Blockbuster Politics

Carbon Arc via flickr || Creative Commons

2016 – and, indeed, the previous years – has been packed with much hyped movies that have failed to gain much praise from critics. Most of these movies were in fact awful, however, they generated huge profits. Populists work the same way. They are awful but they deceive enough people to get elected. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

The point of these movies is not to provide entertainment but to lure more people in, stuff them with as much fun service as possible and generate profit. These are the disposable movies – you see them once and easily forget them. The point is that they never even aspired to find a place in cinematic history. The target audience is composed of the less educated masses who don’t give a damn about plot holes, dialogues and character development. Simply put, that is precisely the same general demographic that was behind Donald Trump’s election.

These people, however, aren’t worth any less because they don’t expect movies or politicians to conform to a standard set forth by some snobbish film critics or political scientists. They are the people who feel ostracised by the “elite”, who believe that they are losing. We can throw at them as many graphs explaining that, in fact, their life standards rapidly increased in the last decades as we want, it won’t change their perception that certain people are doing much better. Social media aggregate these feelings – people usually share more success stories and moments of happiness, making other users feel they are doing not that good in comparison. They want the old times back, when they felt happier.

This is the feeling that the film industry started exploiting a long time ago by creating remakes of successful and much beloved movies. As South Park point out, the new Star Wars movie (The Force Awakens) is just a cheap knock off, and simply  a bad movie. The most recent Star Wars movie, Rogue One is even worse. Still, they generate huge profits. You probably won’t identify with the moniker of the “uneducated masses”, but you still probably watched these productions.

Is Trump then nuking the fridge in politics? He has definitely lead a very populist campaign, but he won. The name of the game is not “How to Be the Most Scrupulous Candidate”, and it never was. Both of the Roosevelts and even Obama were  populists in their own ways. Barack Obama appealed to the masses, the 99% who felt cheated by the banks and the system during the economic crisis, while FDR claimed that the “Happy days are here again”. Trump won the game, beating yet another kind of a populist: Hillary Clinton. The fact that he didn’t win the popular vote doesn’t really matter, it was not his aim.

However, now that the elections are over, will he continue on the path of populism or will he start playing a different game: game of leadership? So far it is too early to tell. Some of his nominations for cabinet positions give way to optimism, other seem quite frightening. We will see.

Nevertheless, he did, in fact, realize quite correctly that populism is a trend in making profit, whether it is the actual money or votes. We live in a day and age when quality doesn’t necessarily matter. Populism is spreading demagogy for the disenfranchised masses by appealing to nostalgia. But maybe we can do without the nostalgia and demagogy. It is not at all bad that the disenfranchised people get a voice, but it is bad that they have rarely an alternative to populists.

Maybe it is also not so bad that the critics don’t like the movies that still provide entertainment for millions. But the end game for movie makers is to break the box office, whereas politicians still have to deliver after winning the elections.

The answer to populism is not more populism. Demagogues can be defeated without lies. In the recent U.S. election two extremely untrustworthy candidates tried to outbid each other in telling the biggest lies. You can promise blood, sweat and tears and still be loved.

Populists feed on our desire to bring back the past, to live better. These two things are, however, mutually exclusive and can only happen in the movies. Let us want to do better by creating our own future. Let us shift the demand from demagogy and nostalgy to quality and exclusiveness and let us have a vision of our future rather than a vague memory of an imaginary past.

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation