In recent years, some of the most insightful views in American politics have come from the world of pop culture. In “Borat After Moviefilm,” for example, Sacha Baron Cohen provided a dazzling take on the universe of Trump supporters (as well as Rudy Giuliani) that sparked conversation about what was going on in the public arena.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” was a biographical drama about Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party that addressed fundamental questions at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. David Simon’s adaptation of alternative history, “The Plot Against America” picked up Phillip Roth’s novel about the possibility of fascism succeeding in America, at a time when many people thought our institutions had become as vulnerable as possible. “Mrs. America” explored the origins and tensions within feminism through key icon stories from the 1970s.
As Democrats and Republicans continue to clash over how to investigate what happened on Capitol Hill on January 6, it is likely that the lasting narrative will be shaped not only by journalism and historical writing. , but also by pop culture. Ultimately, this cultural approach to politics might be a more effective approach to dealing with 1/6 than government.
After all, the chances that the nation will be able to count on a bipartisan commission on January 6 keep getting worse. Senate Republicans were able to stifle the commission the House of Representatives voted to create that would have been tasked with investigating what happened on Election Certification Day, when violent crowds stormed Capitol Hill, threatening the lives of lawmakers and the vice president. Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell changed his tone, stepping away from the condemnatory speech he gave after the Senate voted against impeaching President Trump after his second impeachment. Protecting his party before the mid-terms of 2022 has become McConnell’s priority.
According to reports, Republicans are being urged to stop using the term “insurgency.”
Congress still has the capacity to conduct inquiries through hearings. But Republican strategy will not change, so anything done by the Democratic majority will be quickly attacked as another partisan ploy. The hearings will quickly turn into another political spectacle, diminishing the ability of lawmakers to better understand how the insurgency unfolded, which politicians had ties to the insurgents, and why security failed so badly.
In other words, left to Congress, at least for now, the public won’t learn much more. In time, the nation will move forward.
For now, some of the blame will have to fall on other sectors of American society.
There is evidence that these efforts are ongoing. Showtime is developing a limited series on the riot. CNN ran a special report titled “Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump’s Insurrection” on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, while “Frontline” aired a documentary titled “American Insurrection.”
It will not be the first time that we have called on the world outside of Washington to take responsibility for providing more in-depth information on some of the tragic times the nation experienced when our political institutions failed.
In 1964, at the height of the Cold War, some of the strongest warnings about the threat of nuclear war came from Hollywood. In “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Stanley Kubrick directed and produced a classic comedy starring Peter Sellers that warned viewers about how easily nuclear war could happen if the wrong people were in charge. Although many critics disparaged the film for suggesting that a mentally unstable general could start a nuclear war, the film was more specific than many thought about how presidents did not have full control of the situation. .
After Watergate, “All the President’s Men” (1976), starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, focused on two journalists who revealed the story of the Watergate conspiracy. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose book was based on the film, told the story of the rampant corruption that existed in President Richard Nixon’s White House as the administration tried to cover up its connection to the heist. of the Democratic National Convention. Headquarter. While many others had shed light on how Nixon abused his power (and in this case a congressional committee played a huge role in exposing the abuse), the film reached massive audiences, making Nixon’s character and White House record more real. to average Americans.
In 1983, a TV movie called “The Day After” captured the horrors of nuclear war. The film focused on a small town in Kansas that was suffering from a stroke. The film caused a sensation. Millions of Americans have logged in to watch. The schools organized programs to work with the children on what they saw. ABC’s production became part of a larger conversation about the dangers the world faced as President Ronald Reagan escalated tensions with the Soviet Union in the early years of his administration.
And Hollywood has continued to offer searing looks at elements of politics that Washington often wants to ignore. Fictional stories have often been a powerful way to shed light on the dangers we face. The film “Bulworth” (1998) was a difficult exhibition of how private money and lobbyists corrupt the political decision-making process. Warren Beatty played a senator who is finally starting to say what’s wrong with the way money affects politics. In “Election” (1999), a fictional account of a high school election becomes a way of showing why so many voters in the United States prefer foreigners who criticize the system rather than careerist politicians who would do almost anything to win. .
Hollywood is not the only way for non-politicians to tackle difficult issues. Non-fiction and fiction writers, podcast and radio producers, television producers and others all have a role to play. The world in which I work, that of education and research, has also been essential to the process of producing information, even though our institutions are much slower and reach a much smaller segment of the public.
In an ideal world, we would have a vigorous and comprehensive response from the government. More than any other sector of American society, the government has the capacity to produce the kind of chess knowledge like January 6.
But right now the system is not working. Given a chance to step up after the sinking of the post-2020 elections, Congress failed to produce a bipartisan commission, and the GOP overtakes the Big Lie, more interested in preventing this from becoming a mid-term issue than to ensure the causes of this attack do not resurface. The danger is that we allow the horrific attack on our democracy to become another fleeting memory in our short-lived political regime, where it is increasingly difficult to deepen the crises we are experiencing.
That is why others will have to step into the void. Popular culture will be an arena in which content producers have the chance to give Americans a better understanding of the factors that allowed this attack to unfold.