If you ever saw the 1957 film “a Face in the Crowd,” it was probably the only time in your life that you remember hating Andy Griffith (or at least the character he played).
In that classic piece of cinema Griffith plays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a hateful, lecherous drifter who somehow manages to manipulate television and mass media to bring himself fame as a sort of likeable everyman. He uses those tools and skills to help a senator rise in the presidential polls. Rhodes’ world falls apart once everyone realizes just who he is after his words about the ignorance of his fans (basically, all of America) inadvertently leak out during a live broadcast.
The film was groundbreaking for its time because the television medium was still relatively new yet somehow the film’s writers knew that mass media would be abused by those who could deliver messages with charisma and panache that would make the populace believe that the untrue was reality.
The message of “a Face in the Crowd” remains relevant to this day.
Here it is, over 60 years later, and we are still living in a world of lies foretold by that movie.
There are countless Larry Rhodeses out there, chasing office, holding office and trying to run our country, and, if not, using their star power to advance those who are, projecting an image that is anything but who they actually are. The masses see the lovable version of Rhodes, not the angry, drunken, disgusting Rhodes that was behind the cameras.
One needs only to catch a few of the key speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions to see that in practice.
Depending on what side of the aisle you are on, you likely walked away from those thinking that “your guy” or “your gal” ruled the day.
But think about it, just who really is “your guy” or “your gal?”
It’s definitely not who you saw at the podium or on the computer screen.
Almost all of those speeches were written by other people…then rewritten, rehased, rehearsed, and recycled.
What you watched was performance art. Every single speaker, whether it was a senator, a governor, a presidential candidate or a First-Partner-to-be was an actor delivering lines prepared for them by professional writers.
Just who is the real person? Only the speaker and his or her closest family and friends know that, which is unfortunate given the enormity of the offices we elect people for.
I pine for the good old days when real leaders wrote their own messages.
Some make the claim that they don’t have time in this busy day and age.
Really? Two of our greatest presidents -- Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt -- wrote all of their own speeches. They were incredibly busy – Lincoln was trying to keep the country from being torn apart while Roosevelt was fighting corruption and reforming how we see and do things. They succeeded in saving America and making it better by speaking from the heart, sharing their thoughts, and actually living every word they said.
People followed them and believed in their causes because they knew those men, their integrity, and their goals.
The best way to know a man or woman is to get to the heart of their writings, as its shows them at their most introspective, most emotional, most intellectual and most personal.
But, that seems so quaint now. We’ve been robbed of that connection since the days of Warren Harding, the first president to employ a speechwriter. We don’t know who the political class are anymore, because the polished image we’ve been fed is there to sell a party or an idea, to garner attention, and attract votes and dollars -- not to lead and definitely not to empower.
Now, it’s par for the course that speeches, newsletters and letters-to-the-editor utilized by state and federal officials come from the pens – and minds -- of others, properly vetted to dispense the appropriate amount of snake oil and salesmanship. Hit all the key talking points. Stay on message. Stay true to party over people.
Unfortunately, and especially at the highest levels, the political system is so effective at brainwashing that most voters are incapable of discerning fact from fiction, the person from the myth when it comes to political speeches and the projection of the (alleged) persona.
We are led to believe that that which we hear and see is reality, when in truth, it’s a façade.
It’s Hollywood at its finest.
There’s little bit of Lonesome Rhodes in every face in the crowd.
From the 24 August 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News