Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jack and Hill

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency officially entered cloud-cuckooland on Saturday with the release, via YouTube, of a video meant to shore up her bona fides with the citizens of Ohio and Texas, an Internet ad spot featuring the endorsement of a pillar of probity, a voice of sanity amid the multichannel noise, someone with gravity and expertise able to communicate the strengths and virtues of Hillary Clinton to a still-skeptical public.

Ladies and gentlemen … Jack Nicholson.

You can’t make this stuff up. While the video may have been prepared sometime in advance (following Nicholson’s endorsement of Clinton on Feb. 4 on the Rick Dees radio program), what’s now surfaced exhibits more than a whiff of last-minute desperation on behalf of the candidate, if not, apparently, from the candidate herself.

Yes it’s Saint Jack himself throwing his support behind Clinton’s run, but it’s not Nicholson speaking to the nation as himself — breaking with his, shall we say, colorful past to engage his countrymen with a heartfelt expression of support, employing the emotional gravitas that a serious endorsement deserves.

Instead, we get Jack as the Joker in the original “Batman” film, from 1989, shouting “hubba hubba hubba, money, money, money — who do you truuust?” We get Jack as the renegade colonel Nathan Jessep in “A Few Good Men” (1992), coming to the defense of his soldiers and extolling the virtues of saluting a woman. We get Jack as Jack Torrance, the unhinged writer in “The Shining” (1980) sitting in the bar at the Overlook Hotel chatting with Lloyd the imaginary bartender. We get Jack as the vagabond concert pianist Bobby Dupea just before placing the now-famous order at the diner in “Five Easy Pieces” (1970).

In between these scenes from Nicholson’s career (probably better used for a valedictory tribute reel), we get title-card messages extracted from the campaign itself, underscoring Clinton’s experience (that word again), her commitment to fixing health care in America and America's image overseas, and the need to “get real about our future.”

Finally, we get Jack as himself, stepping out from behind the curtain to announce that “I’m Jack Nicholson and I approved this message.” Behind the soundtrack of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, we fade to black, and not a moment too soon.

◊ ◊ ◊

You sit and watch this asking: Is this for real? Is this a real endorsement or a parody of an endorsement? The fact that the Clinton campaign itself didn’t pay for the ad — director Rob Reiner reportedly helped put it together, although Jack’s pockets are definitely deep enough to cover the cost of this video trifle — almost doesn’t matter. What you’re left with is its breathtaking strangeness, something that reflects a real disconnect with reality.

It’s true that the Clinton campaign has been light on celebrity supporters; at this point she can use all the help she can get, from Hollywood or anywhere else. But what comes across here is anything but the message she’s trying to deliver.

What’s communicated by the ad, besides a strategic desperation we’ve sensed for some time, is an inability to connect with voters directly. Ironically, the Nicholson spot underscores what’s been an old problem for the campaign: a question of identity.

The candidate who’s been taken to task for not revealing her true self, for shifting public personae to suit the situation, has now accepted the endorsement of an Oscar-winning actor renowned for doing the same thing. A chameleon of the movies endorses a chameleon politician seeking the presidency. “Who do you trust?” Indeed. The Clinton campaign needs someone on that wall, but it’s not Jack Nicholson.

“With friends like Jack, who needs enemies?” asked g english on the New York Times politics blog.

The ad also may have had the unintended consequences of suggesting that Clinton doesn’t take voters seriously enough to speak straight from the heart herself. It’s a dubious message from the wrong messenger. And the use of the line “Let’s get real about our future,” in one of the title cards, suggests once again that Clinton thinks supporters of Sen. Barack Obama are being deluded by a messianic cult figure — something that Obama derided, to great effect, in one of their head-to-head debates after Clinton trotted that same line out in earlier campaign rallies.

Maybe Nicholson and/or the campaign have already had second thoughts: The spot was first posted on You Tube on Saturday; by this morning it was "no longer available" (the first image you see in this post, from that Nicholson video, is apparently all we're going to get from now on).

Clinton’s recent eleventh-hour TV spot proposed a grim 3 a.m. scenario for America (and, unintentionally, for Clinton herself). The Jack Nicholson mashup, with its array of artificial people enlisted to assist a real person, suggests it’s later than that for Hillary Clinton now. To accurately get across the disarray of her campaign, and its future prospects, Reiner & friends might have considered using at least the title of another of Jack’s more recent celebrated films:

“The Departed.”
Image credit: Jack Nicholson as the Joker © 1989 Warner Bros. Jack Nicholson, Cannes, 2001: Rita Molnar, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license 2.5

1 comment:

  1. Good news. I just played the video through the link on your site, which means someone has reposted it.What was everybody involved in this thinking?


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