Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Glimpse of HBO's 'Game Change' ... I'm Not Optimistic

When I finished reading the best selling book Game Change, which chronicled the behind-the-scenes exploits of the 2008 presidential campaign, I was pretty steamed. Now I’m a political junkie and love books about campaigns. I read Richard Ben Cramer’s behemoth What It Takes (1,072 pages) about the 1988 presidential campaign . . . twice. Thought it was brilliant. Some folks have likened Game Change, by veteran journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, to Cramer’s book. So why did Game Change irk me? It demonized the women who were depicted as toxic, irrational villains.

In the Pop Culture and Politics column that I wrote in 2010 after reading Game Change, I lamented, “The men – [John] Edwards, Barack Obama, John McCain, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Rudy Giuliani – were portrayed as feisty, profane, inspiring, cocky, narcissistic, messianic, shallow, phony and occasionally ill-tempered, although when their anger was discussed it seemed to be of a variety that didn’t warrant a bunch of florid, patronizing adjectives, as if such behavior is the norm while the women’s behavior is the aberration.”

“When it came to the two female candidates – Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – and the female spouses of the candidates (with the exception of Michelle Obama), they were frequently described with negative, female-centric put-downs and held to starkly different standards,” I added.

Hillary Clinton was described as “bitter,” “befuddled” and had “a staggering lack of calm or command.” After Obama clinched the nomination, Clinton was painted as “somber, prideful, aggrieved, confused – and still high on the notion that she was leading an army, Napoleon in a navy pantsuit and gumball-sized fake pearls.”

Sarah Palin was compared to Eliza Doolittle and The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy. She was described as having a “hissy fit” and a “conniption,” and being a “big-time control freak.” She was called “mentally unstable,” having been in a “catatonic stupor” during debate prep, in addition to being “a hick on a high wire.”

Cindy McCain, ridiculed as a cold “beauty queen,” was a bawling mess who was, at one point, described as having “flounced back to Phoenix.”

The now-deceased Elizabeth Edwards, who was suffering a relapse of breast cancer at around the same time she learned that her husband had been messing around with another woman, was “an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazy woman. Who was “prone to irrational outbursts.”

So when I learned that HBO had bought the rights to the book and was planning on making a movie based on it (set to be released in March starring Julianne Moore as Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain), I wasn’t thrilled.

I’ll be happy if the filmmakers opt to provide a balanced look at all the players in the 2008 campaign, regardless of gender. But if they are very faithful to the book, I fear the results will be nothing more than demeaning, sexist schlock as seen through the eyes of men. Let’s hope I’m wrong. It's hard to tell what the film will be like based on the short teaser that HBO released this week.

Image credit: Amazon.

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