10.03.16 Debates and ‘Denial’: ‘There aren’t enough films about teamwork’

There’s a lot of discussion that came out of the recent presidential debates, and I’m not going to rehash that. What I want to address is a bigger, side issue from the big tent circus we’re currently living through.

I read through this Upworthy article, in which they asked five voters who changed their minds following Monday’s debate — and why they changed. Two of the five — both women, by the way — were not going to vote, and are now voting. (Such is the consequence of putting Trump on full view in front of women voters.)


Noted Emily Hatton of Kentucky, “I wasn’t going to vote because truthfully, I don’t believe it matters towards the outcome of the presidency. I believe voting is something pushed heavily on society to make us feel like we have a say and make most people feel comfortable enough about their say in government that they don’t bother doing any other activism that might directly allow people to actually effect real change.”

Overall, the article is encouraging. Yet I’m made sad by people — including Emily — who essentially say “my vote doesn’t count.” That’s the first thing that crumbles a good democracy, the individual feeling (which becomes collective) that we can’t make a difference, our votes don’t matter.

Politicians do their best to encourage this, actively and passively: by redrawing districts so they can get elected, not based on the populace; by listening harder to people who give money to campaigns than the Emily Hattons of the world; by voting based on their religious beliefs and other things that shouldn’t have a place in government and ignoring what their constituency wants. So yeah, it’s key to keep your politicians accountable. (And by the way, over half of Congress is up for re-election; any bums who decided stonewalling was more important than doing their freaking jobs in the past few years should be thrown out, head-first.)

But the fact is that your vote counts, even in a state where we “know” the result ahead of time. It counts as much as your getting vaccinated does. It counts as much as you paying the right amount of taxes. When you don’t, when many don’t, and we’re all made weaker for it. We may think we live on our own little islands, and our individual self-serve culture encourages us in this (just as politicians encourage us to look the other way as they change the world to better serve themselves) — but we don’t. Our actions have meaning. Our actions have consequence. The meaning and the consequence may not always be visible instantaneously — you may not get a level up beep like you do in Pokemon Go! — but in aggregate they matter. Enough of us buy into the notion that we don’t count and guess what? We won’t.


I had a chat with David Hare, the screenwriter of a new film (“Denial”) about a Holocaust denier suing a historian (Deborah Lipstadt) for libel. She’d made claims about him in her writing, and he sued her for libel in the UK, where the burden of proof is different than in the U.S. Sir David, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is a playwright of some standing in the UK and abroad; he also adapted “The Hours” and “The Reader” and got nominated for Oscars for both. He’s interesting, to say the least.

In the course of our chat, Hare pointed out something that I think is relevant here. He noted, “Most American films are a celebration of individualism; they’re all about the individual who’s empowered to speak. That goes back to Jimmy Stewart [in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”] all the way to Julia Roberts [in “Erin Brokovich”].”


What he liked about “Denial,” which uses literal lines from the real-life trial in the movie; virtually nothing is invented or elided — including that the historian in question, Deborah Lipstadt, did not take the stand and give a big rousing speech, the cornerstone of so many movies — is that the movie “is about teamwork, where a woman who was brought up to believe she was special puts her hands in the destiny of a team,” he said. “I rather like that; there aren’t enough films about teamwork.”

He has a point; think about it: What’s the last great movie you saw that was about actual teamwork? I think we could point to “The Avengers” films, perhaps, though they’re a rather extraordinary team — it’s not like the average person can be a part of that club. So superhero movies aside, what would you say? Even sports films give me pause.


Movies, of course, are not the real world. But we are influenced by them. We underscore the sense of American exceptionalism with Me exceptionalism: “Yes, we’re all amazing people in this country but I am more amazing than the rest! My needs first!” And while that may work for a time, ultimately it leads to a lack of connectivity — a lack of belief that we have a role as a group, as well as individuals.

So yeah, you should vote. Not just for yourself, but for everybody around you. And you should be proud to say you’ve done it. For one thing, it pushes back at the notion that nobody cares, so nobody does. And for another, it just makes you feel good. You have a role. You have a part. You are exceptional — along with everybody else.




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