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Politics and Perception: Expressing America's Self-Image in Film - Essay Example

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Name Name 1 Class Instructor Date Politics and Perception: Expressing America’s Self-Image in Film Director John Ford’s story about Abraham Lincoln’s early years as an ambitious young lawyer in Illinois is as much an American parable as it is a loosely based representation of an actual event in Lincoln’s formative years…
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Politics and Perception: Expressing Americas Self-Image in Film
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"Politics and Perception: Expressing America's Self-Image in Film"

Download file to see previous pages As such, it represents the alpha to Nixon’s omega, Oliver Stone’s opus chronicling the nadir of American presidential politics. Young Mr. Lincoln and Nixon are manifestations of a peculiarly American cultural phenomenon, namely, the urge to moralize in film about the drama of power and ambition. Both films stand as milestones in the evolution of America’s cultural barometer and the cynical hardening of the nation’s character. Ford’s film exhibits what modern audiences might consider rank melodrama; specifically, the characterization of a pre-possessed young Lincoln who embodies a kind of omniscient comprehension of human nature and the events that unfold around him. Early in the film, after Lincoln is introduced, he declares, in characteristically bucolic terms, his core political Name 2 principles. “My politics are short and sweet like your ladies’ dances; I am in favor of a National Bank and for everybody’s participation in wealth” (Ford, 1939). This is no mere stump speech, no self-gratifying, consensual statement designed to resonate with the locals. It seems a bold move, given the era in which the film appeared, to inject such a seemingly naive sentiment. But the film tapped into something deeper, touching Americans’ fundamental faith in the political infallibility of their icons. If Herbert Hoover, or the Franklin Roosevelt of 1939, had made such a statement about wealth and a national bank, moviegoers no doubt would have looked askance. But this was Lincoln, fresh from the wood and the plow, seated on a barrel, the very essence of American optimism and opportunity. It is significant that Young Mr. Lincoln’s message of personal virtue triumphing over the cynical machinations of politicians should have resonated at a time when skeptics struggling with economic deprivation may have been expected to pelt the screen with garbage. Oliver Stone appears to have assumed that viewers of his film would supply their own built-in skepticism as part of the package, Nixon’s subject being easily the most reviled president in American history. Stone, surprisingly, presents us with a reasonably even-handed account of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Aside from his well-documented proclivity for conspiracy and often-jarring photographic style, Stone produced a film that plays on a hunger among modern Americans for stories about the loss of power and innocence. America’s modern political landscape is, after all, littered with the wreckage of power-seekers undone by hubris and greed. This is the premise of Stone’s film. It cannot be said to have surprised audiences with the Name 3 introduction of new revelations concerning the Nixon years, but it is symptomatic of the American public’s morbid fascination with weakness and fatal character flaws among the powerful. There is always a certain low-brow satisfaction (human nature again) in watching as powerful people are brought low. But Nixon’s message is somewhat more ambiguous, something that can be difficult to define. On one hand, there is an aspect of Greek tragedy in Richard Nixon’s seduction by power and his consequent downfall. On the other, there is that about his story (and Stone’s recounting of it is a fairly even one) that says the American system works, that the checks and balances the nation’ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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