It Can Happen Here: A History of Power-Mad Politicians in Film and TV

There’s never been a better (or worse) time for this video essay.
By  · Published on August 4th, 2017

There’s never been a better (or worse) time for this video essay.

“Power tends to corrupt,” said historian, politician, and writer John Dalberg-Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

We’d like to think this is a blanket exaggeration, but time and time and time again it has proven true. Just turn on the news (if you can stomach it). No matter how they come to it, people who achieve the kind of power that can be considered absolute like, say, the American presidency, are almost always changed by it. Having that kind of authority — rather, being given that kind of authority by the masses — tends to inflate one’s self-esteem, and the consequences of that, depending on the moral basis of the person, can vary in magnitude from ripples to tidal waves. Some men abuse their power for personal benefit, for money, prestige, or pleasure, while some abuse it to advance extreme, biased, or discriminatory policies, and still others abuse it like a tyrant, eschewing rational thought, due process, and the informed advice of those better-suited for the position all for the sake of their own domineering, senseless, and over-inflated egos.

The 20th century changed everything. World War I and then later, especially, World War II showed everyone how one person, just one out of billions, can alter the course of human events for the worse. And from this paranoia was born the “megalomaniac thriller,” as I refer to it, that uniquely American take on the frightening possibilities that can result from the perversion of our most sacred institution: democracy. Films like A Face in the Crowd, All the King’s Men, Bob Roberts, and, of course, Citizen Kane have all focused on Dalberg-Acton’s assertion and its hypothetical consequences here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In the latest video essay from editor Menno Kooistra and writer Phil van Tongeren for VoorDeFilm, the above-mentioned films and more are used to explore the relationship between Hollywood and the office of the presidency, specifically when that office is in the wrong hands. To call this “timely” is a bit of an understatement, so I’ll call it “vital” and leave it at that.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist