Sunday, January 26, 2014

Portrait of Privilege


I watched Mitt, the documentary of Mitt Romney's two failed presidential campaigns last night. It was released on Netflix on Friday and has probably been streamed millions of times already. I think we're watching the birth of a major network in Netflix; they've been making very canny business choices. But back to Mitt. His family is straight out of All American central casting, and the camera focuses in on them closely, and not much else. This almost total lack of any policy debate or analysis of issues makes for a film that is less about who Mitt Romney the candidate might have been as president, and more about how a family handles the pressure cooker of life on the road and the vampire glare of the media that is modern presidential campaigning. Throughout, you get the feeling that certain members of the family will be deeply relieved if Mitt doesn't win, though of course everyone will be disappointed. Mitt himself appears the most realistic of them all, trying to moderate everyone's expectations. It is a soul crushing dance, but he's got his wealth and his family to cushion the fall we all know is coming.

There are moments when the sense of superiority and contempt he revealed at certain points on the campaign trail peek out—when he's discussing debate format with a producer, for example—but for the most part, he's a genial husband, father, and grandfather in filmmaker Greg Whiteley's uncritical lens, and the documentary goes a long way to rehabbing his image. There's a moment when he talks about his admiration for his father, and the climb he made from humble beginnings to head of an auto company and governor of Michigan. You wonder if Mitt is still trying to live up to good old dad, and maybe shouldn't have been in politics at all. But what struck me most forcefully two-thirds of the way through was the utter lack of diversity in Mitt Romney's world. I was going along with the treacly family portrait, my analytical brain mostly disengaged, when I suddenly thought: Wait a minute, this isn't an episode of The Waltons, just rich and Mormon; this is about a man who wanted to be president, and he appears to know nothing at all about the daily struggles of most of us, and worse, seems not to know he doesn't know—or doesn't care.

The documentary ends up being little more than voyeuristic reality TV, and it confirms the impression I had formed of the man when he was running. Maybe he'd be a good enough president for his own class of business titans, and wouldn't we all like to be that safe and privileged, but we're not, which makes his lack of interest in and possible contempt for my family a very scary proposition. I'm glad he didn't win.

Update two days later: I keep thinking about the documentary, and about the fact that candidates throw themselves into such a race, and what an extraordinary act of courage and will and crazy hope it is to subject oneself to all that comes on the campaign trail. Curiously, that is the part of the film that has stayed with me, that all the candidates, even those whose politics I deeply reject, deserve some measure of admiration for putting themselves out there. The game is brutal. 


15 comments:

  1. You and me both, baby. I think he is literally clueless about the lives of what would have been the largest part of his constituency. Clueless. Not really his fault but one would think he might have had the intellectual curiosity, enough juice of humanity, to try a little harder to explore that.

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    1. Mary, I think you put it exactly right. Intellectual curiosity or juice of humanity. Yes. That.

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  2. Seems that a week on undercover boss might serve him better than a stint on the Romney Leave it to Beverland.

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    1. Lisa, i think that is an inspired idea. But first he'd have to have the desire to learn how the other side lives, no?

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  3. It's very dangerous to have a leader of the country who has only known wealth and privilege (like the Bushes too). Speaking from my own fairly comfortable experience, there are some things in this country that have to be seen to be believed, and they really don't get that opportunity. It's not to say that anyone from a certain societal bracket can't run, but voters should be aware of the shortcomings and limited perspective.

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    1. Expat mom, I do think its dangerous when there is no sense of anything beyond wealth and privilege. And most of those who run are from exactly that background because it's so cripplingly expensive to mount a campaign. So there's that. Still, I do think one can be wealthy and still have a sense of humanity and service to the common good. I just don't think Mitt has that, or most politicians for that matter.

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  4. I do not follow American politics all that closely but Mitt Romney scares me. The Waltons are not real life and nobody lives a life that perfect. Sure, in front of the camera everything is all pretty and glossy but turn off the camera and Mrs. Walton (Michael Learned) is actually an alcoholic and has been married four times. That is reality. I want a leader who is real and knows about alcoholism and failed marriages.

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    1. Birdie, some argue that for all his flaws, that is exactly what made Bill Clinton a good leader. He had the human touch.

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  5. The giant checked shirts are the death knell for me --

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    1. Those and the orange polka dot dresses.

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    2. With the yellow lace crinolines! Maybe we just don't understand how the one percent lives!

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  6. Maybe we'll check out this movie. You've definitely piqued my interest, though that photo of his family just annoys the heck out of me.

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    1. Steve, it's worth watching. But I'm curious. Why exactly does that photo annoy you?

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  7. Honestly, that photo annoys me, too. It looks fictional, doesn't it?

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  8. I fear that watching it will send me into spasms of rage. But I did hear a story on This American Life about how George Romney fought so hard to end housing segregation--even against Nixon's wishes. How did the apple fall so far from that tree?

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