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The Political Animal

Demagogues & Faces in the Crowd

In 1957, the very recently, lamentably departed screenwriter Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan respectively wrote and directed A Face in the Crowd, starring a pre Sheriff Andy, very finely dramatic Andy Griffith. The film is the story of “Lonesome” Rhodes, a man with a troubled past who goes on to become a broadcasting phenomenon in the early days of television’s rise to cultural ubiquity. He takes a precipitous fall when his contempt for his audience is finally revealed. The film, designated as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” has been preserved in the Library of Congress’s United States National Film Registry. (Note, by the way, the above-the-title credit to the screenwriter, Schulberg, who gets the creator’s possessive.)

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In the 1930s, Father Coughlin ruled the newly ascendant radio waves. His show ran from 1926 until 1939. The range and migration of Coughlin’s views from one end of a skewed political spectrum to another was centered on a consistent, virulent bigotry. At the peak of his popularity his audience may have reached as high as a third of the American population. According to Wikipedia, “Coughlin is often credited as one of the major demagogues of the 20th century for being able to influence politics through broadcasting, without actually holding a political office himself.”

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The film, unfortunately, is little viewed by other than film aficionados. Father Coughlin has faded into a just obscurity among the general public. I am not an optimist by nature, so I will not predict a sure and similar fate for any present day counterparts, but I am a student of history, and I know it has often been so. If you care to do more than leave the end of these stories to the unraveling of circumstance, here is a link you can follow:

http://www.colorofchange.org/beck/

AJA

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