“Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got 'em like this... You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers.” - Lonesome Rhodes (A Face in the Crowd - 1957)
Written by Budd Schulberg, based on his short story “Your Arkansas Traveler,” the 1957 film directed by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd
is one of the best political movies ever made in this country.
Besides showing what a tremendous actor Andy Griffith could be when he had the right material, it is also a tale for our times, when entertainment figures appear on cable television and the campaign trail, frothing at the edges, and reality TV stars manipulate millions of people who may or may not have actually been paying attention in Social Studies Class.
It is the story of millions of people who may not actually want to be manipulated, but who definitely want a Strong Man to lead them in times of political and spiritual danger, and it is the story of a man who is only too happy to be the smiling, singing troubadour for the Dark Forces of American fascism.
But some men’s reach should never exceed their grasp, and in both the short story and the film Lonesome Rhodes finally faces extinction. In the film it happens during the end credits of one of his broadcasts, when he is expressing his true opinion of the masses of people who hang on to his every word. His lover - who has grown to fear what he represents - turns up the volume, and the whole world finally hears the truth.
“You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers.”
And just like that, the scales fall from the eyes of a public which has been lulled into believing that this man - who was saying things that other men didn’t - had a lock on some eternal truth, and that he was sharing it his friends, the American people.
I keep wondering when and if Donald Trump’s Lonesome Rhodes moment may come, when people will suddenly realize that what he is offering isn’t wisdom after all, but the vain shoutings of an angry man.
You notice I said if, as well as when? Because life isn’t a movie, after all . . .
From “Your Arkansas Traveler,” by Budd Schulberg:
He was saying, "If I tell the people to declare war they will flood the White House and their congressmen with letters and telegrams. The GI's will insist on going into action. Volunteer militias will rise in every town and hamlet in America. The people listen to Lonesome Rhodes. The people act with Lonesome Rhodes."
It frightened me. Maybe he was only bluffing. Trying to get a rise out of me. He knew how I felt about irresponsible amateurs with mass followings sounding off on international crises . . .
Your Arkansas Traveler
To read the original short story A Face in the Crowd
is based on, go to:
It’s well worth your time.
Today’s blog was written to Holly Near’s “Singer in the Storm” CD.
Quote of the Day
"Normal is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from." - Jodie Foster