All posts in Media

The best movie ever made about American politics is Michael Ritchie’s 1972 move, The Candidate. It speaks very directly to what’s wrong with the Trump Campaign today.

The movie is about an idealistic California liberal, Bill McKay, (played by Robert Redford), who is talked into running a long shot campaign for the Senate by political operator Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle).  Redford, whose dad was governor of the state, is not interested.  But Lucas has a convincing argument:

McKay: You’re saying I can say what I want? Do what I want?  Say what I want? Go where I please?

Lucas: That’s right.  Here’s your guarantee.

Lucas scribbles something on a pack of matches and hands it to McKay.  He opens it:  “You lose.”

McKay agrees, as long as he can control his image and his message.  He runs against a group of obscure candidates and wins the primary.  At the celebration, Lucas grabs McKay and pulls him into an empty bathroom to talk.

Lucas holds a printout in his hand, gives it to McKay.

Lucas: I’m a little disappointed.

McKay:  Why?  I’ve got 47% of the primary field.

Lucas: Yeah, but if you look at the projection on the printout, it adds up to 32% of the election.

McKay:  So?

Lucas: So, those figures hold to November, it’ll be Jarmon 68, McKay 32.

McKay: I thought I was supposed to lose.

Lucas: Now I’m telling you you’ll be wiped out.  You’ll be humiliated.

McKay: That wasn’t part of the deal.

Someone tries to enter the bathroom.  Lucas shouts him away.

Lucas: Somebody’s in here!

McKay: Maybe I should just quit.

Lucas: You can’t quit.

McKay: Go back –

Lucas: Don’t be ridiculous.  You can’t go back.  You’re the Democratic nominee for Senator.

McKay: You make that sound like a death sentence.

Lucas:  No no no.  (Pointing to paper) All that means is that you’re just reaching the people who agree with you already.  Now we have to go after the rest.

McKay: Yeah, and what does that mean?



For the filmmakers, it means compromising his message, backing away from anything controversial, and selling out in general. Nobody talks about selling out anymore, they call it “moving to the middle.”

Paul Manafort obviously never had this conversation with Trump.  He’s still running in the Republican primary, continuing to firm up a base that’s not going anywhere.




There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:

Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.

I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.”  And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)

The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.”  Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to?  “Sure I’m a racist.  But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!”  Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.

Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree.  You either are or you aren’t.  Everything else is a detail.

What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism.  It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…”  Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.

I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.


Interesting column in the Times today from Hao Qun, a novelist and blogger from China.  He was having a meal with some other bloggers, trying to figure out who will be the next person to be arrested by the government.  Microblogging, according to Hao, has become the public square for China, the only way for information to quickly spread around the country.  Popular microbloggers in China have literally millions of followers, so even in a vast country, information on blogs can spread quickly.

A quote from Hao:

I have been asked if I’m afraid. A couple of years ago, in the early days of my blogging, I was scared. Now I am not. I think my shift is representative of that of many popular bloggers, who have been emboldened by the freedom we’ve found online, as my friends have.

I’m moved by Hao’s courage.  Nothing appeals to me more than an individual’s struggle for freedom of expression.  But Hao’s column gives me great hope for China.  In Poland, the communist regime collapsed when the opposition stopped being afraid and started to organize and agitate in the open.  If democracies rule with the consent of the governed, dictatorships rule by the fear of the governed.  When enough people stop being afraid, even the harshest dictatorships can collapse.


There’s an interesting article in Salon about the downside of e-readers.  There is some weak research and data about people not remembering as well reading off a screen as from a book, but I think there really is a point here.

I’ve been reading a book on Kindle, and not been very satisfied with the experience.  The width and feel of a book, the sense of making physical progress through it, is much better than just seeing the advance of a progress bar. I’m less emotionally committed to completing that bar than I am to “getting through” or “getting to the end” of a book — you really make a trip through a book and end at a new place; there’s a palpable sense of movement.  A screen, however, doesn’t change.  You’re where you’ve always been, just a different set of pixels is on.

The two media really present two different purposes: reading as gathering information, and reading as a fulfilling experience.

I’m not arguing for being a Luddite; I’m just making the point that history is not a happy parade of progress.  As we gain, we often also lose.  With the advent of print, the spoken word lost much of its power — can you even imagine there were people who could recite the entire Iliad?

I suspect the switch from books to e-books will also, in time, represent some loss of ability for us, or perhaps better phrased, a loss of a more satisfying experience.

Frontline aired an extraordinary documentary from Olly Lambert on the civil war in Syria. He managed to spend time on both sides of the same battle zone with both the Alawites/Syrian army and the Sunnis fighting against them.   He also wrote an article, “I Almost Died in Syria,” about his experience making the documentary, which you can find here. Lambert feels deeply conflicted when he goes into war zones:

The only true and abiding memory I have of the weeks and months spent in places like Helmand province in Afghanistan or a field hospital in Iraq is a vague and intangible sense of my split personality.  One part of me becomes the journalist thief, prowling in search of people and stories to turn into a film. And at the same time I’m something quite different but also connected:  a profoundly moved and thin-skinned witness to the awful extremes of human behavior.  Both sides need the other, but they pull in very different directions.

In a civil war like Syria’s, most of the victims are civilians, and as in most civil wars, civilian deaths are intentional.  Lambert has the traditional producer’s concerns of “getting the shot” while at the same time witnessing horrific suffering and carnage all around him. (If you see the doc, there are multiple scenes of bodies being pulled out of rubble.)

This had traditionally been called “bearing witness.”  It’s an important and honorable role, but that doesn’t seem to make Lambert feel any better.  Bearing witness all too quickly becomes survivors guilt.


MediaPost’s Vidlog has an article about Alloy raising $30 million, in large part because of its success creating channels on YouTube, and a large part of that is their most successful channel, Smosh.

Although this sounds like gibberish to most adults, Smosh has over 2 billion views, and nearly 7 million subscribers. What is everyone watching?  Well, by conventional standards, not much: hundreds of 3-5 minute comedy videos with strong branding and really, really bad acting.  And yet it has a much bigger audience than Mad Men.  How can this be?  I think we can make a couple of conclusions:

1) It’s yet another sign of the Apocalypse.

2) If you think about their target demo, teenage boys, this is easy and appropriate content to watch on the phone between classes or on the bus home.

3) There are other niche markets like Smosh that a narrowcast channel could own (but they don’t quite exist yet).