if the roar of approval builds to a frenzy? They are into all these details of presentation that we just seem to overlook. Our campaigns look old fashioned and ragged by comparison. Our TV pundits are tired and haplessly unprepared. We have no sense of drama as a party, as a movement. (This was, in my opinion, one of Clinton's great gifts. For better or for worse, he was interesting.)

I'm hearing a little rumbling though that sounds promising and its coming from our own little corner of the political world. When an establishment expert like Stuart Rothenberg feels that it's worth making derisive comments about you by calling you "clueless" and having an "exaggerated sense of your own importance," you know that an upstart revolution is taking place.

Somebody isn't being boring and that's an excellent step in the right direction. Right now the left blogosphere is a nascent rag tag grassroots reform story that shows incredible energy and some long needed idealism. If Dean (or Rosenberg for that matter) becomes the chairman of the DNC, that's the image this party is most likely to have going forward. I'd love to see a Democratic Stuart Stevens start working with this right now to market that energy and idealism to the public. We're using media in a new way that's fresh and exciting and it's making the old guard nervous. Now that's something we can work with. There's a new revolutionary narrative emerging and if the Democrats are smart enough to see it, they'll begin to build a popular culture presence right now to go with the substance of the reformation of the party. That's how smart politics are played these days; you work on several different levels --- it's all part of the same thing.

And while Michael Moore is a flame throwing polemicist who serves a very particular function in this whole thing, he's probably got some very good contacts in Hollywood who'd be more than interested in helping with this project. I would hope that any part of the Democratic establishment, new or old, that gets approached by people who know something about this stuff will listen. It's one of the keys to our future.



Here's another interesting article about how the two parties handle advertising. Very illuminating.


Update: To those who have written to me complaining that I have mischaracterized Michael Moore's withholding his admission to the Academy Awards, here are the rules for submission to the Best Documentary Awards.

And as for your complaints that "F911" would not qualify as a documentary because it is not factual, bite me.





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