Drawing on the Wrong Side of The Brain

The U.S. Presidential Election 2008

October 13, 2008
by Hills Snyder

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      Hills Snyder
      Bugs or Elmer, 1993
      Graphite on paper
      Courtesy the artist

      “In my father’s house there are many mansions.”
       John 14:2

      I take that to mean that within the human heart and mind there are vast spaces. That experience is a keyhole we can look through, into a larger room.

      That’s what I think, but in the meantime Oliver Stone’s W. opens this week, and since ...might be good has invited me to write something for their political issue, I’m re-viewing a set of movies I screened for the UTSA Graduate Painting class I taught in the wake of the 2003 Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq. A Village Is Missing Its Idiot Film Festival, that’s what I called it, though I’ve never known the origin of that phrase which most often begins with Somewhere In Texas…

      And now I see that Alaska has been added to the topography of idiocy, which you may option to display on your bumper if you can still afford to drive.

      Advance word has it that in W., the scene in which Bush flies over Baghdad on a magic carpet has been deleted. “It was wacky stuff that at the end of the day took us out of the movie,” said Stone. So I guess we’ll just have to hold out for that to appear on YouTube or perhaps among the extras on the DVD, which should be available before November 4 (weather permittingI hear it might rain).

      Speaking of which, and The Dude’s rug notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure there is a Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny on such a carpet. I just thought I’d mention thatI like to bring up Bugs Bunny when I write or converse.

      Now friends, I have inside information that there was plenty of weed blowing around during the making of W., so maybe some after-the-fact discretion fed into Stone’s decision to edit some stuff. That’s fine, he’s pretty creative anywayI like to recall the horse whinny sound bite in U Turn when the grease monkey played by Billy Bob Thornton takes a crow bar to the hood of Sean Penn’s classic ’64-and-a-half Mustang.

      Anyway, Karl Rove has already said he won’t see the movie and claims that Stone has a brain “with only a functioning left side.”

      I guess Karl didn’t take the drawing class.

      So…what are those movies you showed your grad students?...you might ask.
      OK, here they are. I highly recommend this series and suggest you watch them in this order and in close succession: Don’t Look Back (1967, D.A. Pennebaker) / Bob Roberts (1992, Tim Robbins) / A Face In The Crowd (1957, Elia Kazan) / The King of Comedy (1982, Martin Scorsese) / Being There (1979, Hal Ashby).

      Oddly enough, I saw A Face In The Crowd on television the same week that Being There appeared in the theatre. Perhaps that was the germination of the idea to somehow put these films together. Andy Griffith’s guitar playing drifter in A Face In The Crowd is a charismatic, but amoral, personality who seems indifferent to circumstance yet seizes on every opportunity to gain any kind of advantage. Lonesome Rhodes, as he comes to be called, is the opposite side of the coin to Being There’s Chance the Gardener, a simpleton assumed by Peter Sellers in one of his best performances. Chance knows only gardening. The rest of his behavior is mostly limited to miming things he sees on TV, which he watches incessantly. He accidentally gains the ears of power in the wake of his guileless demeanor and tendency to say “yes” or “I see” in answer to just about any question. The polite goodwill of the upper crust world he lands in propels him into a position of inadvertent influence: his gardening talk delights the president, who takes it as a metaphor for the health of the nation. Both films are incisive assessments of TV culture. Being There lampoons it, while A Face In The Crowd is a critique of that medium as a tool of political influence.

      Three years after Being There, The King of Comedy would give us Rupert Pupkin, surely one of De Niro’s best pre-mannerist psychopaths. This film is the companion to Scorsese’s 70s film Taxi Driver in its deep look into the ways that fame and notoriety play darkly in the national imagination. A decade later, Bob Roberts (featuring an early appearance by Jack Black) came out two months before the 1992 presidential election. This film retrofits the cornered-by-his-own-celebrity, mid-60s Dylan in Don’t Look Back, replacing one Bob with another, and the anti-Woody is there tooconservative huckster Roberts sings, “this land is my land, this land is my land.”

      Lonesome Rhodes, Rupert Pupkin, Chance, Bob Robertseach character figures into the Palinesque aw-shucks-fascista persona that these films create when watched in sequencea persona that was just waiting for George W. Bush to come along like some spaced out Johnny Appleseed and add his two cents to the mix.

      And now I’d like to sing a song. It’s titled Guts. I wrote it in 2005.

      an eagle scout always ready for the chore
      he was raised up believing that some things really are worth fighting for
      he had his heart on his sleeve when he signed up for the war
      but his brains were on his helmet when they brought him to our door

      the mosh at the end of School of Rock always made him cry
      he cried all the way through that movie he never did know why
      he had his heart on his sleeve when he signed up maybe to die
      but his brains were on his helmet the day they brought him by

      intestinal fortitude
      ear wax and elbow grease
      the backbone to do it
      the stomach to take it
      and the spleen to dish it out
      he was a real boy scout

      and he was always ready for the chore
      he was raised up believing that some things really are worth fighting for
      he had his heart on his sleeve when he signed up for the war
      but his brains were on his helmet when they brought him to our door

      This was written with empathy and respect for soldiers and their families. Its humor is no darker than what is offered in Johnny Got His Gun.

      So, as long as we’ve ventured out onto this particular patch of the shining sea, the choppy part, I’d like to mention that John Defore’s review of Religulous nails it perfectly, “…condemning the whole of religion for [the freak-show corners of faith] is like damning romantic love because it sometimes makes an astronaut drive cross-country wearing diapers.”

      Bravo, though I do wonder how that woman is doing.

      Regardless of what you believe or don’t believe (and believe meI don’t care either way), Religulous has some extremely funny moments and I’d like to go on record with this: if you can’t find the humor in religion, any religion, or if you can’t laugh at your own beliefs or look at them from the odd angle, then you are hiding from something. So please tear down those walls. I’d like to invite you for a swim. Or at least for a walk in the rain.

      Just one more thing: that Holy Land theme park. Just flat out arrogant. Or silly. Or a really revolting combination of the two. There is something about the spectacle and its tators that reminds me of the head crusher from The Kids In The Hall (no offense guys). It’s like there is an inappropriately casual presumption of power or control, as if some wonder of nature needed to be backlit. This nonchalance even seems to carry over to the spectators who exude a you-go-girl enthusiasm toward the crucified actor and apparently think nothing of buying junk from vendors dressed in bible clothes. The whole notion is just so miserably reductionist. As we’ve seen over and over in these polarized times, in the fundamentalist house there are many closets. Small ones.

      “However, I digress”that’s the phrase that’s supposed to come up about now, but really, I don’t. Crowds and the ways they gather around iconic figures are central here. It’s how we humans do it. Let’s just make sure the right one gets in this time. You may think it’s a done deal. And I get that. It looks that way. But don’t forget, Bush did get elected in 2004. But a victory for McCain/Palin would be even more of a disappointment, more of a reflection of how deeply ignorant this country has become. But that’s not going to happen. Because we have had enough.

      So vote. No one is asking you to walk on water. Nor is there any need for a magic carpet. Just vote. But do bring your umbrella.

      Hills Snyder lives in San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at www.hillssnyder.com.


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