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“Invictus” and the Politics of Idealism December 12, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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I tend to avoid in films what we see in Invictus: rugby, sports, Matt Damon, Morgan-Freeman-as-Deity-figure, sports, and Clint Eastwood. I should be ashamed of avoiding Eastwood, but his recent films have often been marketed as morally simplistic (and his Republicanism doesn’t help): we know with whom we are supposed to identify and who is evil (exceptions might be Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). Yet Eastwood’s films are majestic, regal, and magnanimous.

Invictus is, in fact, morally simplistic: we root for South Africa and deify Mandela. But it’s nonetheless an important meditation on the politics of idealism, a film particularly relevant for Americans right now, especially progressives trying to make sense of the 2008 election. Invictus shows us idealism, even amidst mounting reasons for pessimism, is necessary.


“V” From Fascists (1983) to Obama (2009) November 24, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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V airs its winter finale tonight before resuming episodes in March 2010.

If you haven’t seen ABC’s V yet, I’ll spoil it for you: the Vs symbolize President Obama. Countless articles have spelled it out: io9, Chicago Tribune, BreitBart, and Entertainment Weekly, among many others, have already foregrounded the debate.

It’s very obvious. In the first episode, we learn that the Visitors bring hope and promise change; they’re all attractive; they have a sleekly designed spaceship (and probably a nice website too); they’ve got young people excited about the movement; they are of peace in a world racked by war; they come at time when we need them most; they’re a global phenomenon; the press is in their pocket; they are God-like and pose a serious threat to Christianity; most obvious of all, they want to bring “universal healthcare” and “clean sustainable energy.” This should all sound painfully obvious, unless you slept through 2008.  What’s the problem, then? Well, underneath it all, the Vs are reptiles who want to eat and destroy us!

There’s just one wrinkle in this theory: V is a series based on a NBC miniseries of the same name written and released during the presidency of conservative icon Ronald Reagan!

If we see V as an anti-Obama series now, what was it back then?


Copying Obama: The Aeshetics of Hope October 30, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070




James Perry obama

Above: Screengrab from BarackObama.com; Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York this week on Nov. 3rd; Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2008 campaign page; Anthony Woods, who lost his campaign for Congressional House district, CA-10; James Perry, running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Any that I’m missing?

The issue of websites borrowing, um, liberally from the aesthetics of Barack Obama’s website is an old one, becoming painfully obvious last year when Benjamin Netanyahu’s website became public, mimicry so shameless, the campaign didn’t bother playing coy:

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

I’ve noticed a number of campaign websites since, especially for black candidates, who also use either the same fonts, color schemes or tone of the Obama homepage.

This all makes sense: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Obama’s poll numbers are down since his atmospheric — and completely unsustainable — post-inauguration highs, he stills remains popular (Gallup has him holding steady at slightly above 50%, for now), especially in the black community. (more…)

POLITICS: The Cure for Clintonitis January 22, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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The Cure for Clintonitis



Photo by justinfeed

Quit girding yourself for disappointment, liberals, and wait a little while to judge the new Chief.

By Aymar Jean Christian

I went to D.C. for the Inauguration because I like controlled mass hysteria. I didn’t go to see anything (I watched it on a giant TV like everyone else) but to be around other people who were going absolutely Obama-crazy. It was a magical experience, and I got just a little hysterical.

Now it’s day two and it’s time to bitch! Well not really. It’s still too early to bitch. No one is so cynical as to begrudge Obama at least a half-week holiday. Besides, polls seem to indicate Obama may be the most popular newly-elected president since Kennedy, so who could be pissed?

Still, I sense the grumblings already, including from so-called unnamed “liberals,” according to CNN, who might already be concerned Obama isn’t moving fast enough on an Iraq withdrawal. Combine this with Rachel Maddow still grumbling about Warren’s bland invocation on Tuesday, and you have the beginnings of an inevitable liberal backlash. I adore Maddow. She is probably my second favorite person on the political scene right now. But she’s being silly. 

I think the problem is liberals are still suffering from Clintonitis, defined as the pain of being a Democrat and getting punched in the face at least once a year through left-sanctioned “compromises” like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After eight years of hardline conservative rule, liberals are uppity and defensive. They still accept the supposed truism that America is a “center-right” country. Oh yeah? Let’s transport back to the 1930s and 1960s and test that thesis out.

Everyone is anxious for the first Obama betrayal. What will it be? Iraq? Gay rights? The stimulus bill? The signs are everywhere. Already Obama has said he will “consult” with military advisors about the Iraq timeline. Then there’s Rick Warren. And of course those tax cuts and rebates in the stimulus package. Some of these will be problems for liberals, and some of them are Clintonitis. On one hand, a commander-in-chief cannot stick to a strict 16-month withdrawal plan—that’s an estimate at best. Yes, tax cuts are a Bush policy and the last rebate was completely unsuccessful, but the bill is far from signed.

It is important for everyone in America to realize right now Obama is not the triangulating Clinton. Remember, a Clinton actually lost an election this year. This is a different time and a different politician. Obama’s politics are about reaching across the aisle for things that are less significant—say, an invocation—as a way to neutralize discontent when he refuses to compromise on more important issues, like Iraq. This is very different from openly defying and even pissing off the left for political gain—poor Sista Souljah!—as Maddow accused Obama of with Warren. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, DoMA, welfare reform and many other Clinton policies were political compromises almost explicitly crafted to scorn the left. But let’s remember at least two of those are already on Obama’s chopping block. 

I hope I don’t keep reading new reports about the left being worried about a potential Obama betrayal. How about waiting for an actual one? Obama has 100 days to enact gutsy, important legislation. I will judge him based on that. Tuesday was my last day of hysteria for at least four years.


FILM: SCARY TREND ALERT: Obama Biopics December 9, 2008

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Apparently Hollywood wants to make a movie about the 44th president before he even takes office.


Photo by Matthias Winkelmann.

Spike Lee stopped by my office yesterday for a chat. Okay, he didn’t come to see me. He spoke to an undergraduate class at Penn about his movies, black film and, of course, sports. At some point while discussing how hard it was for black directors to find funding for movies that aren’t Soul Plane or Get Rich or Die Tryin’, he mentioned something very scary:

There are several scripts floating around Hollywood about…Barack Obama.


I hope I heard wrong, but I don’t think so. Lee dropped that little bombshell when asked if he would ever direct an Obama flick. He wouldn’t, he said, because it’s already being done. He has other projects in mind, including a planned Joe Louis biopic.

Current events and biopics are great film staples, and audiences are used to seeing presidents on the big screen. Heck, Frost/Nixon is out this week to rave reviews. But the iconic Nixon, a perennial symbol of corruption, is long dead. Sure, there have been many movie Nixons, but it was at least 10 years after his resignation before big movie portrayals started rolling out, and Hollywood released Oliver Stone’s Nixon after the former president’s death.

Plus, the pillaging of current events has reaped mixed results. The paltry $30 million grossed by Stone’s W. proves the senselessness in making movies of sitting presidents. If BoxOfficeMojo is correct, Primary Colors didn’t fare much better. The post-9/11 movies have ranged from spectacular to so-so; I have avoided most of them. United 93 had me crying more than I ever have during a film. While I didn’t see Stone’s World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, what’s going on!) and The Great New Wonderful, the latter received solid reviews but the former’s were mixed. A truly great 9/11 movie will take years; the event is still too fresh.

Obama is far, far too fresh for a film. Please, hasn’t the past year provided enough spectacle and drama! Honestly, any film made about Obama now would fall flat. No actor could match his already boundless persona—t-shirts in Harlem have christened him the figurative son of either King, Kennedy or Lincoln. No director could match the excitement and anxiety of the longest campaign in history. All the events, both petty and weighty, are too ripe. Indeed, I’ve spent hours on YouTube reminiscing over dozens of countdown and reaction clips from election night. They’re riveting, more raw and visceral than any blockbuster could achieve at the moment. How can a film beat The View the day after, when Sherri Shepherd cried over being able to tell her son he had “no limitations”? Or journalist Keli Goff explaining on BET how her grandmother and mother picked cotton and got spit on but now get to see the country elect one of them?

It is now officially cliché to say the story of Obama’s candidacy is so improbable “it would be laughed out of a Hollywood pitch meeting for its sheer degree of incredibility,” as New York Magazine wrote after Obama’s grandmother died a day before the election and after Obama subsequently shed his first public tears (narrative symmetry with Hillary letting it rip before New Hampshire). See all this drama? Best to wait until the end of an Obama movie is not his election but his accomplishments—and failures.

Hollywood: be wise, follow cliché and laugh all Obama film projects out of the room, at least for the next 25 years. That’s how long it will take for the sheer grandiosity of the event to distill. Then you can go crazy, as I’m sure you will.