Madam Secretary: Front Running for Hillary
Long gone are the days when a line might be drawn between art and politics. Today you might argue that that the performing arts, especially, have become a kind of propaganda arm for a promiscuous worldview. The issue isn’t just literal pornography, but the kind of artistic license that lowers all cultural bars.
Manipulation is at the heart of hard sell, the belief that a bovine audience will be too stupid to recognize manipulation. There’s more than a grain of truth here. The rise of social networks, reality cartoons on television, and feature-length movies based on comic book characters, are three of the more obvious symptoms. The new destination resort is perennial childhood.
The Simpsons and South Park are examples; both are wildly popular and financially successful by any measure. Both share a common formula. The children are loud, rude, and obnoxious and the adults are passive, stupid, and clueless. These cartoons don’t celebrate youth so much as they applaud infantile behavior. Themes are some variety of instant gratification and the dialogue is often tasteless.
If a vulgar female Assistant Secretary of State can throw the “F” bomb at European allies in the real world, who are we to quibble with how children talk to their parents on television?
And it’s not like youngsters change the world in the name of progress in South Park. Dumbing it down in the name of childish satire or a cheap laugh is more like it. Bart Simpson captures the millennial spirit with bumper sticker/tee shirt wisdom, “Underachiever and proud of it!”
At this point you can stop wondering why a high school diploma or a college degree means less and less in the new century. A piece of paper is education today in the same sense that a tattoo is body “art.”
Indeed, customer surveys confirm Bart’s new urban ethic. The average American adult, women especially, will spend as much as a third of the waking day in front of a television. Bimbo TV targets the ladies because women make most purchasing decisions by a wide margin. Daytime TV is a chat, cartoon, and soap-opera wasteland that caters to women who shop too much and think too little. With such home schooling, children are bred for consumption and instant gratification.
The bimbo tube has become the default babysitter too. When you add phone, laptop, and cinema time; you have to wonder how any household ever gets clean knickers or homemade cookies in the 21st Century.
With Shakespeare, it’s not hard to believe that the performing arts held a mirror up to life. With Hollywood, the looking glass is a one-way mirror. With the assistance of opinion makers like Nielsen and NSA, the 21st- century ethos seems to be a matter of catering to low brows and seining wants at the expense of needs. Vulgarity is part of that art.
The American proletariat doesn’t value manners, privacy, or information as much as entertainment anyway. Alas, a culture based on selfishness is a society of volunteer victims. Government, Hollywood, and the dot.com oligarchs are not about to miss a historic opportunity to abuse a public trust.
Control is the wizard behind every hand-held device, every laptop, every flat screen, and every silver screen. And if ‘trending” tells us anything, the moguls of manipulation are a new class of millennial role models.
Manipulation and entertainment are now well matched in Hollywood. The latest entry on the bimbo TV menu is Madam Secretary (CBS) a primetime ‘soap opera’ where Tea Leoni plays a spook, cum academic, who is appointed secretary of state by a venal male president who is looking for a cookie pusher who “thinks outside the box.” If you saw any episode of Madam and thought of Hillary, you already have the message. You heard Barbara Hall’s dog whistle.
Indeed, if you are having a hot flash of déjà vu also, you are part of the Nielsen demographic that stays on message. You get it!
Recall that before the last presidential election, Columbia Pictures optioned Zero Dark Thirty, another homage to a lady spook who made the world safe from terror midst a gaggle of inept male intelligence drones. Never mind that, in the real world, an all-male special operations crew actually took the all the risks.
The Oval Office in those days was taking bows for ending terror as we know it with the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the alleged “end” of al Qaeda. Now comes Tia Leone, as Secretary of State, about to smite the likes of similar “nefarious characters,” to use a Clapperism, before another national election. Not a happy coincidence!
Look at the Madame Secretary story line to date. In Episode Two, the embassy in ‘Yemen’ is attacked by the usual suspects. The ambassador asks for security assistance. White House and the Foggy Bottom nabobs do not want to provoke the Muslim locals. Request denied!
Madam Secretary goes off the reservation and hires mercenaries (think Blackwater). The hired guns rescue the ambassador. Oval Office creeps and State Department sissies have to eat crow. Madam establishes herself as a tough broad midst an ocean of flaccid Beltway girly men.
Benghazi, of the real world, is mentioned in passing in case you didn’t get the analogy. With the Hollywood version of embassy assault, the female protagonist is at once a babe -- brave, decisive, and successful too.
Real events, alas the obvious Libyan fiasco, saw an evasive Secretary of State and a dithering President who could not and/or did not make a timely decision -- or take post facto responsibility for failure. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and staff were abandoned and subsequently slaughtered in the real world. The best explanation that Hillary Rodham Clinton could muster at the time was, “What does it matter?”
Of course, this transparent rewriting of history in Madam Secretary isn’t Ms. Leoni’s fault. Tea is everything that Mrs. Clinton is not: an attractive, believable actress with great legs and good hair. And Leoni is very accomplished at what she does in the working world of Hollywood.
Sexist you say? Alas, television and politics are visual mediums.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Tea Leoni looks the part -- and she is excellent theater too. Unfortunately, Hollywood is using Leoni to airbrush a dowdy Clinton.
Those who believe that looks shouldn’t be part of the political discussion might want to remind Mrs. Clinton that her mono-couture choice of frumpy pants suits just shouts “legs,” an asset she would have us ignore. For the most part, pant suits on an aging lady pol is the male equivalent of a tent shirt on a chunky New Jersey governor. If you’re in the public eye, appearance matters, no matter the sex.
Madam Secretary, like Zero Dark Thirty, is getting good reviews at just the right time; months before a national congressional election and a year or so before the Clintons go for a third run at the White House. So let’s not kid ourselves about fictions like Madam Secretary or ripe politicians like Hillary Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton will not be running on her looks, issues, competence, or performance in any case. Indeed, no one will argue that Mrs. Clinton is the next Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, or Angela Merkel.
Hillary will run on her genitals and Hollywood is happy to provide all the schmaltz and spin about achievement and courage needed to suggest that Mrs. Clinton is a woman ready to take America’s highest office. Past performance will not matter.
“First woman,” not accomplishment, will be the emotional and political sweet spot for the next two years. Hollywood will do its part making sure that soccer moms get that message with fictions like Madam Secretary. Withal, the same demographic that watches soap operas for entertainment, The View for information, and uses Bart Simpson as a babysitter might put Hillary back in the White House.
G. Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.