Man of Action, Man in Black

Fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post by the talented film critic Stephen Hunter, in which he views John McCain and Barack Obama through the lens of cinema archetypes.

McCain, Hunter writes, comes from a line of movie tough-guys, the John Waynes, the Robert Mitchums. He’s the wisecracking pilot straight from those black-and-white films on TCM, to whom Hunter gives props for bagging a beautiful, rich second wife. (“Nobody will write this anywhere except me here, but we guys, you know what: We admire another guy for making a great catch.” Hunter writes)


Is John McCain a two-fisted man of action like the legendary Duke?

McCain, Hunter also says, would be the only president in recent times who has actually killed someone, a point not often mentioned when his biography is detailed. The question, Hunter writes, is whether McCain, like John Wayne, always considers settling a matter with violence first. (Perhaps McCain should put “The Quiet Man” at the top of his Netflix queue.)

Meanwhile, Obama, Hunter writes, echoes the cinema revolution of the 1970s, in which the standard-issue leading men like Wayne and Mitchum were replaced by a new generation of actors who weren’t letter-perfect, who didn’t always have all the answers, who reveled in their tics, their ethnicity. Think Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. He also compares Obama to Will Smith, a silky-smooth charmer whose impatience with his older compatriots in movies such as “Men in Black,” made him a star to a younger generation.


Is Obama a multicultural smoothie for a new generation like Will Smith?

Writes Hunter:

[T]he template that the Obama-McCain race seems to demand is familiar to anyone who has paid the slightest attention to popular culture over the years: old star/young star.
We seem to be at the classic moment when one generation of stars, with their traditions of heroism, beauty, grace, sexiness, their connection to old values, directly confronts the next generation, which, of course, also has traditions of heroism, beauty, grace, sexiness and connection to values, except they’re entirely different. It’s not hard to see Sen. John McCain calling the young, fresh-faced Sen. Barack Obama a “blankethead,” just as it’s easy to imagine Obama interrupting his opponent in a debate with a hectoring, “Hey, old guy.”

You can read the entire piece here.

And if you catch perhaps a small bias in McCain’s favor, you could be right. Hunter comes out of the McCain tradition, a former Army solider who also writes popular (and violent) novels in Tom Clancy genre. He seems to view Obama as a bit slight, unproven and untested.

But then as many times as John Wayne saved his men and got the girl, Will Smith saved the nation (“Independence Day”) and the world (“Men in Black”). Of course, he also has played a con artist (“Six Degrees of Separation”), something the Duke couldn’t have–and wouldn’t have–done.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s