I’ve been thinking about the old movie “A Face in the Crowd,” in which Andy Griffith plays a yokel who leverages his broadcast popularity into real power.
Until his downfall — which comes when his discoverer, played by Patricia Neal, turns his mic up as he mocks a politician and insults his audience — his rise has been dazzling, from a small Arkansas radio station to national TV in what appears to be a matter of months. And even after he’s (apparently) ruined, he’s not shamed: In fact, a writer, played by Walter Matthau, mentions that he’ll be back — not as big as before, perhaps, but back nonetheless.
“A Face in the Crowd” is sometimes overwrought and on the nose, but Griffith’s performance is chilling and the theme still has resonance. We are a country who loves to manufacture celebrities, and even when they crash, there’s always space on the next series of “Dancing With the Stars.” (Come on down, Ryan Lochte! Say hi to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry!)
Still, “A Face in the Crowd” is just a movie. There’s no way an uncouth braggart could leverage the power of media to become a figure of importance — even president! — these days. People want someone who understands issues, thinks deeply and doesn’t talk in sound bites and bromides.
Boy, I’m glad we’re past that.