Friday, March 4, 2016

The Face Of The American Crowd

Donald Trump, top photo, and Andy Griffith, above, as Lonesome Rhodes, in Elia Kazan's "A Face In The Crowd".
 Getty; Warner Brothers

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, March 4, 2016

For it is impulse, impulse - and impulse alone - that almost always rules.

I just made up the line above.  But it's true.  Humans are ruled by impulse and restrained by conscience.

With that said, the most urgent question at the moment is, are we all Marcia Jeffries?  Do we have the power, or more precisely, the willingness to pull the plug on Donald Trump, the reality television show racist and misogynist who is also a Mussolini fascist? 

"A Face In The Crowd", Elia Kazan's excellent 1957 film scripted by Budd Schulberg, is astonishingly prescient about today's fanatacism, media stardom and the power of influence over the masses.  In the film Andy Griffith is unforgettable as Lonesome Rhodes, an Arkansas criminal picked up off the prison scrap heap by Marcia Jeffries (a memorable Patricia Neal) and catapulted to fame and later megalomania.  

Almost sixty years after Mr. Kazan's film Donald Trump is Lonesome Rhodes -- but far, far worse.  Trump, a master manipulator of an equally calculating and excessively Trump-promoting mainstream media, has obviously watched Mr. Kazan's film.  Though Trump University was one of several calamitous business failures, Trump himself is a Lonesome Rhodes scholar of sorts.  Trump has lauded the rube class, much of whom are devoted to him.  "I love the poorly educated!", he said last week. 

Trump is an apt pupil adept at media, culture and the impulses of people.  He knows how to tweak and disrupt all of these.  He entertains in an atmosphere where skill is less rewarded than slickness and appeal to base instincts.  He nods to violence, endorses it and champions anti-Muslim fervor.  Last September he nodded in agreement as a voluble questioner at his New Hampshire rally said America's problem was "called Muslims."

But if Donald Trump is a fascist and a narcisist what are we?  For a clown to rule the stage he or she needs an audience.  And we are the theater he plays to.  Some of us are repulsed.  Others curious.  Or enthralled.  Or approving.  Even those who say they won't vote for Trump watch him for "entertainment" purposes.  Some voters in the Democratic Party have said that if their candidate doesn't get the party nomination and Trump is the GOP nominee they will vote for him.

It is that very thing, that excuse or that impulse that Trump feeds and massages within human beings - that titillation switch - which may explain why his popularity is spreading like wildfire across America.  It's a disturbing reality, given Trump's vitriol, hatreds and obvious sociopathic, unstable ways - that some hardened Bernie Sanders supporters (or Hillary Clinton supporters, for that matter) - will in an instant vote for Trump.  They secretly desire him.  Why?  Perhaps because their basest feelings znd impulses are being fed.

Marcia Jeffries is us in the sense that we project our own demons, desires and monstrous appetites onto something we see as either helpless or bigger than us.  Or both.  We are the architects of projection.  We could be projecting onto Trump and vice versa.  Or both. 

One could also say that Jeffries is every bit a predator as any major media news organization CEO is today.  She is a hawker of image, willing to carry or hawk that image wherever it leads and no matter how large it gets.  News is currency.  Or more precisely, no news is.  Commodity is currency.  The less substance the better.  In a fame-crazed, short-attention-spanned reality TV world, we continuously seek the next new thing. 

Marcia Jeffries and Lonesome Rhodes are two sides of the same coin.  One cannot exist without the other.  In "A Face In The Crowd" they live in a slow-burn 1957 world.  They need each other.  They feed off each other the way Trump and his angry hordes do.  The results are drastically different. 

Marcia Jeffries is wide-eyed with a big smile at the start of "A Face In The Crowd", the architect of the same-titled radio show and the creator of the Rhodes persona that has taken over America in a blink of an eye.  She wants to get paid.  She's upset that she's not making the money she should from her own creation (with the sexism implicit and explicit in the 1950s atmosphere).  At that moment she's conscious but thinks little of the damage she has already done.  Another impulse rules her: money.

"It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS said this week in San Francisco, referring to Donald Trump.  Mr. Moonves (aka Marcia Jeffries) was all laughs as he rejoiced about the windfall that he and the corporate media entity he runs was making from the ratings on all things Trump.  The mainstream media's relentless coverage of a man with no substance and all style rakes in millions of dollars for the four corporations which dominate the media. 

Worse yet, at the same time there's no critical questions raised by the mainstream news media of a candidate who says things but shows no detail, plan or even the vaguest kind of specifics.  The mainstream press have cheerled and enabled Donald Trump, violating basic rules of journalism.  With the Fairness Doctrine gone thanks to Ronald Reagan, it's all hands on deck.  Even the notion of equal time doesn't even get honored in the true sense on a consistent basis by the mainstream media.      

Many people don't care about substance.  They don't have time for it.  And the absence of substance is precisely why Lonesome Rhodes and Donald Trump thrive.  Both are bigots.  They thrive in the circus atmosphere of one-liners, crudeness, callowness and in the era of silly and trivial debate questions designed to get Republican presidential candidates skirmishing in a mosh pit.

Besides his appeals and not-so-veiled fealty to white nationalism and racists Donald Trump is thriving because of Twitter and the 140-character soundbites it and he speaks in.  The brevity and vacuousness Trump exhibits is an effective strategy of sloganeering simplicity, dumbed-down enough so that the average person's head doesn't explode. 

In "A Face In The Crowd", General Haynesworth, played by Percy Waram, offers this timely and applicable advice in what was then the dawn of the television age: "Politics have entered a new stage, the television stage.  Instead of long-winded debates people want capsule slogans: 'Time for a change.'  'The mess in Washington.'  'More bang for a buck.'  Punchlines and glamour."

There are lots of punchlines from Donald Trump but glamour is replaced by Trump supporters assaulting and beating protesters, or in several cases, beating people who aren't saying anything at all.  Fascist, totalitarian violence.  Worse than Lonesome Rhodes, Donald Trump has an army of violent people at his disposal.  When people attack a homeless Latino man and tell the police that they are Trump supporters, the gimmick of Trump, who announced his run by saying Mexicans were rapists, gets even more ugly and dangerous.

The truth is, Trump is screaming to white racists across America.  He seems to be dying to put on Klan sheets in public.  He has stripped bare and made a mockery of Lee Atwater's dog-whistle racist politics.  He's the Republican version of George Wallace, who himself prepared Barry Goldwater (whom Hillary Clinton admired as a teenager), Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush, Pat Buchanan and Mitt Romney well in the ways of racist language and coded messaging.  Trump is a good student of it too.  He is crazy, extremely dangerous and pathological but not stupid.  He has studied the playbook well, even stealing Reagan's slogan.  He's studied Mussolini.  So he has surely studied Lonesome Rhodes.

The GOP is poised to be torn asunder not because of Trump's initial refusal to disavow David Duke and the Klan - whom Reagan essentially flirted with while making a speech in Mississippi in 1980 just a short distance from where three civil rights workers were murdered - but because they are too subtle.  Trump is a billionaire authoritarian, which fits in to numerous studies, including Stanley Milgram's experiments, that show that people need, yearn for, or naturally like or want to be led and have an affinity for authority.  America has long been an authoritarian nation.  Founding Fathers.  Patriarchs.  The GOP as the Big Daddy party.  "I know how to get things done" is a line politicians often speak.

In "A Face In The Crowd" Marcia Jeffries is the puppetmaster.  And the experimenter.  She runs the show and pulls the strings of Lonesome Rhodes, whom uses a hick persona but also displays a contempt for those around him as his fame soars.  Rhodes is a Frankenstein.  The mainstream media and the GOP has made Donald Trump a Frankenstein and he, the GOP and the media are playing us like fiddles. 

So who pulls the strings of the public?  Both Trump and the mainstream media do.  What both are selling is showmanship.  Like Reagan, a pitchman in the 1950s and a B-movie star, Trump is a salesman.  Trump is selling persona, and if he has to use poison as perfume or his brand to do so -- and he has, with racist invective, cursing, calls to violence, anti-Muslim fervor and misogyny -- he won't hesitate.

Some of the people who are seemingly logical and sensible and well-educated are falling hard for Donald Trump -- whether due to their own deeply racist impulses, or the candidate's brashness or riches, or just the need to see someone new in The White House.  It's absurd and troubling that the stand eschews substance -- especially since no one knows where Trump stands on core issues.  Those who support him don't care.  But it's up to the rest of us not to fall into the trap.

So just who will unplug Donald Trump from the American consciousness?  The mainstream media?  No.  The public?  No.  The Establishment?  Maybe.  We'll see.  It isn't that Donald Trump taps into a disatisfaction with Washington or the Establisment.  I don't buy that.  That's a hook or excuse every politician uses - until they become part of the Establishment themselves.

Instead Trump is tapping into racists and the will to be hateful, mean, divisive and bombastic.  He is the id of all of those things.  He feeds it both in himself and in his followers.  In short, Donald Trump is Demagogue Central.  The difference is, Donald Trump wants to be president of over 300 million people.  Lonesome Rhodes only wanted to be loved by them.

COPYRIGHT 2016.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW