This ‘Campaign’ is No Laughing Matter

By Bob Gaydos

“You want to go see ‘The Campaign’?”

The caller was my 18-year-old, about-to-leave-for-college son, Zack. So I immediately said yes. These impromptu calls have become too infrequent lately. Zack, of course, loves anything Will Ferrell does. I think he’s a talented actor who constantly takes the easy path to the cheapest joke, the filthier the better, playing dumb to reach the lowest common denominator in his audience — teenaged boys. A classic underachiever. But I thought, what the heck, it’s timely. Maybe he’ll score some political points and I’ll get a few laughs.

Both things happened, but I came away from the movie with a strange sense of sadness. Ferrell did not disappoint. The jokes were crude, sexual and occasionally hilarious. But some of the best ones had been promoted for weeks on TV. (Why do they feel a need to do that?) Mostly, though, on leaving the theater, I realized that I had stopped laughing at some point because the heavy-handed attempt at satire was simply too close to the truth and this movie wasn’t going to change things one iota.

For one thing, teenaged boys don’t vote. For another, the country really is full of the kind fickle, dumb voters portrayed in the movie — people who swear their political allegiance based on phony image, phony religion phony patriotism, phony family values — and switch it just as easily based on phony claims spread with the money of very real filthy rich people who feel they are a country unto themselves, free to do as they please to whomever they please, so long as they can afford it.

And so Ferrell gives us the Motch Brothers, in the bloated persons of Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow. They decide to grab control of a North Carolina congressional district by bankrolling the ineffectual, clueless Zach Galifianakis to run against the incumbent, the philandering, dumb Ferrell. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, slim as it is. Suffice to say, the movie stereotypes of the real-life Koch brothers are ruthless to the core, using their wealth to try to buy a congressional district, and not caring which candidate can deliver that prize. Where’s the humor there? Like the dumb voters stereotyped, that’s the plain truth.

The movie candidates do and say stupid stuff until the end, which is all Hollywood happy, but not convincing. But the real-life candidates in this country do and say dumb stuff all the time, with no Hollywood ending. (Will the would-be senator from Missouri please shut his mouth and go home?) In Texas and Arizona they routinely get elected. The movie presents cardboard characters who could probably run and win somewhere real in America. That’s why the stereotypes, while comically exaggerated, also seem so familiar. We know these buffoons, these liars, these phonies. We vote for them (well, I don’t). We send them back to office because they tell us some cock and bull story and we never bother to call them on it. And if someone does pull their covers, we ignore it. It’s like a whole country addicted to BS. It makes us feel so good, if we hold our noses.

I guess I should have realized that Will Ferrell isn’t sophisticated enough to deliver the kind of satire needed to get people off the political BS crack pipe and I shouldn’t expect him to. And I have little faith in today’s traditional news media. I think more and more that the Internet and social media – also hugely popular with teenaged boys — represent the best hope for getting Americans, at least enough Americans, to recognize what is going on with our political system and make them want to change it.

Yes, there are a lot of liars and buffoons on the Internet, too, but they are being called out and drowned out regularly by voices of logic and reason and compassion. Young voices and old voices and middle aged voices. People who are sick and tired of the BS in American politics, much too sick and tired to think it’s funny anymore. (Did you hear what that idiot in Tennessee said about spreading AIDS?) Maybe Woody Allen could make it a laughing matter: Pass the popcorn. Woody really nailed these guys. But he only makes one movie a year and I can’t wait.

Yes, I realize I’ve been talking about myself here. I never used crack, but I’ve ingested enough political BS to last several lifetimes. Sorry, Will Ferrell, you’ll probably make millions trading on people‘s ignorance (much like the Motch brothers), but politics in America long ago ceased to be a laughing matter. It’s more like a cruel joke.

PS: But hey, Zack, don’t hesitate to call if you want to catch another movie. My treat.

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One Response to “This ‘Campaign’ is No Laughing Matter”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    I don’t vote for “those people” either. it is frightening to hear people quoting, chapter and verse, from the Koch, Rove, Limbaugh play book. I engage young people in conversation at the supermarket, the big box stores, wherever I can and many of them are rolling their eyes – a hopeful sign. However, will they vote? Bob, are we doomed?

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