As autumn wears on, there are elections happening all over North America, and so much of this moment in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE epitomizes what elections have become.
In the lower left, we have the braggart, the blowhard, the blunt instrument. He seldom truly represents the interests of the public-at-large, and is usually more interested in serving the needs of the few, the rich, and the corrupt. Hell, just as often, he is only it for himself . Here portrayed by James Gregory as Senator Iselin, he is able to cause a gigantic disruption with one word: “communists”. Nowadays, this word can be substituted with all sorts of others. “Extremists”, “Terrorists”, “Socialists”…you get the idea. Declare loud enough that one group of potential enemies are getting an entry point to disrupt the desired way of life, and you will cause a scramble.
When that scramble ensues, you can fall on the ball.
Over on the far right we have the person who is trying to serve our interests. The Senator who is holding his arm aloft, trying to call his dissenter to order. Part of him likely wants to go on with the business of the day – do the job that needs to be done that will likely send ripples towards so many lives. He wants to actually represent the people who have elected him, not grandstand for the next election. More than anything though, he knows what the blowhard opponent is doing and just how dangerous it is. He knows that dissent can be sown just with the accusation, nevermind the proof. What’s more, he’s seen enough opponents like Iselin to know that he’s probably in it for himself.
He cannot do his job, because in moments like this, he is too busy trying to keep his job.
In-between the men, we have the press. They record every word and amplify it one-hundred-fold. Those with integrity will provide clarity, and veracity. They will underline that the number of communists Iselin alleged kept on changing, or that he wouldn’t actually name the names he supposedly had in-hand. They will provide clarity. Unfortunately, clarity has a hard time cutting through the noise. In a moment like this in the early sixties, the media would at least be less biased. Now whole outlets are seen as right-leaning, or left-leaning. They are state mouthpieces, or anti-establishment rags. They are witness to the conversation, but don’t recap it so much as they relay the part they believe in.
And behind it all there are real problems…a real threat. Real enemies trying to do real harm.
That’s the big problem with democracy – all of that freedom comes with a lot of trust, and the truth of the matter is that so few people in western society are truly trustworthy. Even if they seem so, they could be shouted down…or do the shouting…or relay the story they want to relay. This is what elections have become, and one has to wonder how long it takes for some real damage to be done to our so-called “free” societies.
Three more from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far