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.

 

 

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 8 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
· 61 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 3 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 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.