Presidential Campaign

Hollywood portrayed the Trump phenomenon — 60 years ago

Andy Griffith in A Face In The Crowd

The often proffered adage that “history repeats itself” sent goosebumps down my spine the other night, as I was watching an especially prophetic 59-year-old Andy Griffith movie.

In his first movie performance, “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), a young Griffith plays the role of a megalomaniac media sensation with political aspirations gone quickly out of control. His charismatic figure, Lonesome Rhodes, is swept up in a series of media spectacles that unexpectedly catapult him into the limelight. 

{mosads}Rhodes quickly becomes a populist messiah with his folksy straight talking manner, an answer to the masses eagerly waiting for anybody to feed them the pablum they very much want to hear. Rhodes’s popular yet narcissistic persona transforms into political ambition.

The parallels to recent political developments should send a chill to most anyone, regardless of political stripe. 

Lonesome Rhodes, as the story develops, becomes inebriated with his own narcissism, telling an associate, “I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force.” Rhodes further reveals his actual feelings towards his newfound admirers: “This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! … Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers. … They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.”

Rhodes enjoys his newfound stardom by sponsoring and emceeing beauty pageants, pushing sponsor products on the air and often simply being seen among beautiful women. In one scene, he suddenly starts chasing women around a conference table. In another scene that eerily resonates with current events, Rhodes abruptly tells one of his friends and employees, “you’re fired,” when he confronts Rhodes about his frequent womanizing, harkening the trademark line from Donald Trump’s television series “The Apprentice.”

The arrogant Rhodes describes his stardom as a power impossible to slow down — if the president of the United States ever tried to stop him, his supporters would “flood the White House with telegrams.”   

When the increasingly stubborn Rhodes goes rogue, repeatedly ignoring the counsel of his handlers and press people, things go sour very fast.

As he continues to become a public sensation, his ego swells accordingly and at one point he insults his own media sponsors, who then initially pull their ads. When his adoring audience revolts and resorts to violence in the streets, the program’s sponsor discovers that Rhodes’s irreverent statements actually increased television viewership. He returns to the air with a new awareness of his power of mass persuasion. 

The end begins when, during a national television performance, his words are broadcast, unbeknownst to him, to the world via a hot mic, altering the course of his celebrity and precipitating his eventual downward spiral.

Rhodes, believing that he is off-air, makes remarks belittling his audience and their naïveté, gleefully describing them as “idiots,” “morons” and “guinea pigs.” After thousands of angry calls to local stations, Rhodes’s TV sponsors threaten to replace him, and he soon falls into despair as his world comes crashing down. Rhodes becomes despondent and paranoid, a veritable demagogue in demise.

In the end, Lonesome Rhodes is found alone in his hotel room, insanely screaming out the window in the middle of the night, another uncanny parallel to Trump’s impulsive midnight ramblings via the electronic megaphone of Twitter.

Pop culture and reality have converged. Both the fictional Lonesome Rhodes and the very real Donald Trump witness the unraveling of their respective paths when their true essences are exposed through their words, unwittingly broadcast to the masses, when each thought no one was listening.

It was yet another tragic political figure on a downward trajectory, Richard Nixon, who once aptly said, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

Trump, yet another face in the crowd, seems to be on that self-destructive road to political perdition, and indeed the audience is listening.

Massa is a non practicing attorney and freelance writer out of Columbus. A film buff as well as political news observer, he writes on a diverse set of topics.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 2016 presidential election A Face In The Crowd Donald Trump Make America Great Again Populism Republican Party rigged election United States
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