Or, When Did We Start Living in a Fictional Satire?
I’ve compared recent events—and, in particular, this presidential election—to many things: Armageddon, Alien, every Batman story, and almost every ’90s action movie.
But there is one painful metaphor that I have not explored: the 2016 election appears to have been written by writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut.
I first started pondering the question of did Vonnegut write our current political climate this spring, when my aunt (a librarian) pointed out to me how much Donald Trump resembles a Vonnegut character.
I soon googled trump vonnegut and was surprised not to see more about it. I found a handful of articles, but none that fully explored the extent to which the candidate Donald Trump seems to have sprung straight from a Vonnegut novel. Nor did anyone mention the extent to which this entire election resembles a Vonnegut-penned narrative and universe.
Donald Trump made waves this week by releasing his list of SCOTUS picks. He must’ve had some help from a buddy of his, as the list was conspicuously absent of either John Grisham or Mark Geragos.
But let’s be real. We all know that Candidate Trump might be making half-hearted attempts at adult opinions (when he isn’t saying Ted Cruz’s father is an assassin ), but President Trump, if he comes into existence, will be 100% insanity. Grisham or Geragos would be too legit for President Trump. If elected, Trump’s pick for SCOTUS will be, at worst, Bret Michaels and, at best, Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill.
Iowa is behind us. That’s the good news. We don’t have to hear about Iowa anymore.
The bad news is that this whole charade has nearly another year left, and there is still a lot to keep track of.
Lucky for you, I’ve put together another guide to the presidential candidates, similar to the previous two installments about science fiction movies and horror movies. Once again, we are looking at the picked-off-one-at-a-time candidates through the lens of a medium where characters are removed one-by-one: 1990s action movies.
The ’90s were a time of bloated casts that were gradually pared down until a handsome hero was the last man standing. This election, like those beloved VHS classics, has a robust cast and an inevitable ending: there will be only one winner.
So grab a cup of coffee, hunker down, and check out this longform listicle about the brilliant spectacle that is the 2016 Presidential Election.
The Already Eliminated
The primaries have just begun – placing us somewhere in the first act of the film – but we’ve already had a major chunk of characters eliminated. Let’s take a look at who is already out of the running.
Scott Walker is Richard Lineback in Twister (1996)
I’ve said previously that Walker was Kane in Alien, and I stand by that argument. It proved to be painfully, chestburstingly accurate.
But now that his fate seems inevitable, his departure in the rearview mirror, we can recognize Walker for what he was: the equivalent of the guy who gets sucked up into the sky by a tornado in the opening scene of Twister. He has become nothing more than the guy who was eliminated during the prologue.
Did he make it? Lineback isn’t even in the same timeline as the rest of the movie. Walked dropped out on September 21st of 2015, over five months before the first primary.
Martin O’Malley is Emilio Estevez in Mission Impossible (1996)
Like the first mission in the first film in the Mission Impossible franchise, the Iowa caucuses gave us an action-packed evening that resulted in a purging of several characters.
O’Malley is one of several candidates to immediately fold his cards after the Iowa caucuses. This probably says more about this particular election than it does about O’Malley, just as Estevez’s quick death during the opening mission in Mission Impossible said more about the movie he was in than it did about him.
Sure, he’s a relatively well-known name with a good enough resume. But he is ultimately just another bland white guy in a narrative that doesn’t have room for another bland white guy.
Or, “Stop Calling Them Gunmen and Start Calling Them Terrorists”
One of the most notable elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that, despite being made by a British writer and director and set in the fictional Gotham City, the films capture the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 America in a frightening, realistic way.
But there’s one lesson in these films that we don’t seem to have retained: terrorism can take many forms.
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the first and third films in the trilogy, show evil as an extensive international network motivated by belief in a higher cause: the League of Shadows, led first by Liam Neeson and later by Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s an evil organization which resembles Al-Qaeda or IS/Daesh in its reach and tactics.
Unlike the other two films, in The Dark Knight our villain is Heath Ledger’s Joker: a criminal who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. His background is unknown, with no criminal record or history of violence. He operates as a loner, with a few followers but no peers. He believes not in fundamentalism but in anarchy and chaos. He prefers easily-obtained weapons: in his words, “a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” He kills with abandon, targeting mob bosses, murdering his own followers, burning corrupt businessmen alive, turning civilians against one another. Throughout it all, he operates without loyalty and welcomes death.
He gives a speech, in one of the more famous moments from the film, explaining why people are so frightened of him. Because he disrupts expectations. He disrupts “the plan.” Because anyone can be his victim, not just “a gangbanger” or “a truckload of soldiers.”
The mass waves of shooters (most of whom are white and “Christian”) overtaking America resemble the Joker in every way: they kill innocents, make spectacles of their crimes, and fear nothing, including death. The American mass shooter is almost always suicidal. There are few mass shooters who begin their killing sprees expecting any outcome aside from death or life imprisonment.
Like the Joker, they cannot be “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”
As it happens, we are farther into the campaign and the expendable characters have started to drop away. It also happens to be October, aka Horror Movie Month, and so I have updated the WWBD Guide to the 2016 Election. This time with horror films, because that’s the other genre in which you can be guaranteed that characters will be eliminated one at a time.
First, let’s take stock of the characters we’ve already said goodbye to.
Who is already eliminated?
Four candidates are already out of the running, making them the equivalent of those slasher victims who are taken down in the first act.
Scott Walker is Kane in Alien
Oh boy, is he ever. I called this one in the last blog post, and I have to say that I was pretty accurate. As stated before: He looks and talks and dresses like he should be the hero and the one who makes it to the end, but it’s far more likely that we will see him as an unexpectedly early exit.
Rick Perry is Drew Barrymore in Scream
Big name, small impact. Barrymore was on the poster for the first Scream film, but didn’t live long enough to interact with a single character other than the masked killer.
I previously said Rick Perry was the equivalent of Randy Quaid in Independence Day. Turns out he’s playing even more of a bit part than that.
Lincoln Chafee is Matthew McConaughey in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Next Generation
Right now, you’re thinking: “Matthew McConaughey is in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie?” Well that’s the exact same thing people are going to be thinking about Lincoln Chafee in a few years when they hear that he ran for president in 2015, for the 2016 election.
Jim Webb is Boyd Banks in the Dawn of the Dead remake.
The Democratic Party
Hillary Clinton is either Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween or Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
And it’s worth noting that while Curtis was eliminated in earlier Halloween films, she came back swinging in Halloween H20. Is this Hillary’s equivalent of the “twenty years later” reboot?
Will she make it? Either way, there is a sense of inevitability and invincibility.
Martin O’Malley is Paul Rudd in Halloween 6.
He’s cool. He’s hip. But it’s not his moment yet. Maybe in a few years. Martin O’Malley in 2016 is the same as Paul Rudd in the early ’90s: some young white handsome guy that no one cares about.
Will he make it? No.
Bernie Sanders is Jamie Kennedy in Scream
He’s bold, smart, snarky, and innovative. He also seems to be relegated to “supporting character.” Chances are that Sanders will still be active and important when it’s the grand finale, but, like Kennedy being the non-romantic sidekick to Neve Campbell, Bernie will be the sidekick to Hillary, dropping wisdom and cracking wise.
Will he make it? Jamie Kennedy’s Randy was the unlikely survivor of the first Scream, and an unlikely victim in the second Scream. Either way, he’s a sidekick, not a protagonist.
Marco Rubio is Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street
He’s a pretty boy at the beginning of a long career. And he is not gonna make it to the end of this narrative.
Will he make it? I just said no, but with this one, we have to refer back to the answer I gave last time about Rubio: he’s Affleck in Armaggedon. If he makes it, it’s on someone else’s ticket.
Donald Trump is Bill Murray in Zombieland
You know how sometimes, someone has one cameo scene and then they’re forgotten? But other times, the brief cameo moment ends up stealing the show? They might not make it until the end, but their impact will never be forgotten.
Will he make it: No. But he might be the most memorable thing about this whole spectacle.
Carly Fiorina is Amy Irving in Carrie
Unlike most of her GOP peers (Rand Paul being another exception), Fiorina doesn’t take shit from the awful bully (John Travolta in Carrie, Donald Trump in this sad spectacle of an election). And she deserves some admiration for that.
Will she make it: Like Amy Irving’s Sue Snell, she might be around at the end but she still won’t be the main character.
Rand Paul is Josh Hartnett in Halloween H20
Josh Harnett portrayed the son of original hero Jamie Lee Curtis in the “20 years later” sequel. And while he and the young Paul have family legacy and a bunch of determination, they still aren’t quite the main character.
Will he make it? There’s a sense that this isn’t exactly his finest work. Let’s give him a few years. (Although Rand, as said before, also deserves respect for not tolerating Trump’s nonsense.)
John Kasich is Bishop in Aliens
He’s pretty cool, for a robot.
Will he make it? It’s hard to say. And it’s hard to say whether we want him to or not. It seems like we aren’t entirely sure who he is, but he could be a good guy.
Ben Carson is Robert Carlyle in 28 Weeks Later
“Oh, so this guy is the main character? Cool. Yeah, he seems pretty cool. Wait, what did he just do? That was a weird choice. Still a good protagonist though. Oh shit, that’s a strange choice. So is that. So is that. Okay, yikes, this guy isn’t the hero.”
Right now, we are getting lured into the false sense that Carson is going to be the last man standing. He won’t be, of course, but there’s this weird feeling right now that he could be.
Will he make it: No.
Lindsay Graham is Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense
A strange middle-aged man, wandering around, not realizing that no one he speaks to will acknowledge him.
Will he make it? He’s failing to realize that he already hasn’t made it.
Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal are all the fellow classmates in Carrie.
They don’t have a chance.
Will they make it: Absolutely not.
Chris Christie is Vince Vaughn in the Psycho remake
Chris Christie should’ve called it a while ago. There is no reason he should be in this election. Likewise, there is no reason Vince Vaughn should have been in a Psycho movie. Like Christie’s campaign, that Psycho remake should never have existed.
Will he make it?
Both Vaughn and Christie are fun guys. They’re charming. They’re entertaining. But this is not the right move for Christie, like Vaughn should have taken a year off rather than make Psycho.
Mike Huckabee is still Wilford Brimley in The Thing
As I said before, “He has some strong opinions. Very strong opinions. But his finger-pointing and suspicion of the others does not make him more likeable to anyone. He feuds with the main characters and gets hysterical over his own theories. At times, you wonder if he is someone’s bizarre version of comic relief.”
Will he make it: Still no.
Ted Cruz is David Arquette in Scream
The highpoint of David Arquette’s career was Scream, although he wasn’t the main character: he was just a colorful side character who provided a few laughs.
Ted Cruz is likewise peaking with a spectacle in which no one will afterward consider him the main character, but it is the most successful he’ll ever be.
Will he make it? He isn’t going anywhere, but he also is never going to have center stage.
Jeb Bush is James Caan in Misery
There’s a real sense that Jeb thought this whole thing was gonna be a lot easier than it is. And suddenly, he’s not sure he has it under control at all. He’s in completely over his head and it’s not going well.
Will he make it? If he does, he won’t be the same man he was at the beginning.
“Who will survive, and what will be left of them?”
This question was the tagline of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It also sums up the sad spectacle that is a presidential election: watching candidates attempt to win, often selling out and compromising their ideals in the process.
Mr Trump’s lust for attention, combined with his fortune, seemed to be all the explanation needed. “Do I look like I have a plan?” says the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. “I’m a dog chasing cars. I don’t know what I’d do if I caught it”. Mr Trump’s havoc-spreading run seemed to share this improvisational spirit.
They go on to argue that yes, Trump has a plan, and yes, there’s a good chance that he is a dog who has caught a car and knows what to do with it: “sell it for profit.”
While The Economist moves away from the Batman metaphors and focuses on the politics, it’s worth dwelling for a moment on this comparison. This is not to say that Donald Trump is a villain. But he is one third of a complicated, shifting cinematic circus of three-directional conflict.
The Dark Knight is a film of three-way conflict. All great films are. Consider Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL v. Humanity v. The Monolith) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (Nazis v. Indy v. The Ark) or The Departed (Jack v. Leo v. Damon). In The Dark Knight, our initial conflict is that The Joker is stealing money from the mob and cornering them, drawing Batman into the fight. Batman goes after the mob, thinking The Joker can wait. “One man or the mob…” Continue reading “How accurate is The Economist in comparing Donald Trump to The Joker?”→
It’s hard to disagree with Santorum, especially when the field is this crowded and complicated, stuffed with minor characters and distractions. But to me, there is something that it resembles even more than Survivor. It reminds me of a science fiction movie, specifically one in which the ensemble cast is picked off one-by-one.
It’s standard for Science Fiction films to either wipe out all the characters, all the characters except for one, or leave us with a small rag-tag team of survivors. Examples include: Alien, Predator, Pitch Black, Armageddon, The Matrix, Sunshine, Deep Blue Sea, any zombie movie ever made, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each of these films begins with a large cast, which we see gradually whittled down until only one or two actors are left. Usually, it’s the actor who got paid the most to be in the movie, just like it’s usually the candidate who spent the most.
Sometimes you know exactly who will make it. And other times, it’s hard to predict who the last human standing will be.
(Please note: when I draw these comparisons and ask if a candidate will “make it,” I’m referring only to their chances of remaining until the end of the election. I’m not suggesting anyone is getting eaten by aliens or turned into a zombie I also haven’t included the photos of the candidates, only their counterparts, because I think we all know what these candidates look like).
While the last post on here was entirely positive and flattering of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, I have to address what some regard as that film’s major shortcoming, which is that it is for a very specific audience. By catering the entire thing for English majors – and taking a few cheap shots at Tea Party politics – it’s no surprise that some of the reviews have been less than flattering (including several descriptions of it being “Night at the Museum for the liberal arts crowd.”)
Naturally, it is inevitable that the Tea Party will have their rebuttal. They always do – whether it’s responding to Obama entertaining Common, Jon Stewart making a joke at their expense, or Jon Stewart making another joke at their expense – there is always a response.