Monday, February 02, 2009

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Rufus is, I think, on to something here: Barack Obama is playing Jimmy Stewart.

In fact, I finally placed the archetype- forget the Black Panther nonsense; he's playing Jimmy Stewart. That has nothing to do with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- a fine film, by the way. What I'm talking about is the image of masculinity that Jimmy Stewart represented. It's very much a 1950s, post-war model of masculinity- power without overt presentation. Quiet power.

People think of Jimmy Stewart as sort of corny nowadays, but what you spot- and I think Hitchcock spotted it- when you watch his dramatic roles, is that Jimmy Stewart represented a very American sort of power that never announces itself. It's more yeoman farmer than commando. The great George W.S. Trow describes Stewart's reference to, ''this kind of straightforward, brave man with enormous power, in a way, wherever he went, whether he was a hospital administrator, or a doctor... or a man on Wall Street- these American men educated in the liberal arts, but not very deeply, securely lodged in an American success construct, which they perfectly understood and moved forward in with considerable confidence...'' Well, that's it.

Understand here that I am speaking of this as an archetype, not taking into consideration what sort of person Obama is in reality. I'm not saying that the man is brave or straightforward- just that this is what he's evoking. What the documentary people don't get is that Obama presents himself as the Jimmy Stewart archetype, the 1950s school principal, the masculinity of these figures who moved in a matrix that was designed to protect them. Power that never announces itself. Remember that these men lived in a society that valorized well, men, and industrial production; both of which were reaching a sort of historical peak.

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