Wednesday, January 09, 2008

today: Opalma

Being the nerdish superfan of The West Wing that I surely am, it would be ridiculous of me to claim that the forthcoming (revelations of bestiality and such notwithstanding) landslide Presidential election victory by The Democratic candidate is down to the influence of a semi-fantastic (as in fantasy) TV drama series.

But it is not so unreasonable to posit that recent TV has cast politicians in a pretty good light, and this can only reflect well on The Democrats. Clearly Josiah Bartlett was, in fiction, several miles to the left of where real politicians are. Yet each week for seven years during a Republican administration he was in the homes of some Americans and across the media of America as an extremely liberal President who was also a good guy. Well intentioned, strong, likeable and without the connivances and bile that politicians are supposed to have.

His replacement, Matthew Santos, was a minority candidate who reached out to a wider audience by being youthful, vigorous, honest and committed. Both WW Presidents ran an insrugent campaign that went up against the old party machines and won the nomination on the back of Momentum created by surprise showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Both (as played by experienced actors/stars) possessed charisma in bucketloads.

Turn the channel and we find David and Wayne Palmer. David especially, as portrayed urbanely by Morgan Freeman-esque Dennis Haysbert was a black President who was trustworthy, full of resolve, shot through with integrity and a grace under fire that we can only hope real polticians might have. In short, a credible black president.

Meld the two together and we have, ta-daa, Barak Obama, whose name incidentally rhymes with Palmer.

My argument is that since Vietnam polticians have been portrayed in documentary, but crucially in fiction, as duplicitous, power-crazed, self-interested, incompetent, foolish and always somewhere on the spectrum of corruption (apart form Kevin Kline as Dave and Michael Douglas in The American President which doesn't really count because it was a sort of pilot version of the West Wing). West Wing and 24 have marked a cultural shift, in that it is okay and believable to create fictional Presidents who are true public servants, resistant to the corruption around them and with the good of America and its people as their driving force. Perhaps they have played some part in opening peoples' minds a little.

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