According to Aristotle, the elements of good story telling, in order of importance, are plot, character, theme, dialogue, melody, decor and spectacle. You can be a great story teller, really ham it up for your listeners, but if the story makes no sense and the people are incomprehensible, the story will fall flat. This is also true of campaigns. The candidate has to make sense to people and his story arc has to give the sense that his victory is the culmination of the events leading to the election.
We saw this in 2016 where we were given two competing stories. Clinton was supposed to be a strong woman, the modern heroine. In modern storytelling, these gals always beat the evil white man without much effort. She was the embodiment of the feminist ideal and her election was supposed to be the culmination of the story that began with the suffragettes. That plot made no sense, given her actual story, but that did not matter to the media, dramatically selling her campaign.
The trouble was, her show was out at the same time as a low-budget indie production that was familiar to everyone. Trump was the picaresque every-man, motivated by a sense of duty to transcend his own limitations and do the right thing. He was the voice of the audience, criticizing the other characters and the system they inhabited, not for personal gain, but for the benefit of the audience. He was David and Clinton was Goliath and everyone expects David to win.
In 2020, it appears the official story tellers may have another problem on their hands with the Biden campaign. The story they are selling this time is the public is tired of the tyrant Trump and ready to lift-up world-weary old white man, and his super-smart diverse sidekick, and carry them to the White House. You see, world-weary old white man had a nice run, but now it is time for him to go. His last act will be to vanquish mean old white man and then hand the baton over to diverse sidekick.
It’s a familiar story, one that is the center of so many bad movies it is amazing that they keep trying to sell it. In this case, world-weary old white man is a vegetable that has been in hiding for most of the year, because he has shark eyes and says wacky things suggesting he is not all there. Super-smart diverse sidekick is pretty dumb and reminds everyone of getting their license renewed. It’s a bad story that no one wants to think about and the characters don’t work for the audience.
Compounding it is the world-weary old white man has a son that likes to smoke crack and film himself banging hookers. Fair or foul, people judge people by their children and Hunter Biden is a vulgar degenerate. He lies, cheats, steals and does not seem to have anything resembling a conscience. Worse yet, he seems to be an uncommonly stupid person, getting jammed up over stupid things like leaving his laptop with a repair shop, so the contents can be sold to the tabloids.
If the contents were just an unusual amount of cat pictures, people could possibly generate some sympathy for his parents. They gave it their best shot, but the boy was never right in the head. Instead, it’s videos of him smoking crack with hookers and having them perform unnatural acts upon him. Then there are the e-mails from foreign potentates suggesting he was the facilitator in a bribery scheme involving his father, who was vice president at the time, emphasis on the vice.
That’s a pretty big hole in the plot, so the script writers have responded with plot devices so stupid it suggests they may have learning disabilities. The most ridiculous might be the claim that the shop owner who recovered the laptop in question is really just a cleverly disguised Russian agent. Nothing adds credibility to the story like reminding people that the people telling this story are crazy. Then you have the effort to suppress the story, which doesn’t seem fishy at all.
We’ve come a long way since The Boy From Hope, The Bill Clinton Story. Sure, the hero in that tale was a bit of a degenerate, but his vices were understandable, and given his marriage situation, forgivable. His sidekick was the perfect foil, a stiff block of wood who obsessed over the rules. It was a familiar and natural pairing that tapped into familiar American themes. It was not a perfect story, but it was good enough to carry people along and let them bond with the protagonist.
The Working Class Joe Story is everything that is wrong with modern America, in that it is a constant reminder that the people in charge are not very good at this. The actor playing the main role got the part because the other options were too demanding, so he got the role by default. The character playing the diverse sidekick got the role because the casting director took a bribe. This story is a daily reminder that our ruling class is a cynical blend of incompetence and corruption.
A sad truth of modern story telling is that with a big enough budget, even the worst film can attract an audience. Ghostbusters 2016 was hot garbage, but it made close to $300 million worldwide. The Hillary Clinton Story, which came out the same year, also did a big box office. In both cases, it was not enough to break even, bit it shows you just how easily the audience can be manipulated. Maybe this time the boys from marketing can make The Working Class Joe Story a hit for the ages.
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