In the political movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that was produced in 1939, the main political character is James Stewart who takes the place of Jefferson Smith. In this movie, Jefferson Smith comes out as an emotional, patriotic and naïve politician. After being sent to Washington as a senator of an unnamed state, he matures into a wise leader who fights all forms of corruption using the political machinery of his state. He becomes a morality hero, a guardian or American values.
James Stewart is an accurate portrayer of the American political atmosphere of the 1930s. As a young politician, he is portrayed accurately in terms of his naivety, idealism and patriotism. The element of American freedom has been presented very vividly through this character.
If the reaction that the movie got from the federal government before the World War II is anything to go by, then it accurately presented the contemporary political situation as it was. Actually, this movie generated pressure and controversy immediately before the World War II began because it painted a grim picture of the United States of America. Corruption, propagandistic and anti-democratic sentiments are what this movie is all about.
One of the reasons why this movie became a critical success is its educative role on matters of the mode of functioning of the American democracy. James Stewart, the main political character, is used, through his wisdom, to explain the process of a bill becoming law, filibustering, and the importance of different political machines (Smoodin 1996, 50).
As a naïve country boy, Jefferson Smith might be seen by many as an exaggeration of reality when presented in the movie as a senator. He is too naïve to fit into senate. Secondly, the transformation is rather too quick. He does not have the barest credentials to jumpstart a career in politics. Apart from being an editor of a publication and heading Boys Rangers clubs, he has not revealed his potential to become a politician of a senator’s caliber.
However, the very fact that Jefferson Smith is naïve is the main reason why he finds his way into senate. Many established governors are convinced that being a naïve novice, Jefferson Smith will not disturb the machinery that has been facilitating corrupt political dealings in the state. To this extent, the movie reflects the reality of politics. In the real world, this is how politicians perceive threats, opportunities and weaknesses.
Sometimes politicians underestimate their political opponents. Jefferson Smith has been underestimated by his colleagues. The pro-establishment senators believe that this ‘boy’ is going to stay in Washington D.C for a short stint during which much of what he will be doing is saying yes and ‘sightseeing’. It is widely expected that he will not ask any embarrassing questions relating to the crooked laws that are used to let corrupt dealings take place. This accurately reflects the gloomy side of American politics.
The presentation of the young senator as a crown by other senators, the press and even his personal secretary is rather too much on the realm of fiction and it is demeaning of the American political institutions. In this regard, the representation of the state of democracy in America may not be an accurate one.
2. Dr. Strangelove
In this movie, the main political character is a mild-mannered Peter Sellers who takes the role of U.S president Merkin Muffley at a time when the country is deeply engaged in cold war with Russia. The movie depicts the folly of war and even rightly predicts the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years before it actually happened. The character portrays political life as one dominated by irrational decision as his country is embroiled in a nuclear stand-off that threatens to plunge the entire world into a chilling, deadly nuclear winter.
The president and his strategists have built an underground war room that is kept secret and it is here that he hides in order to run away from the Armageddon. The secret part of this planning is characteristic of how politicians reason and react after plunging the entire world into a crisis. His decision to prepare for a Soviet Attack after his military bombers launch an attack on the Soviet Union’s soil is typical of any politician with a realist’s mindset.
This movie depicts the reality of American and Soviet Union domestic conflicts that played out against the backdrop of a harsh reality of the Cold War and an impending nuclear standoff. The U.S president is portrayed as a power-hungry leader of a superpower who is driven into war as much by a bloated ego as by the clique of army generals who almost mislead him into making wrong and costly decisions.
This comic movie has a tremendous effect on people who want to know what the tension was like at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. The storyline easily captures the fear that everyone lived with throughout the cold war; that if someone pressed the wrong button somewhere, the whole world would be doomed courtesy of devastating nuclear fallout.
The portrayal of the reaction to this threat is real. Americans are made to wake up to the reality of the folly of the nuclear standoff and arms race that claims millions of lives in Vietnam. In a world where the reality of the regular patrol in routine flight patterns near the Soviet footholds by American navy was shroud in mystery, this movie recreates the reality of the daily cold war events and the dangers that they presented to Americans and everyone in the world at large.
The scene where president Merkin Muffley is in a meeting with his pentagon advisors represents fairly, the circumstances in which every U.S president found himself in whenever a landmark decision had to be made. Every action had a long lasting effect on the course of the cold war. The movie therefore reawakens the consciousness of the audience and therefore helps shape their political opinions.
The movie brings into focus Kubrick's haunting moments, not to mention that the American military has the ability and potential to build a monster of General Ripper’s caliber.
It would be rather absurd to say this today but this movie must have eased the fear out of even the most cynical minds in the society. In any case, it seems like this masterpiece was a good representation of the reality as people wanted it to be, yet the humor in it made remain at ease.
3. Seven Days in May
In this movie, Jordan Lyman acts as President Fredric March. This president signs a treaty with Russia with the hope that it will lead to nuclear disarmament. This action makes the president very unpopular. An argument with Scotts is rather stereotypical of the manner in which movies depict the daily hassles of presidents as they try to present their point of views. In this regard, neither the portrayal of the president nor the coup seems accurate.
Military takeovers are not a common occurrence in U.S politics. Many views within this political enclave might readily connect with such a theme. Instead of tackling the reality, the movie dwells on possibilities. A simulation of the nuclear war does not come out as an accurate presentation of what might really happen. The national psyche is clearly depicted in the storyline. Therefore, when viewers look outside the theater hall into the real world, they do not see much to associate the events to.
The fact that the popularity of the president of the U.S is seen to be waning is surprising if one analyzes the situation as it was in the real world. This is because both countries would suffer if a nuclear were to start. Millions of people would die. It is therefore not clear why the decision would be unpopular among the people. Perhaps Americans do not have faith in Russians and suspect that this country may cheat and make a surprising nuclear attack that would catch the US completely unawares.
A parallel between this movie and the reality in the contemporary world is the situation where Russians tried to blackmail the U.S by stockpiling nuclear weapons in Cuba, an island nation that is geographically very near the U.S. In the real life, though, this movie is a source of very many lessons that teachers and parents alike can use to teach civics to children. The movies tries to answer what citizens should do if an unconstitutional takeover of the federal government was to take place. The solution offered is peaceful and highly effective.
During the cold war, some right-wing members of the political spectrum were of the view that civilian leaders in the U.S were always taking a very compromising stance against communism. This generated unnecessary tension. Anyone watching this film will have the fear exacerbated after taking into account the hysterical pronouncements that political leaders were making at the height of the nuclear war standoff in Cuba (White, and Richard, 1972). For this reason, the movie can really shape the way viewers’ perceptions on the role that the political class played in order to make things worse during the cold way.
Effects of popular culture on citizens’ attitudes towards their politicians
Popular culture plays a very important role in determining how people perceive and analyze past political events. The cold war has been documented in many movies. The movies highlight different events that sum up the four decades of a nasty cold war experience. In this way, popular culture helps in documentation of historical events. It is through such documentation that political perceptions can be derived by future generations. Additionally, people who did not have a chance of following the events on the media often resort to films in order to be informed in an entertaining way.