The debt debate goes to the movies

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(Above: On Thursday night’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart took apart U.S. Rep Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) use of The Town, and then had some fun with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and The Empire Strikes Back.)

It’s been hard for political junkies to find much good in the debt ceiling debate, which has to be one of the most depressing, dismaying exhibitions our United States Congress has ever put on.

But as a cultural junkie, I have found a little flicker of projector light in a reaffirmation of arts and entertainment as a cultural touchstone.

First there was there was a showing of a scene from The Town (2010) by House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to rally support for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) debt deal. At least one Congressman seemed inspired, though general reaction was dismay that an official would use a violent scene from a movie about bank robbers to inspire elected officials. Town writer, director and star Ben Affleck himself suggested that The Company Men (2010), a film about middle aged men facing layoffs during the recession, would be a more relevant film for the Representatives to watch.

A bit more fun and less dismaying was 2008 Republican Presidential nominee and U.S. Sen.  John McCain comparing Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives to hobbits in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue and the public will turn en masse against Barack Obama…. ” McCain said on the floor of the U.S. Senate. “Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea party hobbits could return to Middle-earth having defeated Mordor.”

We say film, though it could also be seen as a literary reference to J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel.

Either way, while arts funding is perpetually in play in these debates, the film clips have been a cool affirmation that our creative artists provide us with cultural touchstones on which we can base and illustrate our discussions – even if the touchstones used are somewhat misguided.

Would that the debt ceiling debate was as fictional as The Town or The Lord of the Rings.

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