John McCain is Dr Strangelove

John McCain is Dr Strangelove
Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche


Remember Xanadu? No, no, not the place you gigged that pleasure dome and hung out smoking dope on the banks of the Alph, not the savage place as holy and enchanted as e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted by an Australian pop star wailing for her demon lover; I’m talking, of course, of the astonishingly goofy 1980 fantasy-musical that so defined that awful year. Surely you can never forget the thunderous sound of mediocrity, not to mention the insipid soundtrack earworms enjoying their wriggling feast upon your brain every god damned time you enter a Contempo Casuals between 1979 and now? If you don’t remember it, you are doubtless a happier person than me.

Anyway, Xanadu’s director, Robert Greenwald, who also directed Farrah Fawcett’s The Burning Bed, has in recent years become a bit of a rabble rouser, directing a little 2004 fandango called Outfoxed, which made me say out loud, and I quote, “Dude, this is the guy who directed fucking Xanadu?” He’s apparently made a series of vicious political documentaries since then, and is now hitting the Tube something fierce.

Getting some traction in the Times is a recent video, “McCain’s Spiritual Guide,” on the conservative televangelist Rod Parsley, juxtaposing John McCain’s comments praising Parsley with objectionable comments the P-man made in re: Islam. “Islam is an anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world,” sez Parsley, and oh, “America was founded — I’m going to stagger you right now — America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.” Parsley has said he believes the US must fulfil a divine purpose to see Islam destroyed.

McCain refused to reject Parsley’s endorsement until after this video was released, whereupon Johnny boy changed his tune. The Times quotes Greenwald as saying that “he had no ties to the Democratic Party or Senator Barack Obama’s campaign.” “McCain’s Spiritual Guide,” interesting, has the Mother Jones logo at the beginning, as well as “Brave New Films,” which offends my science fiction fan sensibilities, since I think the current regime, of which McCain is at best a toady and at worst the apocalyptic heir, bears much more resemblance to that other oft-alluded to, almost never quoted and rarely read Brit-authored dystopia.

Perhaps the most interesting of Greenwald’s Youtube videos, in concept at least, is “John McCain is Dr. Strangelove,” which matches McCain’s Iraq war statements like “I’m sorry to tell you there are going to be other wars” with Gen. Buck Turgidson’s enthusiastic rantings from Kubrick’s classic of the nuclear war comedy genre.

The video actually kinda sucks — it fails to draw any real parallels between Turgidson’s statements and McCain’s, and in any event these are such different kinds of wars, with different motivations, that I actually think any real comparison between them is utter and complete bullshit.

What’s more, it drives me to fucking distraction when political activists completely ignore the facts of a film: as presented in this video, John McCain is Buck Turgidson, NOT Dr. Strangelove; a juxtaposition of Johnny Boy and Dr. S would have been high-larious, I’m sure, but less obvious and cheap. It’s always easy to compare militaristic American white guys to other American militaristic white guys — compare them to ex-Nazi lunatics, and then you’re talking fascinating social commentary, mein Fuhrer.

My objection, though, is not just that McCain is said to be Dr. Strangelove and then framed as Turgidson, but that Greenwald, like every political activist in the world, has assumed that nobody knows or cares who the characters in a great piece of art are, or what the point of it was — “Dr. Strangelove” is just shorthand for any lunatic who craves nuclear war. Fine, fine, in concept, but misconstruing great literature or art in the interest of politics always seems like the road to groupthink and the enforcement of the lowest common denominator. It’s just a heartbeat from the complete misinterpretation of art for political purposes. How far is it from Reagan praising Springsteen as a great patriot because of “Born in the USA,” and Springsteen playing “Johnny 99” in response? Greenwald, as an artist, should be Springsteen in this equation, not Ronnie Boy.

That said, there never needs to be an excuse to watch George C. Scott delivering that magnificent iconic line that, I do admit, eerily reminds me of just about every Republican since Reagan: “No more than ten to twenty million killed — tops!” Is McCain Strangelove or Turgidson? You tell me, but either way he comes out smelling of the crisp scent of Iranian fallout.


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