Sunday, May 01, 2011


I've been rereading Mark Harris' mostly-exemplary book Pictures At A Revolution, which examines the genesis and cultural impact of the five movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the 1968 awards.  Harris' point is that two of those movies, Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate, represented what was about to come, the New Hollywood of the seventies and early eighties, while two of the others, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and Doctor Dolittle, represented the staid Old Hollywood that looked increasingly clueless as social and aesthetic changes swept the nation.  (The fifth nominated picture, In The Heat Of The Night, was kind of somewhere in between, and as a well-crafted, well-intentioned but essentially dull enterprise, it's the type of Oscar bait that still shows up every year.)

Reading the book now, the most interesting section by far is director Stanley Kramer's experiences schlepping Guess Who's Coming To Dinner through the studio pipeline.  This is a movie that, in its pro-interracial marriage premise, seemed daring in the development stages, but by the time it was released, felt instantly dated.  The civil rights era had gone a long way to change America's views of race.

Hadn't it?  By Kramer's stated intent, he wanted "the black bridegroom to be so exceptional that if anyone objected to him, it could only be due to racial prejudice."  Harris wryly points out how far Kramer would go to make this character exceptional: he wasn't just successful in his field, "but an Ivy League-educated potential Nobel laureate who worked for the United Nations on worldwide health missions."

Uh, you can probably see where I'm going with this, right?  There are, Lord knows, plenty of reasons to rue Barack Obama's presidency, from a cabinet full of Wall Street insiders to his seeming inability to hold to a simple policy position.  But to suggest that he's somehow not entitled to the office, that he's just not smart enough, that he didn't deserve his Ivy League education...well, to paraphrase Stanley Kramer, those objections could only be due to racial prejudice.

The obvious offender would be Donald Trump, whose increasingly offensive string of claims about Obama reveal much more about his need to be constantly talked about than anything else.  Trump almost certainly doesn't believe this shit, but he knows if he says it, the media will cover it.

And they do, every word of it.  Trump is not the problem, any more than Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity or any other far right nutjob.  The problem is the way the story is inevitably framed by the media overlords.  They present Trump's blatherings as if they represent some sort of coherent point of view, as if there's some validity to them.  There is none, of course.  Even the most ideologically rigid exec at Fox News knows how smart Obama is--after all, they used to claim he was some sort of elitist snob, out of touch with every Johnny Lunchpail and Sally Housecoat in this great nation.  Yet they bring on experts to "debate" Trump's claims, when they know very well there's nothing to be debated.  The man is lying.  Call him on it and move on.  Ignore the motherfucker, deny him the attention he so nakedly craves, and he'll go away.

No mainstream reporters are quite willing to come right out and say the obvious: If Trump's remarks are racist, then his sudden popularity among Republicans must say reveal much about the party's rabidly anti-Obama stance.  But they're not quite willing to say that.  Until they do, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner will continue to seem weirdly relevant.  Which seems impossible, of course, but there's a lot of things going on these days that shouldn't be happening, but somehow are.