Elections in Popular Culture

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The Campaign and The Manchurian Candidate are among the films that can help us understand the comic-but-grotesque character of American politics.

By Neal Meyer, et. al.

From the fictional portrayal of Huey Long in All the King’s Men to Election with Reese Witherspoon or Bulworth with Warren Beatty or The Candidate with Robert Redford, U.S. culture has plenty to say about elections. Here are some favorites from DSA activists:

The Campaign is the funniest satire of our recent electoral politics I’ve seen outside of Saturday Night Live. Two candidates compete for a congressional seat: a Democrat going for his fifth term (Will Ferrell) and a Republican naif (Zach Galifianakis), but you soon forget the party affiliations, as both speak in the same patriotic clichés and sling outrageous personal attacks at each other with not one mention of any actual policy issue except, briefly, “jobs.” The evil Moch (!) brothers manipulate both candidates and—look for it—supply the voting machines. Well acted.Barbara Joye  

The Manchurian Candidate A still-enthralling cold-war-era melodrama, it centers on a plot by combined Soviet-Chinese Secret Service operatives to influence the upcoming presidential selection process by “brainwashing” a returning soldier into an assassin. From the 1959 book by Richard Condon, the film stars Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh. Complete with such staples as military police derring-do, Asian conspirators, a stunning Lansbury (Newsweek in 2007 named her character one of the ten greatest villains in film), and a national convention at Madison Square Garden, the production is masterly, better than its 2004 remake featuring Denzel Washington. —Michael Hirsch

To understand U.S. politics you need to watch three television shows: (1) The West Wing to understand the idealistic aspirations of D.C.’s army of staffers. They imagine they are C.J. Cregg or Sam Seaborn, running between cubicles and changing the world; (2) House of Cards to understand the Machiavellian character of our political leaders. The ruthless rise of Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, is a reflection of the career trajectories of Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton; and (3) the most important, Veep. U.S. politics is defined by its clownishness. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character is a carbon copy of Joe Biden.

What is truly radical about Bernie Sanders? He is the first candidate to run for president who isn’t a character out of one of these three shows.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 32 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 40 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 90 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 25 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.