From Chris Rock to Barack Obama: Will electoral life imitate Hollywood art?

Barack Obama is finally confirmed as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President.

This week, while the Democratic Party convention was underway on the other side of the planet, I re-watched the 2003 Chris Rock movie Head of State – and realised how prescient it has been – in some respects.

For those who don’t know the movie, classified as a comedy, here’s the summary from Internet Movie Database: Mays Gilliam, a Washington D.C. neighborhood Alderman, is about to be red-lined out of his job. But after the untimely death of the party frontrunner, Gilliam is plucked from obscurity, and thrust into the limelight as his party’s nominee — for President of the United States. Read full summary and other trivia on IMDB.

Well, other men have gone from the log cabin to the White House, but there’s a significant difference: Mays Gilliam is black, socially underprivileged and broke. In the movie, he becomes the first black man to be nominated for President by a major party (the story isn’t explicit as to which party). Starting as the absolute underdog, and running against a serving, two-term vice president (middle-aged white male, a war hero and a cousin of Sharon Stone to boot), he works his way through a rocky campaign.

The odds slowly improve as Mays speaks his mind and talks truth to power — a refreshing change from the smooth-talking politicians rendering silky words written by their spin doctors. Mays goes on to become President. That wasn’t quite in the plan of Washington power brokers who nominated him – they had other, less noble, intentions. But once unleashed, there was no stopping Mays Gilliam, a self-styled young man who knows how the other half lives.

Someone has helpfully posted an extract from the movie on YouTube. This is the TV debate that Mays has with incumbent Brian Lewis:

Chris Rock, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie, says he got the idea from the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, who chose Geraldine Ferraro — a woman — as his running mate. The Democrats knew they had little chance of defeating incumbent Ronald Reagan, but Ferraro’s nomination allowed them to gain female voters, contributing to the eventual 1992 election of Bill Clinton.

This plot line becomes very intriguing with Republican contender John McCain just picking the little known Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice president.

The parallels between Head of State and Barack Obama can only stretch so far. Illinois Senator Obama is not exactly from an underprivileged background, and his education and credentials are much greater than Mays Gilliams’.
And there are some who never tire of reminding us that Obama is not even fully black.

But where life does imitate art is in how the Washington establishment conspires to keep a young, charismatic black man from ascending to the highest elected office. In the movie, deep rooted political party divisions are crossed as power brokers look for desperate measures to stop Mays Gilliam from marching to the White House.

Now why does that sound vaguely familiar with Obama’s own courageous and remarkable journey so far?

At one point in the movie, when things aren’t going well in his campaign, Mays is asked if he wants to quit. His answer: he can’t afford to quit. He’s not just running for himself, but for all black people. “If I quit now, there won’t be another black candidate for 50 years.”

Head of State may have been made made in 2003 as a comedy, but the US political landscape has changed much in the past five years. Suddenly, the scenario is not comic anymore…

Whatever the eventual outcome, the next few weeks in the run up to the Nov 4 US Presidential Election are going to be very interesting.

Will electoral life imitate Hollywood art? Watch this space….

Read my July 2008 post: Perhaps they don’t know that Barack means a blessing…

NPR asked in January 2008: Has Hollywood paved the way for Obama?

JibJab: Perhaps they don’t know that “Barack” means “a blessing”?

“The U.S. Presidential election may be the most undemocratic in the world. Only some 126 million Americans vote, yet the result is felt by 6.6 billion people. Indeed, in some ways it matters even more to non-Americans. The president is constrained domestically by many constitutional checks and balances, but this is far less true in foreign affairs.”

So said Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani, dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and noted foreign affairs commentator in an op ed essay in Newsweek in January 2008. He posed the interesting question: if the whole world could vote in the US presidential election, whom would they choose?

Noting that the world is not unanimous in its choice, he went on to say: “It is clear, however, whose election would have the most dramatic effect: Barack Obama’s. In one fell swoop, an Obama victory would eliminate at least half the massive anti-Americanism now felt around the world.”

With a dozen more weeks left before the early November election, we won’t hazard a guess on its outcome — but I sure hope Obama wins! Meanwhile, I want to share a very funny, short video that JibJab released last week looking at the whole presidential election campaigning that has gripped Americans this year.

Here’s their own blurb for it:
In our first election satire since 2004’s “This Land” and “Good to be in DC”, we bid farewell to Bush and give Obama and Mccain a proper JibJab hazing! And, of course, who could forget about Hillary and Bill? This rip-roaring musical romp gives the election process the proper spanking it deserves!

Over the weekend, I shared this link with a dozen friends. One of them, an American friend Tedson J Meyers, is an apparent Democratic sympathiser and certainly an Obama fan. He just sent me this rejoinder to JibJab:

I am deeply disturbed by jibjab’s condescension
It is clear that they need some parental attention
Campaigning you see is our way of life
It keeps us keen as the edge of a knife
That’s why I believe jibjab need addressing
Perhaps they don’t know that “Barack” means “a blessing”?

Who are these guys? Here’s a self intro from their YouTube channel:
Brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis founded JibJab in 1999 with a few thousand dollars worth of computer equipment, a dial-up Internet connection and a dream of building a global entertainment brand. In 2004, their election parody “This Land” spark an international sensation and was viewed more than 80 million times online. NASA even contacted the brothers to send a copy to the International Space Station! Since then, JibJab has premiered ten original productions on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and received coverage on every major news outlet. In 2004, Peter Jennings named the brothers “People of the Year.”

See my April 2007 blog post featuring another JibJab video: What We Call the News