Propaganda in films are as old as the medium itself, with one of the earliest appearing in 1898, the fictional Birth of A Nation (1915), retrospectively viewed as one of the most racist films ever. We look at few films that may or may have influenced the American voters over the years, thanks to Hollywood.
Separating Hollywood from political propaganda is like separating pineapple chunks from pizza – it can still exist, some would prefer it, but your pizza outlet will be frequented by faceless zombies.
Hollywood is not too crazy about making political films, it couldn’t afford to, being an industry that is bound by regulations, that benefits from incentives and other offerings that need political interference.
Yet, it wants the shelves to be filled with shiny trophies, and therefore they do issue few films out once in a while made by hungry filmmakers looking to make a statement or two, or have suited up on self-importance platforms and deliver priestly preaching; thus, availing these political films to many raised eyebrows of the critics and award-mongers.
With our own election, GE15 around the corner, we could only hope that this better be the most exciting one in the franchise as the last few had been quite riotous with the fall of the government outing led by a nonagenarian.
Propaganda Can Lead You To The Wrong Choice
Anyway, here are few films voters can expose themselves to (without doing mental striptease, that is) as they again vote all the wrong candidates in. They are always the wrong one, aren’t they? Why not? Regret is always the painful gift life keeps handing us.
I have categorized these few films so that it would be easier to look at them in one swoop. There would be some overlaps, so bear with me. There are more films out there for scrutiny, but in the meantime, let’s look at these babies…
All three films are directed by the best in the industry, Alan J. Pakula, Oliver Stone and Ron Howard respectively. All three deals with the fall of the American president Richard M. Nixon, the only politicians constantly identified with lying, further perpetuating the association of b.s with that profession though we consistently turn up in millions to vote them in, anyway.
One of the most famous of Nixon caricatures has him with a Pinocchio nose, you can do a google image and never be disappointed – his lying through the nose being the point. But what is usually left out in these tales of a hunchback leader is the bungle-up by the burglars. The break-in occurring in Nixon’s opponent’s office was the event that led to the fall of the mighty “leader of the free world” (citation needed).
All The President’s Men was a detective flick; Nixon, a “remake” of Citizen Kane (see below) about corruption of the innocent while Frost/Nixon was the recapping of all that. Without any doubt, media and its power played massive part in the fall of this monster, and the 1975 film was inspirational in making that field respectable. Then, of course, online media appeared.
Here we see the youthful idealism and how the noble direction gets corrupted along the way. Yes, the old are wise, but there’s nothing more inherently worse than the mental incest committed by these older men towards the younger ones looking up to them. What corrupted them in the first place? Money is not the root for all evil, the pastor of our rehab centre used to remind us….it is the love for money that throws us into the greed pit. Likewise, the popular saying ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely ‘makes more sense as one gets older. The temptation of a youth is simpler compared to what draws the ageing, desperate, hanging on to strands of rope type of has-beens.
But the abovementioned films are three very different biographic portrayals, all fictionalized (anything recreated are retold from many perspectives). Citizen Kane is a thinly disguised biopic of William Randolph Hearst – a turn of the century media baron who used the power of printed pages and later, radio to influence the political landscape in the country.
Meanwhile, both JFK and Nixon, directed by the father of film conspiracies and controversies, Oliver Stone, are based on actual events with presuppositions thrown in. it de-glamourises the Camelot glitter of John F. Kennedy’s leadership and focuses on the detective angle, with images of the late leader’s body in the morgue thrown in to show that fall not necessarily occur late in life in case of many leaders – glories can be shot down anytime.
The Propaganda Extravaganza
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Front (1976) & Red (1981),
From the time when we generations earlier than millennials were warned of the communists, we somewhat associated cruelty, arrogance and debauchery to that form of ideology. Especially cruelty. Adulthood, though it throws us headlong into the cesspool of responsibility, also opened our mind and made us realise that we have been victims of especially the American propaganda. Damn it, we owe much of the government-to-citizen social amenities to the communists (like EPF, Socso and much of what has been decreed in the labour law).
These films showed the red fear as a menace, and the leads in these films were somewhat persecuted for their involvement with the commie b***tards! – victims of political witch hunt perpetrated by one Senator Joseph McCarthy. Who knew that few decades down the road when the Ruskies finally closed their rickety shops, the Americans moved in to terrorize and menace the entire world.
Now, propaganda on the US behalf is made by the scores of comic book superhero flicks that are infesting the cinema like the cockroaches in the Men in Black movies. Of course, I enjoy them, and then bitch about them, no different than Malaysians who take the BR1M and spew hatred on former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Same deal, bro.
All three talks of political candidate or situation where an idea man, a spin doctor and a strategist are roped in to give their few cents worth. In the candidate, Peter Boyle plays the head hunter (not the native type) who searches for the perfect, youthful candidate to shore in the younger voters and finds one in form of Robert Redford. Young, handsome, charming, Redford agrees to stand for the election, but not without guidance and handholding by Boyle. Redford finds himself slowly betraying his own values and idealism and begin to fall into the cesspool of dirty politics. The ending is one of the most harrowing ever to put on screen. Having won, Redford sits in his hotel room, looking dazed and confused. When Boyle enters the room, Redford asks, “now, what?.
The manipulation occurs in Wag The Dog, when Robert de Niro, playing a spin doctor who engages Dustin Hoffman’s character, a film director, to help shoot clips and short films that will help to divert the attention away from the real problem (political sex scandal) to a made-up war. The besmirched US President’s name is now laundered with non-existent blood, because nothing gets Americans hot and heavy but with war and violence. Sort of what happened between one Clinton, Lewinsky and many Iraqi lives
Sandra Bullock plays the amalgamation of both Boyle and de Niro, plus more, and a lot more intelligence, gut, and more heart this time in Our Brand is Crisis, where she helps to redeem a Bolivian presidential candidate’s crestfallen image, cleaning it up and, like the end of The Candidate, this time it is she who realizes that all that idealism, eagerness and knee-jerk reaction in putting on the superhero cape is merely temporary. It’s back to square one.
That Sandra Bullock film especially is a big lesson for all of us. No matter how we start believing that we did the right thing by going behind, supporting or voting for a person or cause, we have no say or power whatever to deal with the outcome. Its back to the poll again and we are back at square one.
Voters, when facing the ballot papers, has to think with a black and white mentality when voting in people, real human being, who are as grey as they come, loaded with virtues and sins just like you and me. There got to be a better way, but in the meanwhile, happy listening to the lies, empty promises, but forget about the tattooed Rafizi Ramli’s face and tentacles in your head, use these films to make up your own mind instead. – NMH
About the writer: Rakesh Kumar is a writer, scriptwriter, and film aficionado, who is four years and ten months clean and sober. And counting. The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the NMH.