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Hollywood Should Embrace Its Politics or Avoid Them

Oct
10
2006

In a movie theater, as in a bar, religion and politics are best avoided. Finding a mass appeal and a broad, approving audience is almost impossible. Yet Hollywood persists, serving up it’s latest attempt at political comedy with Robin Williams’ Man of the Year – due in theaters this Friday nationwide.

Hollywood enters the danger zone of politics at its own peril because it does not know how to handle the perception that it is out of touch with broad segments of the American populace—which, ultimately has to buy tickets to its movies.

Man of the Year tries too hard to combine elements of films such as American President, Dave, Bullworth and The Firm – but each subplot pales in comparison to the feature it inspired.

Playing off the success of political comedian talk show hosts like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, the premise of Man of the Year is simple enough – Williams’ Tom Dobbs uses his talk show to launch a campaign for President of the United States.

The formula should be simple enough: Insert the incredibly funny Williams into a political comedy and you get a funny political comedy. But if only things were so simple.

Man of the Year fails as a political comedy for a simple reason: Hollywood is afraid of its own shadow. Too scared to fly its liberal credentials with pride, the writers cast Williams’ character in the awkward position of stacking both Republicans and Democrats.

Dobbs character says that he’s tired of a, “Republican Party that can’t distinguish between a commandment and an amendment,” and a “Democratic Party that’s like a chameleon in front of a mirror that can’t decide what it is.”

And when it comes to actual issues, Dobbs only criticizes issues historically tied to the Republican party. In the movie’s presidential debate, Dobbs rails against the GOP candidate, attacking him for saying that wanting cars to be, “fuel efficient when you’re backed by oil companies,” is like being a “kosher pig farmer.” He also makes not-so-funny jokes at the expense of Enron and Flag-Burning Amendments.

Meanwhile, Dobb’s platform of campaign finance reform, regulation and tax hikes – etc. etc. – reads like it was lifted from that of the Democratic Party. So much so that, having failed to suspend my disbelief (due to unnecessary silliness in the movie’s key plot points) I found myself asking why the Dobbs character didn’t just come out as a Democrat himself!

And this is where Hollywood’s fear of its own political shadow does it a disservice. Too scared to embrace its liberal (Democratic) credentials, Man of the Year becomes a thinly-veiled farce. Unlike Hollywood political successes such as TV’s West Wing or the feature American President – whose heroes openly and proudly screamed “liberal!” – Man of the Year is full of attempts to make Democratic talking points funny while presenting them from the point of view of an mythical third party.

The risk of political humor is that you are likely to upset up to half of the nation whatever you say. So why can’t Hollywood be upfront about its biases – maybe even mock them – and, at worse, appeal to a “niche” audience of Blue Stater residents? If it worked for Michael Moore and Al Gore, you’d think the popular Robin Williams could have pulled it off.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:55 AM | Permalink

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