Watching Films in the Time of Trump

Kisses for My President

John Bleasdale turns to cinema in an attempt to understand the outcome of the American election.

About five months ago I wrote a piece for Electric Sheep about ‘Watching Tarkovsky in a Time of Terror’. The first line was ‘2016 has been one rolling piece of shit’. Well, the shit has rolled on. The scything of musical legends has continued; hospitals have been bombed with nary a word of protest and the human tragedy of the refugees was apparently solved by picking a handful of children and then destroying what was unironically termed the Jungle. Add to this the American election concluding in what can only be thought of as the biggest prat-fall in world history and we have one of those years that would be best described in Latin but with a heavy emphasis on the Anus.

Having shuffled off Catholicism with my school uniform and with the Left apparently all on a mountain retreat of contemptuous self-satisfaction, where do I find solace? Where do I find an inkling of comprehension? The box set of Nightmare on Elm Street movies look good all of a sudden. I could watch Fellowship of the Ring just until they leave the Shire and then skip back to the beginning and watch it again. Or I could use cinema to try and understand where we are. Where I am.

Let’s deal with the election first and foremost. Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump for many reasons. I’d venture that one of those reasons was Morgan Freeman. Just as the road to marriage equality was paved with Will and Grace episodes, so Obama’s history-making presidency was prepared for by Morgan Freeman looking suitably presidential as a meteor hurtled towards the Earth. The president from the TV series 24 and as early as 1972 James Earl Jones was playing a black president in The Man. What does Hillary Clinton have? An accidental interlude in Julie Louis-Dreyfus’s TV show Veep, a Sarah Palin parody in Iron Sky and Independence Day: Resurgence giving a woman the Oval Office only to off her in the second act (SPOIL… oh why bother). The first female president showed up in a silent movie from the 1920s called The Last Man on Earth. She’s elevated to the White House following a plague that kills all men but the eponymous last one. She lets the West Wing go to shit and spends all her time looking after cats. So perhaps it’s a good thing Hillary lost. Science Fiction continued to be a venue for the outlandish possibility of a woman being in charge: see Project Moonbase (1953) from a Robert Heinlein story. A woman in the White House can also be ripe with comic possibilities. In Kisses for My President (1964), the first female president is not focus but rather Fred MacMurray as her husband the ‘First Lady’. If you think this is a throwback to 60s chauvinism, consider the jokes surrounding Bill Clinton in the run-up to Trump’s triumph.

Whereas it is difficult to find the most meagre fictional encouragement for women seeking the highest office in the US, stupid, selfish fascist men have a plethora of fictional avatars to choose from. Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone to President Camacho in Idiocracy, stupid male presidents are no stretch of the imagination. Similarly, it seems easier to imagine post-apocalyptic worlds from I Am Legend to The Road, than it is to work out even in fantasy a way of averting the end of world scenarios. Stupid fascistic gonads taking us over the precipice is the dead centre of our ‘Overton Window’. A woman coming up with a series of nuanced and complex solutions bounces off the window frame.

We have been prepped for Trump for decades, especially by television. The golden age of US TV drama has given us a parade of politically incorrect males behaving badly, who we nevertheless sympathise with or forgive. We cherish Tony Soprano but can’t stand Carmella. We love Walter White, but Skyler was the real villain. Poor Hillary. She didn’t stand a chance.

John Bleasdale