December 10, 2013

Mistaking Words and Movies for Reality

Ace on The MacGuffinization of American Politics

In a movie or book, "The MacGuffin" is the thing the hero wants.  Usually the villain wants it too, and their conflict over who will end up with The MacGuffin forms the basic spine of the story.
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Alfred Hitchcock noted -- counterintuitively, when you first hear this -- that the specifics of the MacGuffin don't really matter at all to a movie. He pointed out that the audience doesn't care at all about the MacGuffin. The hero in the movie itself cares, but the audience doesn't.
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A MacGuffin only has one requirement: That it be important-sounding, so that the audience understands he hero isn't engaged in some trivial matter, but that the Stakes Are High
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And that, of course, explains all you need to know about the abnormal political situation we find ourselves in, and the Cult of Barack Obama.

For Obama's fanbois, this is not politics. This isn't even America, not really, not anymore.  This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions -- and Obama's myriad failures as an executive -- are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.
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As with a MacGuffin in the movie, only the Hero's emotional response to the MacGuffin matters.  Again and again, Matthews and his panel focused not on weighty questions of state, but on what toll these important-sounding MacGuffins took upon the Star of the Picture, Barack Obama.

Matthews was not terribly interested in hearing about the problems with Obamacare, or how Obama planned to address them.  But he was very interested in learning how Obama was coping with the challenges.

Peggy Noonan made a similar point in Low Information Leadership

It’s a leader’s job to be skeptical of grand schemes. Sorry, that’s a conservative leader’s job. It is a liberal leader’s job to be skeptical that grand schemes will work as intended. You have to guide and goad and be careful.

And this president wasn’t. I think part of the reason he wasn’t careful is because he sort of lives in words. That’s been his whole professional life—books, speeches. Say something and it magically exists as something said, and if it’s been said and publicized it must be real. He never had to push a lever, see the machine not respond, puzzle it out and fix it. It’s all been pretty abstract for him, not concrete. He never had to stock a store, run a sale and see lots of people come but the expenses turn out to be larger than you’d expected and the profits smaller, and you have to figure out what went wrong and do better next time.
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Here I will say something harsh, and it’s connected to the thing about words but also images.

From what I have seen the administration is full of young people who’ve seen the movie but not read the book. They act bright, they know the reference, they’re credentialed. But they’ve only seen the movie about, say, the Cuban missile crisis, and then they get into a foreign-policy question and they’re seeing movies in their heads. They haven’t read the histories, the texts, which carry more information, more texture, data and subtlety, and different points of view. They’ve only seen the movie—the Cubans had the missiles and Jack said “Not another war” and Bobby said “Pearl Harbor in reverse” and dreadful old Curtis LeMay chomped his cigar…
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 10, 2013 1:06 PM | Permalink