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Dash of Pepper

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A Face in the Crowd
By SHEILAH PEPPER
The Gazette Staff
Lately, an old movie I saw many years ago keeps popping into my head.
The film, from 1957, is "A Face in the Crowd." It starred Andy Griffiths in probably his finest dramatic role and Patricia Neal. The film was directed by the great Elia Kazan and based on a short story by Bud Schulberg titled "Your Arkansas Traveler."
Marcia Jeffries, played by Patricia Neal, meets Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes in the fictitious town of Pickett, Arkansas. Rhodes is a drunken vagrant played by a feral Andy Griffith. He plays the guitar, sings and tells stories with animal magnetism.
Marcia arranges for Rhodes to have his own radio show on her uncle's radio station.
Rhodes fame rapidly spreads and they move on, first to Memphis, then to a national radio show in New York. As a national celebrity, Rhodes tries to get a dubious politician elected.
Jeffries realizes she has helped create a monster and the growing new medium, television, has fed Rhodes insatiable lust for power. His megalomania is exposed when Jeffries leaves a mike open so that the country can hear him call his audience "suckers" and "idiots." Rhodes popularity declines overnight but a press agent predicts he will rise again - such is the power of a demagogue.
What struck me most clearly in the film, are the audiences Rhodes attracted. There is a giddy hysteria, and, in some cases, a zombie-like blankness. I don't think Senator Obama is anything like Lonesome Rhodes, but his audiences are eerily similar to those in the film. Early on, there were reports of people swooning at Obama rallies, some into a dead faint - male and female!
To produce this effect, Obama has to say very little, indeed, almost nothing. Try this example: "We are the change that we seek." I'm at least semi-expert at understanding the English language, but I have yet to figure out what that sentence means. But never mind, they scream and swoon anyway.
Another example: "We are the ones we have been waiting for." When I heard that, I realized it truly does not matter if he, in effect, says nothing. He need only stand before the multitude, raise his hands aloft and the place goes crazy.
He's fine with a teleprompter, but he runs into trouble in one-on-one interviews. Obama has been getting a completely free pass from the mainstream press, but, finally, last week in Europe, an unlikely person really nailed him. Katy Couric of NBC asked him three times about his opinion of the surge in Iraq and why he could not simply admit he's been wrong about our success and just move on. But he could not.
It was a telling moment, because the ability to confess an error is a measure of character and a quality a leader needs to have, or he is doomed to folly.
There were other sobering moments during Obama's excellent European adventure. One came in Paris when he referred to something he would do as president in the present tense. If you had just arrived from Mars, you would have thought that the convention and the general election were behind him and he was the president-elect, waiting to be inaugurated. This offered a glimpse of character that would have been better hidden.
Also, some elements of his Berlin speech were historically fallacious. One that stands out for me was his bald statement that the world stood "as one" during the Berlin airlift. Not so, Senator. I'm old enough to remember that time. It was a war, albeit a Cold War and there were two totally opposed sides: the nations of the West and the Communist Eastern/Soviet block. We won because of American LEADERSHIP.
I was also not enchanted with his reference to American short-comings, including torture. If he wants to understand what torture really is, he might ask Senator McCain or view the video of Danny Pearl's head being cut off with a sword. This will all have repercussions in the fall when these moments are replayed.
The Democrat convention will come to our television screens beginning August 25th. Keep an eye on the faces in the crowd. I'm betting it will be endlessly fascinating.
Copyright©2008SheilahPepper
Last Updated on Friday, 12 June 2009 14:36  

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