Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, July 2, 2019 7:38 pm

“A Face in the Crowd” and the MAGATs


Over the weekend I got to see, for the first time, “A Face in the Crowd.” The 1957 film, written by Budd Schulberg (“The Harder They Fall,” “On the Waterfront”) and directed by Elia Kazan (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “East of Eden”), was North Carolina icon Andy Griffith’s first starring role. In it, Griffith portrays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, an Arkansas yokel propelled to national stardom as the “voice of the people.” Ahead there be spoilers, so don’t read the jump if you want to watch the movie first. (Apparently it’s available on Amazon if you’re curious.)

Long and interesting cautionary tale about the power of television and propaganda short, Rhodes gets exposed as a fraud when Marcia Jeffries (played by Patricia Neal), the woman who helped him rise to stardom, turns the cameras and sound back on just after an episode of Rhodes’s show. The live cameras and hot mics capture Rhodes cracking wise with his castmates about how gullible and stupid the people are who watch his show. The segment lasts no longer than 30 or 40 seconds, but in the film it’s enough to bring down the wrath of the rubes and, the ending implies, end Rhodes’s career.

How nice if real life worked like that.

Here in the real world, however, plenty of people have known since no later than the early 1980s that Donald Trump is nothing but a grifter. I’m one of them; Village Voice reporting on his antics was part of my required reading when I lived in New York in 1982-83. We knew it in July 2015 when he rode down the escalator to announce his presidential campaign. We knew it when he campaigned. We knew it when he was elected. We knew it when he took office. And news story after ex-staffer confessional after congressional hearing after special-counsel report has added more to what we know without changing a whit the basic underlying facts.

In the movie, the marks rejected him almost literally in an instant when they found out they were being grifted. In real life, the grifting just makes his marks love him more, and attempts to inform them are met with derision and even violence.

A constitutional republic cannot survive a public like this. And I don’t believe ours will.

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