McCain and the Strict Father Model

If the Obama video sets up issues of nurturing and empathy from its first images, suggested by the long panning shots across American faces and a voiceover about the "American Promise," the McCain video opens with us staring directly into the face of the candidate as a young naval officer, trying to read his character and understand the relationship of this national service to the "mission" ahead. The opening narration starts with descriptions of him as "a warrior, a soldier, a naval aviator, a POW," before pulling us down to the family -- "a father, a son, a husband", then into his political career. And then we get that surprising moment when he is called "a mother's boy," one suggestion of softness amid a series of hypermasculine sounds, images, and terms. My students suggested that the reference to the mother helps him deal with issues of age and mortality, yet it also seems part of a strategy to manage the negative associations which many independents and Democrats may feel towards the repeated references to his toughness throughout the video. Strength of character and conviction, coupled with physical toughness as proven through war, are the central virtues ascribed to McCain by the video and they are introduced here once again through the narrative of his family. As suggested by the gender specificity of the "Strict father" construction, the family here, except for the references to the mother, is represented almost entirely through patriarchal bloodlines -- again a contrast to the absent father and strong mother image in the Obama video. We learn about his grandfather who died the day he returned from World War II; we learn about his father who ordered the carpet bombing of a country where his son was held captive, even as he waited at the border hoping for his return. When we see him with his son in the opening series of shots, he is standing alone with his offspring on the side of a mountain. Fatherhood is an extension of manhood and it gets expressed through discipline and competition more than through images of cuddling and cradling. The critical moments here, of course, deal with his Vietnam war experience which require a recognition of vulnerability and weakness even as the larger narrative centers around his toughness and will power. Consider this key description: "Critically injured, his wounds never properly addressed, for the next five and a half years, John was tortured and dragged from one filthy prison to another, violently ill, often in solitary confinement, he survived through the faith he learned from his father and grandfather, the faith that there was more to life than self." So, again, we see the passing down of civic virtue through male bloodlines as a central motif in this video. There's no question that the video constructs these experiences as a form of martyrdom out of which a national leader emerged: "The constant torture and isolation could have produced a bitter, broken man. Instead he came back to America with a smile -- with joy and optimism. He chose to spend his life serving the country he loved." or consider the phrase, "he chose to spend four more years in Hell." Or the ways the video depicts his role in the normalization of relations with Vietnam -- "Five and a half years in their hell and he chose to go back because it was healing for America. That's country first." Note this is one of the few places where metaphors of "caring" or "healing" surface in the video and it is specifically in relation to the pain of wartime. A more complex metaphor emerges as Fred Thompson reads aloud a passage from McCain's autobiography about "living in a box" and ends with "when you've lived in a box, your life is about keeping others from having to endure that box." This toughness and individualism carries over into the discussions of national policy. McCain doesn't believe that the country should care for each of its members but rather he has "a faith in the American people's ability to chart their own course." He is "committed to protect the American people but a ferocious opponent of pork barrel spending and would do most anything to keep taxes low and keep our money in our pockets." What is implied by that contrast between "protecting" the public and "pork barrel spending" and "higher taxes"? There is a clear sense that as a stern father he will give us what we really need but protect us from our own baser urges and desires.

While the Obama video distributed its points across a range of different voices, including a large number of women, the McCain video tends to rely on a voice of God narrator who speaks the unquestioned truth about this man and on comments from McCain himself. All of this creates a more authoritarian/authoritative structure where truth comes from above, rather than emerging from listening to diverse voices, and reflects this notion of stern responsibility rather than nurturing. This centralized discourse is consistent with the videos focus on experience and its tendency to read McCain as "superior" to others -- "no one cherishes the American dream more," for example, but also no candidate has had his experiences in public service. There is an underlying suggestion here of predestination -- "McCain's life was somehow sparred -- perhaps he had more to do." In this case, the hint is that he is fulfilling God's plan for him and for the country. This issue of predestination resurfaces near the end when the video repurposes some of the core themes of the Obama campaign, including some that McCain has criticized and turns them around, "What a life, what a faith, what a family! What good fortune that America will chose this leader at precisely this time. The stars are aligned. Change will come. But change must be safety, prosperity, optimism, and peace. The change will come from strength -- from a man who found his strength in a tiny dank cell thousands of miles from home."

Post-reading activities

1. Paraphrase underlined words and word combinations.

2. Discuss the idea of “framing” political discourse from the author’s perspective.

3. Answer the following questions: How are the images of the two American politicians constructed in political discourse? Do these images correspond to your understanding of a true leader? How are main aspects of American culture embedded in the images of the political leaders?

4. View a short episode from the film based on the biography of President Obama and point to the factors that played a crucial role in his becoming president. Discuss how the essay above advances your understanding of the narrative that accompanies the film.

5. Prepare a mini-presentation describing the life and political philosophy of two leaders from different countries.

Topic 5: Civil society

Text 1

Pre-reading activities:

1.Read the following quote and explain how you understand it : “…there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea (James Madison).

2. Discuss how you understand the term “civil society”

Наши рекомендации