Thursday, February 11, 2016
By MICHAEL WALSHLate Tuesday night (February 9), the television news networks reported the results of the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary election. While a substantial plurality of Republican voters supported Donald Trump, Democrats overwhelmingly favoured Bernie Sanders.
My first reaction was to recall the words of Canada's Pierre Trudeau following his party's victory in the 1972 federal election. "Whether or not it is clear to you," he said, puckishly quoting the then-popular inspirational essay Desiderata, "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."
Some 60 years into the Information Age, the United States is in crisis. With its democratic consensus in tatters, its electorate may be faced with choosing between a larking billionaire and a self-defined socialist. One appeals to the very human desire for a strong man to take charge in uncertain times. The other represents a call for collective action and systemic change that energizes youth and terrifies establishmentarians.
Flash back six months. Though both the blowhard businessman and the elderly Vermont senator were declared candidates, political insiders assured us the frontrunners were former First Lady Hillary Clinton and presidential son/brother Jeb Bush. Trump, considered God's gift to late night comedians, was expected to self-destruct at any moment. Sanders, well, nobody in the media took him seriously.
Today, the two angry old white men are being taken very seriously. Suddenly, what they stand for matters. Or, as that faux Chinese curse
What would the punditocracy make of it all?
After announcing the New Hampshire results, the Al Jazeera English news anchor tossed the question to U.S. political commentator Bill Schneider, an "opinion maker" well past his best-before date. I remember seeing the neoconservative Schneider served up as an expert in the early 1980s, shortly after Americans elected former television pitchman Ronald Reagan to the presidency.
Schneider frequently offered up his "wisdom" on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, before moving on to a 19-year stint (1990-2009) as CNN's "senior political analyst." His round face and cheerfully self-assured style reminded me of The Muppet Show's Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.
So, what insight did our relic of Reaganism provide? Choosing Sanders and Trump tells us that voters are not satisfied with "the status quo," he said. In case the international audience missed it, he repeated this nugget three times. Indeed, it was about the only thought he had on the subject.
For me, Schneider's lack of useful analysis threw the popular culture's current fascination with zombies into a whole new light. By choosing angry insurgents, voters rejected the "approved" candidates of both parties. Indeed, the power of the parties themselves is under threat as an angry electorate decides that it's mad as hell . . .
On this round, though, there's no mad prophet of the airwaves to rouse the people to action. The news media's senescent pundits are now seen as irrelevant noise that the Internet generation is tuning out.
Tuesday's primary result suggests that a real conversation has begun below the border. Significant questions are being asked and and received wisdom is being questioned. U.S. politics hasn't been this exciting (or important) since the 1960s.
Moving on, as the newsreaders say. The Reeling Back archive continues to grow, with the ten most recent additions being:
FIRE AND ICE
THE LAST EMPEROR
DEATH SHIP — One of four tax-shelter features made by Canadian-born British director Alvin Rakoff, this 1980 horror show about unending Nazi evil has gained cult status. Its also among the worst feature films to enter distribution under the Maple Leaf flag. (Posted February 6)
L.A. STORY — Following the success of Roxanne, his made-in-B.C. adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, comedian Steve Martin reinvented American screen comedy with his screenplay for this 1991 look at California culture. He played a "wacky weatherman" who introduces a female London Times correspondent to a new world. (Posted February 5)
WE THE LIVING — Science fiction writer-turned-philosopher Ayn Rand's first novel was a semi-autobiographical tale of a Soviet-era Scarlett O'Hara. In fascist Italy, director Goffredo Alessandrini turned it into an epic-length feature film in 1942. (Posted February 2)
NATHANIEL BRANDEN (feature) — In the fall of 1966, Ayn Rand's most ardent disciple and sometimes lover visited Toronto to deliver the opening lecture in a series promoting her personal philosophy, Objectivism. Some 300 believers heard the Canadian-born Branden preach a sermon advocating "the virtue of selfishness." (Posted February 2)
LOGAN'S RUN — The top-grossing science-fiction film of 1976, director Michael Anderson's feature resonated with young adults. Michael York and Jenny Agutter starred as a rebellious couple in a world that insists their lives end at 30. (Posted January 30)
OUR FEATURE FILM FEST: 18 — In Part 18 of a 20-part series, Reeling Back continues The Greater Vancouver Book Feature Film Festival with restored notes on the 11 foreign-language features shot in Vancouver, but spoken In Other Words. (Posted January 28)
THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY McKENZIE — Among the first features to emerge from the Antipodean film boom of the 1970s was this satirical comedy, adapted from a linguistically inventive comic strip. The directorial debut of Bruce Beresford, it dropped Britain's worst nightmare of an Aussie into the swinging London of 1972. (Posted January 26)
BEHIND THE OSCAR (book review) — The boycott threat facing the 2016 edition of Hollywood's longest-running awards ritual have prompted some to ask what the Oscars really honour. Author Anthony Holden provides historic fuel for the debate in his cheeky 1993 book, subtitled The Secret History of the Academy Awards. (Posted January 24)