Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Forrest Gump, the Holy Fool and the 2008 Presidential Race

The movie Forrest Gump was an immense success when it was released in 1994. At the time I thought that success was very troubling. The hero is a latter-day Holy Fool, a stupid but good man whose choices are always right. The message was: a sub-ordinary person is a whole lot better than anyone else.

Now, I believe in democracy and the equality of citizens and I have great respect for the wisdom of ordinary folk. But the idea that being extraordinary some how is suspect is an anathema to me, and a great danger to society. At the time that Forrest Gump came out, Bill Clinton was playing the Good Old Boy which we now know was all smoke and mirrors. What was good about the man was his extraordinary qualities--his intelligence, his understanding of what the country and the world needed, and his skill in convincing others that a civil society was not only possible but essential.

At the moment two extraordinary men are confronting each other in the race for the White House. John McCain, the son of an admiral who grew up in the sheltered and privileged atmosphere of the officer class, was a war hero. No one should pretend that there is anything ordinary about him, particularly not after he let it be known he doesn't know how many houses he has.

Barack Obama, whom McCain recently tried to humble by claiming he was a "celebrity," is even more extraordinary. The very fact that he is a person of colour sets him apart, and his success should make him a model for others who come from humble backgrounds. The idea that this record should disqualify him from the presidency is appalling and plays to the worst, know-nothing strain of American politics. It is almost as if McCain's campaign managers were intending a sub-text: Obama is "uppity" with all that connotates. But what the US needs now--what the world needs now--is a man of quality, and Barack Obama is the one.

When it comes to good instincts, no one could fault Forrest Gump, to be sure. And I don't think you can do that to Obama either. Perhaps I should be encouraged by the interesting resemblance between Tom Hanks as Gump and the younger Obama: if there's anything in an honest, principled face, they both have it.


Jennifer Smith said...

Good to know I wasn't the only one to feel that way about Forrest Gump. Thanks for articulating that so well.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Glad you liked the analysis. And isn't te resemblance between Obama and Hanks fascinating?