When we look back on American history with our typical panglossian perspective, we tend to imagine that at every great moment, our nation was propelled into the future by the right person who had the right speech to stir our souls at the right time. Whether or not that used to be true, it doesn't seem to be the case anymore. At least if the House GOP caucus is any guide, anyway. For the second time in their first year as an assembly, they've relied on inspirational speeches from movies to inspire each other to go out and obstruct like the dickens! Hooray for Hollywood cliches, I guess.
Back in July, when the House GOP was trying to win the debt ceiling debate, they oddly chose a speech from the Ben Affleck movie "The Town" as their inspirado -- an odd choice, given the fact that the speech in question was used as a rallying cry for a gang of armed robbers to undertake violent revenge. They've stepped up their game, slightly, in recent days, using the climactic speech from "Braveheart" to motivate their members to, uhm ... leave 160 million Americans without tax relief.
Dana Milbank wasn't impressed, and neither was ThinkProgress culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who thinks that the House GOP caucus should choose better movies, and maybe think things through a little further:
Now they're taking inspiration from Braveheart, which of course ends with its hero getting tortured and beheaded, perhaps a sign of psychological anxiety about their approval ratings?
Rosenberg suggests that the House GOP play things straighter, by turning to the sports movie genre for the most "unmuddled psych-up" speeches in film: "The speeches are martial without glorying in actual violence, a parallel way to set up climactic conflicts, and leave an out to feel good about yourself even if you lose." She includes a good mastercut of examples to draw upon:
The advantage to the sports movie genre is that it's pretty much instantly relatable to anyone. Your base is going to get it. But what's with all this "feel good about yourself even if you lose," stuff? I'm not sure that dog will hunt with Boehner's crew. And you have to be selective. If you pick the patriotic "Miracle," about the U.S. Olympic hockey team's 1980 victory over the Soviets, you'll be mining nationalist kitsch like a champ. Pick "Little Giants" and suddenly you're stuck with a movie about conquering adversity by being nice people who share their emotions and let women play football.
So, if you're interested in getting your caucus to wave the bloody shirt high in the air, you're drawn to the martial stuff. But, let's face it, "Braveheart" is pretty played out. And Mel Gibson comes with his own dysfunctional, self-torture baggage. Instead, you could go for something more beloved and less fraught, like Viggo Mortenson's speech at the Black Gate in "Return Of The King":
This has the right spirit, the right "us versus them" conflict, the right "might makes right" theme. But it's complicated somewhat by the fact that the real heroes are the pair of socialist agrarian Hobbits who save the day by destroying the weapon that effectively ends the arms race in Middle Earth and imbues its wearer with "American exceptionalism." You really just want something simple -- a speech against the tyranny of big government, urging your fellows, "If you would be free man, then you must fight!"
Well ... okay. I guess this is sort of a non-starter when it's a Muslim man urging people to support a group of forest-dwelling communists. I guess the martial stuff can be just as complicated. King Leonidas' oratory in "300" is wonderfully black and white, ceding no ground to any worldview other than the warrior code. But with everything so handsome and oiled-up and homoerotic, it could make for one extremely nervous and giggly caucus.
The famous "St. Crispin's Day" speech from "Henry V" is probably the best way to go -- provided everyone can handle iambic pentameter.
Of course, if you are John Boehner and you want to bring the entire conservative blogosphere to your side, there's an entirely different genre you should mine -- science fiction. One of the less well-kept secrets about political bloggers is that the Venn diagram between political wonk and sci-fi geek shows significant overlap. Long after we've passed from this earth and have ascended into the afterlife, where there will be no policy fights left to be had, bloggers from all political backgrounds will be arguing over the reboot of "Battlestar Galactica." But beyond that, the appeal of the genre is simple -- when the weight of the present begins to feel like a burden, it's inspiring to imagine yourself as someone helping to create a future.
Speaking of "Battlestar Galactica," this speech from Will Adama in that series is a fine example for the House GOP Caucus to use -- it's simple, martial, evokes heroism in defense of a cause thought to be lost, and best of all, it ends with a call for everyone assembled to move to the right (starboard):
If you're looking for something with a little more of a libertarian flavor, you can always opt for Malcolm Reynolds' "I aim to misbehave" speech from "Serenity":
From time to time, I see a lot of blogger types citing Jean-Luc Picard's "The line must be drawn heeee-yeeeah" rant from "First Contact," but honestly, this is a better fit for Democratic legislators in this era of compromising and ceding ground in the never-realized hope for bipartisan consensus. (Appropriately, in the movie, Picard eventually gives in and compromises one more time after making a good show of standing his ground for a minute or two.)
At any rate, sci-fi is a vital source for pep talks, as it combines inspiration fueled by future imaginings, a warrior ethos, mass appeal, and catnip for allied bloggers and wonks. But whatever you choose, remember, the effect you are trying to achieve in the hearts of those you've gathered together to play film clips at is this:
And if there's one thing I can teach you, it's that you need to always remember to have someone on hand who knows how to work the VCR. I can't stress this enough:
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