Cultural Revolutions

"Visual Politics"

"Visual politics" seems an apt description of our current regime. Since most Americans acquire their news by television, those making news or seeking to communicate it must do so visually. Since television has not really formulated its own vocabulary, however, its visuals owe a debt to the movies. It is a commonplace to speak of the Clinton presidency as influenced by Hollywood, and the President actually imports friends who are Hollywood producers to stage major events and press conferences, such as that wonderful cinematic moment where he sternly shook his finger at us and emphatically explained that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." Wag the Dog tried to satirize similar developments, only to be overtaken quickly by the real world, as the President unleashed the dogs of war at a crucial moment in his impeachment proceedings.

Since the early days of the Clinton administration, however, the proper visual analog has not really been Hollywood, but Italian cinema of the 1960's. From the moment the President held up traffic at LAX to get his hair cut by a stylist to the stars, he transcended his own milieu and transformed American political life into a Fellini film. The President probably comes closest to playing Guido, the Marcello Mastroianni role in Fellini's masterpiece, 8, a wonderfully absurdist study of a movie director who can't figure out a plot...

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