There are a lot of reasons to hate election season.
There are the evening calls from campaign volunteers when you are about to scarf down dinner. There are the television ads that make you feel as if America is teetering on the brink of a commie revolution or a “let them eat cake” regime. There are arguments with family members and friends and neighbors and absolute strangers. I know the candidates themselves are anxious and terrified. We, the voters, can guess exactly how they feel.
The really great thing about election time is that it gives you the perfect excuse to sit in your pajamas for an entire weekend and watch political movies. There are so many great ones: W., Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wag the Dog, When the Levees Broke, The Great Dictator. In these movies, politics isn’t just a bunch of rich white guys with a fondness for American flag pendants and khaki pants.
Real world politics isn’t sexy, as anyone who saw the Anthony Wiener and cat photos can testify. So Hollywood has to sprinkle a dash of pheromones onto the Senate room floor. We get Ryan Gosling and Clooney in The Ides of March and Robert Redford in his golden-delicious prime in All the President’s Men.
I watch these films because I care about the state of our country, and I want to be enlightened. I’d be lying, though, if I said that was the reason I chose to watch these movies. If education was my main goal, the History Channel would have sufficed.
Lust is what led me to my favorite political film—Shampoo. The first time I saw it, I was around 12-years-old and blissfully unaware of anything except ice cream, V. C. Andrews novels and boys. I rented Shampoo from the local video store because Warren Beatty was on the case. A picture on the back showed Beatty riding a Triumph motorcycle—his over-coiffed hair dancing in the wind, his ass perfect in hip-hugger jeans. I didn’t care at all what the film was about. It was about Beatty. Sold.
I’ve watched it at least once a year since then, and my impression is still somewhat the same; I still lust after Beatty on that Triumph. The movie doesn’t ask me to deny it. His sexual presence is a crucial element of his character and the main point of the film. Beatty plays George Roundy, a successful Los Angeles hairdresser. By successful I don’t mean he has any money. He spends most of his time trying to secure a loan to start his own business. He’s cash poor but rich in pussy. The guy has more sexual partners in one day than I’ve had for an entire decade.
You’d think this would be enough of a reward for a man. George, however, has goals, dreams, an entrepreneurial spirit. He desperately wants to make something of himself. The women in his life, the hundreds of them, tolerate his naivete by patting him on the head and unzipping his jeans. This is, after all, a man who didn’t have a bank account until he was well into his 30s. The title of CEO is probably not in his future.
Shampoo takes place on the eve of the 1968 presidential election, so in order to understand George you have to put him in the context of his era. The year of ’68 was the time of Woodstock, the Summer of Love, flower children, Viet Nam, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement—the year when young people believed that a new world order was emerging. That peace and rock ‘n roll and sex could actually save America. It was, for many baby boomers, a brief period of blind belief and celebration. However, the reality check was already in the mail.
The film was written long after the election, so viewers then and now know that Nixon won that night. That Nixon, that moon-faced paranoiac, hoodwinked the American public and led our troops even deeper into the jungles of Viet Nam. That optimism about the future was useless. When George escorts his old flame, played by a ridiculously sexy Julie Christie, to a Republican fundraiser, we see Nixon on the television promising to restore the country’s dignity. The crowd of rich, old white people nod in agreement. They are the same kind of people sitting at that now-infamous (though not infamous enough!) Romney fundraiser where he spoke of the 47 percent.
George spends most of the shin-dig trying to seduce Julie Christie in the ladies room—unconcerned about the state of the country. He does seduce her, in spite of the fact that she’s the well-kept mistress of one of those nodding, stodgy Nixon supporters. She drives a Mercedes and has a sweet little house in Laurel Canyon as an incentive. George thinks he’s won her back. He hasn’t. She wants to know why he’ll never grow up.
Here I am watching this movie on the eve of the Vice Presidential debate between Biden and Ryan and I want George to say No. I want George to get everything he hopes for. I don’t want him to cast off his openness to the world or his childlike view of reality and become a blue-haired, Lincoln-driving asshole. He’s right, damn it! They’re wrong! Optimism! Hope! Revolution of the underdogs! Hurrah!
He does say no, and it costs him. The new world order is under way, and it has nothing to do with love or optimism.
I’m giving you all these plot points because I think you should watch this movie immediately—for lust, enlightenment, or to cure your reality-show-burnout. I don’t really care why. Republicans, Democrat, Libertarian, or Anarchist—there is something in it for everyone.
For me, it’s a reminder of the young person I was. I came of age during the Clinton era—not exactly the Summer of Love, but MTV was still playing videos and the economy was strong. Practically halcyon if you compare it our current state. I was 14 when Clinton won the first time. I was 14 and miserable and listening to the Smiths and the very picture of your typical teen. The Clinton era was, though, a time when I was ridiculously patriotic and hopeful. I was a modern flower child with my Doc Martens and flannel.
I remember my mother saying, “Clinton is one of us. He’s smarter than us, but he’s one of us.”
Whether they deserved it or not, Bill and Hillary were crowned the royals of the forward-thinking, liberal take-over of this country. I believed in them, idolized them, thanked God and all the apostles for them. The reality check was very much in the mail.
Clinton made tremendous mistakes that didn’t involve cigars. I know he’s responsible for NAFTA and much of the deregulatory policies that have crippled our economy. He’s no saint—trust me, I got the memo on that. I also got eight long years of Bush of Cheney and war and the collapse of the housing market to further dampen my dogged enthusiasm. During the last presidential election, when so many liberals were convinced that Obama was second coming, I was unconvinced, entirely. I’d drunk the Clinton punch, and followed it up with a bad Bush hangover. On that election night I took some Tylenol and hoped for the best.
During this election I feel much the same way. I believe in our president—I truly do. It’s just not with the same fervor and dedication that I used to have for my party or the electoral process. There’s been too much strife and disappointment in our government for that. In that, I’m not alone. The Democratic Party is known as the party of hope and dreams and love-your-sister-grooviness. Many of us are having trouble mustering the appropriate groove this time around.
But we f*cking need to and fast. If it requires channeling a bit of that George energy—if we have to be a bit naïve and dreamy, then so be it. This goes for the Republicans, too. Believe in your party by all means. Fight for it, damn it. Give us everything you’ve got.
You will—that I’m sure of. If there is one thing I respect about the Republicans it’s their absolute certainty of their point of view. They are fully dedicated and inexhaustible. I think they are wrong about almost everything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not awed by what they get accomplished. Now that I know that Jenna Jameson is a Republican, I can give them props for being lusty, too. At least one of them.
Democrats—let’s get lusty about this election. Let’s get primal. We have to defend our dreams, no matter how naïve they may seem. Take those soft, bleeding hearts into the voting booths.
Editor: Brianna Bemel