There Texas socialite Joanne Herring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

There are two major themes that can be identified in Daniel Franklin’s book on Politics in
Film. One major theme is that attitudes within political culture motivate political participation
which in turn creates public policy. Media forms and reinforces the attitudes within political
culture, thus informing public policy. Another theme is that all films are intentionally and
unintentionally a product of circumstance. All of the decisions are editorial. Producers are aware
of and are a product of their culture. Racism and sexism are not part of our political ideology,
just our history. The Wednesday films that were discussed in class prove these themes to be true.
These films are Charlie Wilson’s War, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the King’s Men,
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Seven Days in May, and Dr. Strangelove.
The film Charlie Wilson’s War (Mike Nichols, 2007) proves the two themes from
Franklin’s book Politics in Film to be true. A brief synopsis of the film is that it is set in the
1980s. Tom Hanks portrays U.S.Rep. Charlie Wilson, Julia Roberts plays Texas socialite Joanne
Herring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays CIA agent Gus Avrakotos. The three establish an
alliance to fund Afghan freedom fighters in their war against invading Soviets. The push to
finance these covert operations ultimately leads to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the
Cold War. The film is very political, as the subject matter is related to the political process.
Furthermore, the events of the film exemplify ways in which legislation relating to war may be
passed. The overall message is that Washington politics are run by dirty politicians and corrupt
people. These people resort to vices, and this affects efforts to assist in the removal of Russian
influence in Afghanistan. Much of the humor derived from the film relates to how the CIA and
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Congress deploys sarcasm to exemplify the shortcomings of US government. This was the first
film because it was a relatively simple and straightforward story. Furthermore, the politics of the
film are related to what is happening in today’s political climate more so than an older film.
Going back to Franklin’s theme being that attitudes within political culture motivate political
participation which in turn creates public policy, the political message of Charlie Wilson’s War is
that Americans should be more aware of the power that they have in matters such as the US war
in Afghanistan. American politicians sought to pay for this secret war in order to know they had
beat the Russians. However, there was no plan for after the war was over. This relates to pork
barrel politics, in which Americans bring back “bacon” to the home district for political reasons
in order to win elections. It is unknown why Charlie Wilson is so strongly opinionated on the
Afghanistan war. He is a womanizing substance abuser (frequently drunk who also is seen to
engage in cocaine use) which is his achilles heel, but at the end of the day he has good intentions
in his actions. This makes him an effective anti hero. In the film, congressmen are not seen as
completely moral individuals. This makes the viewers unsure of their motives, whether it is for
political causes or to rise in power. Overall, themes of the film that are debated are the struggle
between communism and capitalism. There are “wars” between culture and socioeconomics,
religion, and politics. Also there is the struggle of good against evil set within the confounds of
Congress. This is exemplified with racial politics, questionable morality of politicians. Also sex
is used as an important motif as Charlie’s angels and gender roles are deployed to convey
political messages.
The second Wednesday film is the 1939 Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The basic plot of the film is that Jefferson Smith, played by James Stewart, is appointed to the
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United States Senate. Soon after he becomes affiliated with Sen. Joseph Paine. But Smith soon
finds out that Senator Paine is not as moral as his public reputation makes it seem. Paine very
quickly plots a scheme to hurt Smith in his mission to build a boys campsite in a spot that is
widely debated for its use. Smith is then fighting a battle against Paine and his corrupt associates
in Senate. The film is especially relevant today because it proves the difference between the
innocence of the young and corruption of the adult world. It can be connected to today’s call to
“drain the swamp,” as the message is to not allow the political machine take over. Smith tries to
get everyone to wake up before it is too late, and that every voice matters. As one of Franklin’s
themes is that media forms and reinforces the attitudes within political culture, thus informing
public policy, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is still very relevant in today’s political climate in
America as it embodies populism, patriotism, and strong nationalism. The film is also a good
example of how special interest groups can interfere with Washington politics. Also tying in with
Franklin’s theme, is that all films are intentionally and unintentionally a product of circumstance,
and given similar corruption taking place in government today with Russian interference, the
film is still relevant.
The third Wednesday film is All the King’s Men, directed by Robert Rossen in 1949,
which won the Oscar for Best Picture. The film is about Willie Stark (Sean Penn) who at first has
idealist and moral intentions as a politician that quickly go corrupt once he gets elected as the
governor of Louisiana. In the film, are seen as props to push men into higher status men during
this time. Sadie is key example of this. Also any other character who shares Willie’s surname
makes them seem more powerful. Powerful names are perceived to win people over more easily
than having a clean background in politics. Willie, while initially starting out as a moral man
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with courage, struggled to live up to some of his promises, and this is common for many
politicians even today. All of his actions were done for the people of Louisiana. When Willie
says, “I learned something. How to win,” he basically is saying how he learned to be a populist,
or to speak to public in order to amuse them and tell them exactly what they want to hear. In
return, the politician rises to power when promises are made that cannot always be kept. By
using hick language he gets a big rise out of the people at his rallies and in turn obtains funding.
The line “can’t make good out of nothing” basically is conveying that there are some immoral
deals that are made with dirty politicians in order to get what you want.
The film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) is another Wednesday film
that backs up Franklin’s themes. The film is set in Santa Mira, California and follows Dr. Miles
Bennell who is confused why all his patients come to him complaining that people dear to them
have been replaced by fake imposters who seem to lack emotions entirely. While many refute
these claims, Dr. Bennell, his former girlfriend Becky, and his Bennell’s acquaintance Jack
ultimately find that claims are in fact true. There is actually an alien species of human clones that
stem from herbaceous pods, and the aliens are actually taking over the small town. While not a
film about government, the film is still political in that a minority slowly becomes the majority.
This establishes the debate that can back up Franklin’s themes – that being in conformity is a bad
thing for society. Themes such as this were widely debated during the Cold War when
McCarthyism was in the public eye. Furthermore, gender roles are assigned to women, especially
in the 1950’s. This is evident because of Becky’s dresses when she wants to go out for drinks,
and how she cannot seem to go on without her man. As Miles and Becky are separated and
divorced, she still sleeps over at his house, this suggests that women are used only for sex and
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are objects. This is the political message conveyed that is reflective of the time period and should
be compared to today’s definition of a woman’s role. In addition, the American way of life is
being threatened and it takes a majority rule to finally get society to take action against the
impeding threat. While aliens are the primary villain, they are representative of the Communism
of the time who also threatened to strip people of their humanity and instill only fear of outsiders.
The film Seven Days in May is reflective of Franklin’s themes that media affects social
attitudes and is reflective of the current political attitudes. Films are made to change people’s
minds and instill a shock that leaves a lasting impact. The film was directed by Frankenheimer in
1964 and is still pertinent to politics today. The film is about fictional U.S. President Jordan
Lyman who is played by Fredric March. He aspires to end to the Cold War with the signing of a
nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. This greatly upsets his rival General James Scott
who is played by Burt Lancaster, and the character is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Scott’s assistant, Martin Casey or “Jiggs” who is played by Kirk Douglas finds evidence
supporting the claim that the Scott is planning to overthrow Lyman in seven days. When Jiggs
informs President Lyman about this, all hell breaks loose, and a race to threaten the coup is set in
motion. The film says a lot about the political culture in the United States today. It is impossible
to hide a secret today, as is evident with the Russian hacking investigation from Paul Manafort in
the news about Trump. The media can be potentially used as a tool for the common good . It also
represents how treaties can polarize the people of the public, such as with republicanism versus
democrats in government today. Ultimately, the people of the public do not know very much and
are naive to the corruption of government in order to pass bills. In today’s world the secret base
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could never have occurred because the media would have unleashed it, and this would lead to
politicians to resign. This movie shows that the media can be a helpful tool to/for the society.
The film Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick (1964) helps to convey Franklin’s themes
being that the media forms and informs attitudes within a public culture, and this leads to a more
informed public. The movie depicts the nuclear arms race between the United States and the
Soviet Union during the Cold War. The film is roughly based on the novel Two Hours to Doom/
Red Alert by Peter George. It is set in 1963, when John F. Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev are at
the Limited Test Ban treaty. This treaty forbade the testing of nukes in the atmosphere,
underwater, and outerspace. It is especially relevant today given the nuclear arms race with North
Korea that is occurring between the United States. Stanley Kubrick seems to push the message
that people should be more afraid of nuclear devastation the could potentially happen when the
public does not seem to care. He thinks that the media and comfortable lifestyle brainwashes
people. The sheer force and amount of nuclear weapons on both sides is enough to destroy the
world, much less one country. Each country wanted to out-do the other with more nuclear
weapons, and this is called MAD or “mutual assured destruction.” Kubrick sought out to
establish a political message he made both countries look especially similar and there is a overall
failure to establish good communication. Sexuality and masculinity are seen as ways that this
occurs. One example of a failure to communicate is the contrast between Mandrake and General
Rippers pitch of voice. There are two completely different opinions about the nuclear weapons
that do not want to acknowledge the other at all because of sheer differences. Ripper makes
decisions to cut off the communication of the bombers with the rest of the world, and this hinders
a resolution of the conflict of the movie. The president cannot even recall why he is doing his
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commands, and this reflects the confusion of the time period of the Red Scare in America. Also,
there is a lot of sexuality in the film to represent a dominance race. The race for more nuclear
weapons is easily comparable to when men compete for who has a larger penis. Then there is
General Turgidson, which basically is a reference to having an erection. He links sex to “blasting
off” when he speaks with women who he is not even fully interested in. In addition, when
Turgidson and the Ambassador are scolded by the President to, ironically, not fight in the war
room, it is similar to a parent disciplining their child who is misbehaving. This is indicative of
the Red Scare because both countries did not want to listen to the other side, instead just wanted
to prove their dominance and act like children.
All of the Wednesday films do a good job of reflecting Daniel Franklin’s themes that are
present in Politics in Film. One major theme is that attitudes within political culture motivate
political participation which in turn creates public policy. Media forms and reinforces the
attitudes within political culture, thus informing public policy. The other central theme being that
all films are intentionally and unintentionally a product of circumstance. In each respective film,
a political message that was true of the time period and still holds true to this day is conveyed
using characters and motifs that parallel the reality of the time and of today’s political
environment.