jump to navigation

The ‘Bobby’ factor December 4, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies.

Is Bobby Kennedy a martyred hero? A noble leader whose vision and eloquence inspire us even today, almost four decades after his death?

If the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., embodies all those great attributes, as argued in the new Hollywood film “Bobby,” that’s good news for Democrats today, including the Democrat who sits in his Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Because in politics, those who control the past and the way it’s remembered have a way of controlling the present and the future. If a contemporary politician, no matter how ordinary, can successfully associate himself or herself with a political golden age, it’s a huge plus for the next election.

But “golden ages” don’t come about by accident. They come about through conscious effort, as historians and dramatists come together to remember and re-create the past, that is, as they choose to remember and re-create the past.

That’s why “Bobby” is important, even though it’s not destined for a big box office. The film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, son of actor-turned-liberal-political-icon Martin Sheen, is an admiring, even fawning look at Kennedy during his dramatic and doomed quest for the presidency in 1968. So, while the reviews have not been kind and the overall audience is likely to be small, the film’s buzz potential, not to mention prize potential, is enormous.

The chattering classes on both sides of the political aisle are disproportionately likely to see it, and, of course, to chatter about it. David Brooks of The New York Times, for example, a self-described conservative, was nonetheless moved to devote a whole column to Kennedy’s love of ancient Greek poetry. And what chatterer doesn’t love a poet?

Indeed, “Bobby” can be thought of as a modern hagiography, that’s Greek for “study of saints.” In the film Kennedy appears as a sort of magical presence, speaking to us only in old TV news clips, meditating on war, peace and social injustice, all lovingly woven into the movie’s story line. And although that story line, featuring 22 important Hollywood actors whose characters all find themselves in Los Angeles on the fateful night of June 5, 1968, is mostly a string of “Grand Hotel”-ish soap opera cliches, maybe that’s the point: We live our humdrum, even cheesy little lives, except for those rare moments when we are graced by the presence of some heroic, albeit tragic figure.

Director Estevez makes sure to tell us what he thinks Americans lost when Bobby left us, the best chance we had, back in ’68, for peace abroad and social harmony at home. And if that leads people to think that Bobby’s party, the Democratic Party, is better for America today, well, that’s OK, too.

The movie does not remind us, of course, that it was Bobby’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, who accelerated U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the early ’60s. Nor does it tell us that the original “peace” candidate in 1968 was another Democrat, Sen. Eugene McCarthy; it was McCarthy, not Bobby, who dared challenge the pro-war incumbent president, Lyndon B. Johnson. Bobby came along later, after LBJ was politically crippled, seeking to snatch away the peace platform that McCarthy had established.

It’s said that a free press is guaranteed only to those who own one, and that goes for studios, too. Yes, the Internet has small “d” democratized much of the media. But it’s still not possible for bloggers to make a movie. So while occasionally a Mel Gibson can slip through the filter with a film that makes a culturally conservative point, for the most part, as “Bobby” makes plain, liberals still control the gate-keeping and green-lighting in Hollywood. And so the left will continue to control the past, and the shaping of our memory of that past. And that’s the key to power in the political here and now.

%d bloggers like this: