You probably know by now that Andy Griffith has died and if you’re like many people, you think Mayberry or Matlock.
But Griffith was once marketed as the next Marlon Brando, thanks to “A Face in the Crowd,” in which he played Lonesome Rhodes, a perfectly despicable — and entirely phony — political pundit.
The film wasn’t a box-office smash, but it has had some staying power over the years as its relevance seems to grow. In a 2007 Vanity Fair profile of the movie, James Wolcott said it anticipated the “duping” of the American voter by politicians with media savvy.
These days we pride ourselves on being more sophisticated in perceiving image manufacturing and media manipulation, but I would argue that it’s the average voters who have savvied up over the last half-century and the Beltway pundits who have become the rubes, regressively dumber with each political cycle. They’re suckers for a “man of the people” more than the people themselves are! It’s the Beltway cognoscenti who fetishized Bush’s likability, harping on how much more fun he’d be to have a drink with than the cardboard Gore (never mind that Gore won the popular vote), lionize John McCain as a no-guff maverick (never mind his rampant reversals and shameless backflips to court favor with the Republican far right), and keep fobbing off Newt Gingrich–that Uriah Heepish fraud–as a bubbling fountain of futuristic intellect instead of the flagrantly opportunistic manure spreader he has shown himself to be over the last two decades. It was the majority of the American people who kept “Monicagate” in sensible perspective while archdeacons of capital wisdom such as David Broder worked themselves up to a fine moral lather, and it was the majority of the American people who faced reality and turned against the war in Iraq while the archdeacons frittered and fence-straddled. The militant gullibility and brassy confidence of today’s elite opinion-makers produce more harm and folly than anything conjured in A Face in the Crowd. Because they possess influence. They’re professional dupes.
In ‘A Face in the Crowd,’ Andy Griffith left a film that makes us pause and consider what political punditry has done to us all.