McCain and Obama as Leading Men
As I was sorting through my Sunday Washington Post so that I could throw everything but the Parade and Washington Post Magazine my wife reads into the recycle bin, my attention was grabbed by this photo montage on the front of the Style section:
For a second, I thought they had juxtaposed Barack Obama with Malcolm X (the newsprint version is grainier than the digital one). But the Obama as Will Smith and John McCain and John Wayne comparison is more apt.
The illustration accompanies a Stephen Hunter feature entitled, “Leading Men -Barack Obama and John McCain Want the Biggest Role in Politics, Yet Each Candidate Has Very Different Star Qualities to Offer.” The opening:
Wonderful moment in John Ford’s “The Searchers,” from way back in 1956: John Wayne, as the surly, violent Ethan Edwards, signals to his young compadre that it’s time to move on in their pursuit of Scar, the Comanche chief who’s murdered their family and kidnapped the youngest daughter, Debbie.
“Let’s go, blankethead,” he scowls to the young Martin Pawley.
I love the Duke’s pronunciation of the word “blankethead”; it radiates contempt for the young and the untested. Ethan is using the blast of scorn to tell the young man not only to get going to his horse but to get going in growing up, to acquire sand, grit, salt and all the other granular metaphors for old-guy toughness and savvy. Blankethead: It’s a three-syllable telegram on the theme of the fecklessness of youth, and nobody but Wayne could turn it into poetry.
But in the same instant, I remember Will Smith in the original “Men in Black.” The hotshot young cop has been recruited to an alien-hunting team secretly HQ’d in a New York bridge, and now he’s working for Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. Torn and Jones are babbling about something and not paying attention to Smith. There’s a moment of frustration on the young face, and he interrupts with his own blast of scorn: “Hey, old guys !”
It’s a voice full of impatience, annoyance, even contempt, suggesting they haven’t the energy, the quickness or the attention span to take care of business. It’s on him, now, the new guy, the kid: He’s got to keep them from wandering off, losing track, drifting as the old are wont to do.
A bit strained, perhaps, but interesting.