If you think of the current presidential campaign as a movie, the economy, by all rights, should have pre-empted most of the drama and handed the lead role to the lantern-jawed financier. The movie would have told of a decent man, so unflappable that he never broke a sweat, who tried his best but couldn’t work his will on the world and make things right. Into that void, walked Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who vowed that he had the experience and strength to turn things around.
Here was a simple plot pitting weakness against strength, a well-meaning amateur against a tough-minded business titan – essentially, the professor against the industrialist.
But that’s not the way it seems to be turning out. And the reason why may have as much to do with movies as politics. We love the idea of civic responsibility, of an informed citizenry boning up on the issues. But what we really do when we vote nowadays is cast our preference for the candidate who proposes the better movie – who seems to make the better protagonist in the national drama.
We impose “the Hollywood Test.” And Romney, despite his sturdy good looks and the ready-made script, doesn’t seem to be passing right now.
We all know that politics has become another branch of popular culture and politicians can get the same media treatment as celebrities. But this may be the least of the transformations that popular culture has wreaked on political culture. All of us, conditioned by the inundation of entertainment in our lives, have come to see elections as another entertainment, and we ask our politicians to serve the function that stars serve in their movies – to provide us with the vicarious reassurance that problems are not intractable and everything will work out in the end.