Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Super Delegates: Mike Morris in "The Ides of March" (2011)

George Clooney
Welcome to Super Delegates, a bi-monthly column released on Tuesdays and are done in part to recognize politics on film, specifically in regards to Oscar-nominated works. With this being an election year in the United States, it feels like a good time to revisit film history's vast relationship with politicians of any era and determine what makes them interesting while potentially connecting them to the modern era. The series plans to run until the end of this 2016 election cycle, so stay tuned for every installment and feel free to share your thoughts on films worthy of discussion in the comments section.

The Ides of March
Release Date: October 7, 2011
Directed By: George Clooney
Written By: George Clooney & Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon (Screenplay), Beau Willimon (Play)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Oscar Nominations: 1
-Best Adapted Screenplay
Delegates in Question:
-Governor Mike Morris

If you live in America, it is likely that you have been exposed to the media circus that has surrounded this year's presidential election. While it doesn't technically happen for another half of a year, we're already just as deep into a season that has featured more than a fair share of scandals and news stories that have helped to shape all of the candidates in both the Democrat and Republican parties. To say the least, it's a race that hasn't been shy of vulgarity and excitement, for better or worse. It's one that seems to be even more charged than normal, and one cannot help but feel like while this is one of the most interesting elections of modern times, it's also one of the more disconcerting; in which the main players are those that general audiences don't necessarily like and that maybe, just maybe, voting booths aren't being set up properly.

While released the year prior to the 2012 reelection of President Obama, director George Clooney's The Ides of March feels possibly more timely than it did only five years ago. The story focuses on Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who is in charge of running Democrat candidate and Governor of Ohio Mike Morris' presidential campaign. Meyers is the first person seen on screen as he tests microphones for an upcoming press conference, reciting a speech that Morris will give. Meyers is "Married to the campaign" in a mantra that Morris forces all of his staff members to quote whenever he enters the room. Even if Morris seems like a supporting player in his own story, there's a certain looming presence that he has over everything. Meyers' many follies throughout the film reflect poorly on Morris; whether they be being persuaded to meet with the opposing candidate or being tied up with an intern's abortion and later suicide. It's the type of unfortunate scandal that can be heard almost anywhere on the news. It's the fodder that tears down candidates; some of whom aren't even responsible for the actions.

But first, there's Morris. To the mainstream audience, he's the ideal liberal candidate. He's so confident that he jokes about people not voting for him. He also claims that while he *might* commit murder, the law should be above the person and shouldn't be based on his actions alone. Morris is the type of candidate who knows how to speak to an audience and get people rallied. It does help that he has a helpful team, who watch the news and keep his reputation in the media in check. However, Meyers' choice to sabotage a good thing causes his status as campaign manager to be dropped. Morris may be in some ways a liberal dream, but he's also not above cutting limbs if they will hurt his campaign. 

Speaking as Meyers had to deal with a variety of problems involving problematic relationships, political conflicts, and even flirting with journalists; there's a good reason why he's not the best figure. While the story revolves around him, it almost feels like it adds a justification for why Morris' reputation could possibly fade. It's a selfish game, and people unfortunately get dropped over a few foolish decisions. It's a process of elimination, and one that favors the loyal. In most of the cases, Morris is the one who has to clean up Meyers' choices in the press. He is seen constantly giving quotes about his staff's problems. In an ideal world, he is the professional in the situation who decides to not take any guff for other people's misfortunes. The choice to end the film on Meyers, now with a beaten reputation, suggests that he still has power to corrupt Morris if he wanted. He may not have a lot going for him, but he could easily say anything with his power since he isn't running for president. 

The one thing that should be noted is that The Ides of March is actually based on "Farragut North" by Beau Willimson. The story itself is a contemporary and politicized adaptation of the events surrounding the infamous Ides of March in which Brutus murdered Caesar. To summarize, it was a bout of jealousy, and one that caused severe shifts in the political landscape by killing one of the most powerful and influential men of his time. Comparatively, the Governor of Ohio may not be a Caesar-like figure in terms of power, but the idea of becoming a president is something only few achieve. This power means the world to Morris, and he is too focused to really have career homicide from Meyers. If anything, this is to suggest that the events depicted in the 2011 film have been happening for centuries, even millenniums. It likely will haunt all political and ruling powers for the rest of existence.

There's an obvious comparison point to be had in how the past few months of the presidential election have been. In that time, there's also been an impressive introduction of how social media can persuade arguments. Ignorant Tweets about Cinco de Mayo are met with ridicule while other candidates are being torn apart for their complicated and controversial legal history. If anything, The Ides of March looks quaint by comparison to 2016. In a time where candidates like Ted Cruz have attempted to humiliate the opposition by sharing scandalous pictures of Donald Trump's wife; or Marco Rubio making fun of Trump's genitals, it seems to have boiled down to a juvenile race over a professional one. Even with the Super Tuesdays starting to dwindle down, there's no consensus on who should be the front runner, even if many have already been chosen by default of most votes.

The one similarity is that politics' relationship to media has only become more intertwined. Hillary Clinton appears on Comedy Central series Broad City. Bernie Sanders appears opposite impersonator Larry David on Saturday Night Live. There's a need to appeal to voters in new and youthful ways - likely caused by the transcendent youthful cool that many believe got Obama elected. Compared to The Ides of March, scandals involving abortions, party deceiving, and fraternizing with journalists seem like the least of problems. Nobody cares, at least as far as votes go. It could just be that The Ides of March embodies a more traditional model of election - one that involves a more refined focus and not a year-round bid for votes.

The fact is that while The Ides of March may not always look like how campaigns work, it reflects the value by which a serious candidate is seen. Even in a time where each candidate has some ridiculous news story to their credit, they also have a certain professionalism to maintain. Many have held their poise, and it's important for the campaign manager to not screw up their nominee's reputation. Even if the 2016 version may involve more youth oriented outlets such as social media, the idea of being the man with a plan will always be important. Morris may be the central figure in the story, but this is really more about how hard it is to make him look as good as he does. If we saw him from the other side and not Meyers', who knows how corrupt or foolish he would look. One can only imagine how the campaign managers in 2016 have been doing their jobs.

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