A desperate president. Rabid partisan politics. Important legislation gridlocked at the eleventh hour. Lying, bribery, and under-the-table manipulation.
Am I describing the heated negotiations on Capitol Hill regarding the dreaded “fiscal cliff”? Nope. I’m talking about Steven Spielberg’s new political drama “Lincoln.” After watching this movie, I felt oddly reassured. History seems to suggest that we Americans have always been this crazy, and that nothing much has changed.
Americans today live in fear of the gun-toting hothead. Recently, two veterans argued over an anti-Obama bumper sticker, which ended in one man pulling a gun on the other. In “Lincoln” there is a parallel scene (played for comedic effect) in which James Spader’s character flees for his life from such a man. In 2012, the police came to the rescue. How did Spader’s character get away in the film? Fistfuls of dirt flung in the assailant’s eyes…along with the fact that in 1865, you had to reload the gun to get off another shot.
Every time I think the country is teetering on the brink of madness, or that Western Civilization is about to collapse, it’s always helpful to take a deep breath and realize that our forefathers were just as petty, selfish and cruel as we are today.
In other words, they, too, were human.
The astounding, irresponsible greed of Wall Street and the banking industry (as well as corporate America in general) would not be news to someone like Civil War veteran and writer Ambrose Bierce, who once defined a “Corporation” as “An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility”. Bierce is famous for his cynicism; he would hardly be surprised that his observations are still relevant over a hundred years after they were penned.
Equally cynical is Lana Del Rey’s music video “National Anthem.” A lot of people who have written about it have pointed out the connection to Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys, but I have yet to read an analysis that points out the darker implications of using these allusions. By deliberately making the “president” in her video an African-American, Del Rey invites the viewer to compare our current society with that of the past. Obama is another charismatic, charming leader, and by ending the video with Kennedy’s assassination, she seems to be making an eerie prediction that history may very well repeat itself. Her co-star in the video, A$AP Rocky, was quoted as saying “People gonna get it in like three years, and that’s the whole purpose of it.”
If you look at the lyrics of the song, it claims that “Money is the anthem of success.” The current political divide in our country is not between North and South, free and slave–it’s between rich and poor. Obama is the president attempting to reign in the excesses of the super wealthy. A lot of the imagery in the music video reads like a David Lynch film: something ugly is brewing just beneath the surface of a picture-perfect American story. Steven Spielberg’s film ends with Lincoln’s assassination. Is Lana Del Rey suggesting that in a country like ours, all we can do is repeat our own national tragedies?
I hope not.
Though our present may echo the past, we look to the future, always with the expectation that we can do better.
2012 is drawing to a close, and the world hasn’t ended yet. 🙂
Appropriate Keane song of the day: “Looking Back”