Selling the Concept

Out here in Hollywood, the land of make-believe, we know all about the willing suspension of disbelief. It is a bargain the audience makes with you – they know those are actors on the screen, not the real people, and most likely on a sound-stage in front of green-screen and not floating in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic or whatever, but they’re willing to forget all that and play along, to suspend their disbelief, if you scare them, or move them to tears, or make them laugh, or something entertaining. They’ll do that, and fork over the eight bucks, if you keep your end of the bargain – if you make it seem real, or probable, or at least possible.


Of course there’s that old story about making that 1944 film Lifeboat – survivors from the freighter torpedoed by a U-boat huddle together in the North Atlantic and die off, one by one, as things get really nasty. It seems Hitchcock was unhappy with the over-the top score from Hugo Friedhofer – all the swelling violins and such bothered him. It just seemed wrong. It wasn’t realistic. So he asked a question that he thought would settle the matter, and rid him of the score. Where does the music come from? The reply from Friedhofer was classic – the same place the cameras come from. The score stayed in.


Building a plausible what-if world is harder than you think – all sorts of odd artifice may turn out to be necessary. It really is hard work – and someone should tell John McCain.


Monday, October 6, he was well into his campaign to change the course of the election he was losing. Obama was up 53-45 in the latest CNN poll – and his effort to “turn the page on the economy” and make the election about something else entirely seemed entirely necessary:


McCain’s course correction reflects a growing case of nerves within his high command as the electoral map has shifted significantly in Obama’s favor in the past two weeks.


“It’s a dangerous road, but we have no choice,” a top McCain strategist told the Daily News. “If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.”


So we got talk of William Ayers, and Tony Rezko, and a bit on Jeremiah Wright – Obama wasn’t like us and, as McCain’s running mate put it, Obama had been “palling around with terrorists.” Surely that would get people’s minds off the economy.


Surely this was real, or probable, or at least possible. Like when you go to the movies, people would forget the one reality – the economy in tatters – and go for the other, at least for a time, maybe through the first Tuesday in November.


But that was a hard sell – they were scared enough of the one, and really didn’t need the other. And they were not being offered anything momentarily entertaining, or even new. It was like the Saw movies – when you get to Saw V you just don’t want to play the game, or more precisely, make the bargain. Another sequel of a scare movie, when life was scary enough as is, was just bad marketing. Any studio executive would tell you that – at least you need a new twist.


And reality that day was bad enough:


Dow Dives Below 10,000 On Credit, Recession Fears (Reuters)

Deepening Finance Crisis Causes Global Market Panic (AFP)

Crisis Hammers Stocks, U.S. Urges Unified Response (Reuters)


And you have to do a little audience research:


Nearly six out of ten Americans believe another economic depression is likely, according to a poll released Monday.


The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 Americans over the weekend, cited common measures of the economic pain of the 1930s: 25% unemployment rate; widespread bank failures; and millions of Americans homeless and unable to feed their families.


In response, 21% of those polled say that a depression is very likely and another 38% say it is somewhat likely.


And you want to tell these folks to forget all that and be scared of something else? You’d better have a promotional genius in your back pocket.


Consider the late CNN wire items that day:


Bank of America profits plunge 68%

$700 billion bailout: Will it work?


And people out here know what is going on:


An unemployed man with an advanced finance degree who was despondent over his own financial problems shot and killed his wife, three children, mother-in-law and then himself in an upscale home in a gated community, police said Monday.


… Rajaram had a master’s of business administration in finance, formerly worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sony Pictures, but had been unemployed for several months.


… The gated community, called Sorrento Pointe, is among several developments along curving lanes and cul-de-sacs set on the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains in Porter Ranch, about 23 miles northwest of downtown. “It’s very quiet here,” said Ryan Ransdell, who lives across the street. “That’s what’s so shocking about this. … You’d think someone would have heard it. You can hear a car door shut at night.”


That’s just one story – the twist is the advanced finance degree. That makes you stop and think. And McCain wants to change the subject.


And there were the late evening wire items:


Time Needed To Restore Financial Confidence: Bush (AFP)

Panic over Financial System Knocks Asia Stocks (Reuters)


This isn’t getting any better, even if there were stories like this:


As Latvia struggles with recession, betting on official monthly inflation figures has become an opportunity to strike it rich with bookmakers offering attractive odds.


Internet users can place wagers on September year-on-year annual inflation figures due to be released by the Latvian office of statistics on Wednesday.


Gamblers betting it will be between 14.4 to 14.9 percent can win 30 percent of their wager on the betting portal.


Inflation stood at 15.7 percent in August year-on-year, down from a 12-year high point of 17.9 percent in May.


High-risk gamblers can more than triple their money, if they bet that inflation will slip below 14.4 percent.


In the least likely case of the inflation rate climbing above 14.9 percent, gamblers could score a seven-fold return on their bet, according to


Maybe we’ll see something like that here soon – betting on the fall of the Dow or something.


But there was that strange old man out there with an entirely different idea – McCain Calls Obama A Liar, Faults His Chicago Ties.


Was anyone listening? James Fallows wasn’t:


If John McCain has a better set of plans to deal with the immediate crisis, and the medium-term real-economy fallout, and the real global problems of the era – fine, let him win on those. But it is beneath the dignity he had as a naval officer to wallow in this mindless BS. I will say nothing about the dignity of a candidate who repeatedly winks at the public, Hooters-waitress style. A great country acts great when it matters. This is a time when it matters – for politicians in the points they raise, for journalists in the subjects they write about and the questions they ask of candidates. And, yes, for voters.


See Andrew Sullivan:


I’m afraid that Jim is dealing with what we’re all dealing with: the fact that the myth we had of McCain is, in fact, a lie. The real McCain – dishonest, dishonorable and despicable – is now in plain sight. To say I’m disillusioned would be an understatement. The last six weeks have shown us all something we’d rather never have found out. But we can’t ignore it now, can we?


Sullivan recommends this long profile of McCain – it’s an eye-opener:


Over the years, John McCain has demonstrated a streak of anger so nasty that even his former flacks make no effort to spin it away. “If I tried to convince you he does not have a temper, you should hang up on me and ridicule me in print,” says Dan Schnur, who served as McCain’s press man during the 2000 campaign. Even McCain admits to an “immature and unprofessional reaction to slights” that is “little changed from the reactions to such provocations I had as a schoolboy.”


McCain is sensitive about his physical appearance, especially his height. The candidate is only five-feet-nine, making him the shortest party nominee since Michael Dukakis. On the night he was elected senator in 1986, McCain exploded after discovering that the stage setup for his victory speech was too low; television viewers saw his head bobbing at the bottom of the screen, his chin frequently cropped from view. Enraged, McCain tracked down the young Republican who had set up the podium, prodding the volunteer in the chest while screaming that he was an “incompetent little shit.” Jon Hinz, the director of the Arizona GOP, separated the senator from the young man, promising to get him a milk crate to stand on for his next public appearance.


During his 1992 campaign, at the end of a long day, McCain’s wife, Cindy, mussed his receding hair and needled him playfully that he was “getting a little thin up there.” McCain reportedly blew his top, cutting his wife down with the kind of language that had gotten him hauled into court as a high schooler: “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” Even though the incident was witnessed by three reporters, the McCain campaign denies it took place.


That’s just a small part of it. And now we have, from Josh Marshall, this:


So we have McCain today getting his crowd riled up asking who Barack Obama is and then apparently giving a wink and a nod when one member of the crowd screams out “terrorist.”


And later we have Sarah Palin with the same mob racket, getting members of the crowd to yell out “kill him,” though it’s not clear whether the call for murder was for Bill Ayers or Barack Obama. It didn’t seem to matter.


These are dangerous and sick people, McCain and Palin. …


Marshall provides links to the events, if you need more, or just see this – PA GOP: Obama “A Terrorist’s Best Friend” – and you’ll see how the page on the economy is being turned, if it is.


But McCain does have a promotional genius in his back pocket. That was explained in the morning’s Los Angeles Times. This would be Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign manager responsible for the Paris and Britney ads, the attacks on the press (except for Fox News), all the slurs against Obama’s patriotism and such, and so on. He was the man who gave us Sarah Palin:


The effort peaked with the choice of Palin as McCain’s running mate. Convinced that McCain needed a dramatic gesture to make the race competitive, Schmidt pressed McCain to pluck the Alaska governor from obscurity.


Other than the candidates, no one in the operation has more riding on that decision than Schmidt. And no one has worked harder to turn the decision into a success.


He defended Palin against what he called sexist attacks, and traveled to Alaska to brief her before her first TV interviews. For three days, he was ensconced at McCain’s spread in Sedona, Ariz., helping Palin prepare for her performance on the biggest night of her career: the debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.


We know the type out here in Hollywood. The pitch-man with the latest concept – okay, think Mary Poppins meets Godzilla, it’ll be box office dynamite! And McCain is the studio executive who leans back at his desk, idly examines the ceiling and says, okay, you have my attention, so sell me on it. Steve Schmidt sold him.


Over at Time, Joe Klein is frustrated:


I’m of two minds about how to deal with the McCain campaign’s further descent into ugliness. Their strategy is simple: you throw crap against a wall and then giggle as the media try to analyze the putrescence in a way that conveys a sense of balance: “Well, it is bull-pucky, but the splatter pattern is interesting…” which, of course, only serves to get your perverse message out. I really don’t want to be a part of that. But every so often, we journalists have a duty to remind readers just how dingy the McCain campaign, and its right-wing acolytes in the media (I’m looking at you, Sean Hannity) have become – especially in their efforts to divert public attention from the economic crisis we’re facing. And so inept at it: other campaigns have decided that their only shot is going negative, but usually they don’t announce it, as several McCain aides have in recent days -there’s no way we can win on the economy, so we’re going to go sludge-diving.


It is appropriate that the prime vessel for this assault is Sarah Palin, whose very presence on a national ticket is an insult to your intelligence. She now has “credibility,” we are told, because she managed to read talking points off note cards in the debate last week with unwitting enthusiasm.


Well, it happens out here too. What seems like a great thing in the “concept meeting” ends up looking absurd on screen. No, Paris Hilton would not make a good female Hamlet. What were you thinking?


Klein adds some detail as to why this isn’t working:


Over the weekend, she picked up on an article in The New York Times, which essentially says that Barack Obama and the former terrorist Bill Ayers have crossed paths in Chicago, served on a couple of charitable boards together, but aren’t particularly close. To Palin – or her scriptwriters – this means that Obama has been “palling around” with terrorists. Now, I wish Ayers had done some serious jail time; he certainly needed to pay some penance for his youthful criminality – even if most people in Chicago, including the mayor, have decided that he has something of value to say about education. But I can also understand how Obama, who was a child when Ayers was cutting his idiot swath, would not quite understand the enormity of the professor’s background. (I got to know Alger Hiss twenty years after the fact – he was a printing salesman then, a friend of my father’s–and thought of him as a sweet old man, if a good deal more liberal than dad’s other friends.)


It is interesting Klein refers to scriptwriters. They take the concept and try to make it into something. Sometimes you just can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, if you’ll forgive the reference to pigs, even without mentioning lipstick.


He has much more – her bringing up Reverend Jeremiah Wright as an indication of how dangerous Obama is, even if John McCain says no one should bring that up, and her sitting through at a sermon at her own church by “the founder of Jews for Jesus, who argued that the Palestinian terrorist acts against Israel were God’s ‘judgment’ on the Jews because they hadn’t accepted Jesus.”


Klein hates all this:


I don’t want to give currency to this sewage, so it will remain below the fold. And I’ll try to devote the lion’s share of my time to the issues – the war, the economic crisis, the fraying health insurance system, the environment – that should define this campaign. But what a desperate empty embarrassment the McCain campaign has become.


So, at least for him, there will be no willing suspension of disbelief – in this case suspension of consideration of the issues.


Of course, as expected, the often-irritating Keith Olbermann went on the rampage:


The Governor of Alaska said Saturday at Carson, California, quote: “Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.” She later defended the remark by adding this was an “association that has been known but hasn’t been talked about.”


Governor, Conservative groups have thus far spent ten million dollars this year trying to make something – anything – out of the brief interaction on a charity board between Senator Obama, and a rehabilitated former domestic radical from the ’60s – and not even Conservatives have been stupid enough to buy the snake oil, that this was either a close relationship or a nefarious one.


But of course, you know better, Governor.


You’re smarter than the rest of us.


A reporter asks you a horrible gotcha question like ‘which newspapers do you read’ and it takes you four days to come up with an answer, and somehow – it’s the reporter’s fault.


The reporter asks you to name one Supreme Court ruling with which you disagree other than Roe v Wade and even though you’d commented on just such a case – from Alaska no less – not three months ago – your eyes turn into a big neon sign reading “Vacancy” – and you insist it’s because that evil media asked the wrong question.


So you’re the genius Governor, and it’s your supporters and the undecided voters who are the dopes who are now going to believe the same Mickey Mouse crap that Senator Clinton couldn’t get to stick, and Sean Hannity couldn’t get to stick, just because it’s you adding that word “terrorist” and that phrase “palling around” and dropping the “g” in pal-ling.


Mary Poppins meets Godzilla was never going to work, was it?


So this come-with-us-into-a-world-where-the-economy-doesn’t-matter thing was doomed, and there is only one other world that could “turn the page” on the economy. Richard Clarke speculates about that here – al-Qaeda may try to influence the election. He says that “at the very least” we should “expect another Halloween video from the scary man in the cave.”


And you know why that might happen:


Even more likely is the possibility that al Qaeda would hope the attack would benefit John McCain. Opinion polls, which, as noted above, al Qaeda reads closely, suggest that an attack would help McCain. Polls in Europe and the Middle East also suggest an overwhelming popular support there for Barack Obama. Al Qaeda would not like it if there were a popular American president again.


There is that to consider, but McCain cannot depend on that.


Helen Smith here offers a better way to frame things, if people don’t buy the idea Obama is a terrorist:


Is your head spinning from all the doom and gloom being blasted from the media and Congress day and night about impending financial disaster? Mine is, and frankly, I sometimes wonder how much of the financial picture is accurate and how much is manufactured in order to get a Democrat elected. One has to ponder about the timing of all of this bad news.


Why the crescendo of economic collapse right before the election? Why didn’t the media and congress act just as concerned some time ago or wait until sometime after the election to go into crisis mode? The timing of the current financial crisis seems too planned and calculating to be just a coincidence. Polls show that people’s number one concern right now is the economy and that for the most part, voters believe Democrats are somewhat more likely to help with the economy. Could it be that the liberal media and those in Congress, knowing that, is blaring the bad economic news from the rooftops in order to manipulate voters into voting for a Democrat? If so, it won’t be the first time.


Matthew Yglesias comments:


Brilliant deductive powers. Now the only real question remaining is how the Democrats got George W. Bush, Ben Bernanke, and Hank Paulson to go along with the charade. To say nothing of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. And for that matter John McCain!


They somehow tricked McCain himself into saying the financial crisis was such a big deal that he had to pretend to suspend his campaign to deal with it, even though the whole crisis is a fraud cooked up by Barack Obama to boost his electoral fortunes. Maybe there’s some kind of razor that could help us figure this out.


Yep, building an alternative universe, getting people to suspend their disbelief, is hard work. You want people to turn the page.


Why should they? The whole thing is, of course, a bargain. At least with a movie you get something for your eight bucks.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Attack Politics, Blaming Obama for Everything, Changing the Subject, Forget the Economy, McCain's Anger Problem, McCain's Palin Gamble, McCain: Hot-Head, Nasty Politics, Obama Pals with Terrorists, Palin and William Ayers, Palin's Church, Turning the Page. Bookmark the permalink.

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