Criticism

Journeys With George

“As proven here, Bush could easily and rightly be named Class Clown of any student body. The question is: does that necessarily mean he should have been elected the leader of the free world?”

journeys-with-george

Friendly Foe

New documentary reveals the softer, cuddlier side of America’s top warmonger

Journeys With George, a modest yet thoroughly appealing documentary opening today at the Quad, offers a couple of truly remarkable insights. Not much more than a personal video diary by former NBC News producer Alexandra Pelosi, it’s an account of her yearlong travels as part of the press corps accompanying George W. Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign.

The primary revelation – the one that’s getting all the press and stirring up all the controversy – is that, when it comes right down to it, Bush is an extraordinarily charming and witty fella. You heard it right: when his guard is down, the fumbling, mumbling “statesman” we’ve come to know and either love or despise is, well, downright agreeable.

It’s all captured right there on film (or, rather, DV; Pelosi shot all of the footage on her own Sony camcorder). Here he’s giving lessons on authentic Western wear. There he’s pretending to be a flight attendant, offering soft drinks to airplane passengers. Whether chiding Pelosi about a crush she develops on a colleague, or extolling the virtues of peanut butter sandwiches and cheese puffs, he exhibits an almost lethal combination of quick wit and abundant charisma, making his charms all but impossible to resist. In one particularly endearing moment, he tries to convince Pelosi to vote for him. Always the reporter, she asks what he has to offer the average citizen. “What would you do for me,” she queries. His beguiling response: “Well, I’ll give you a little kiss on the cheek.”

Although Bush enthusiastically participated in the making of Pelosi’s home movie (often grabbing the camera for a little impromptu reporting of his own), now that the film is actually gearing up for theatrical release, those closest to the President are already beating the war drums. Clearly, they expect a hatchet job of epic proportions, particularly since Pelosi, the daughter of California Democratic congresswoman and minority whip Nancy Pelosi, comes from a very long line of staunch liberals. But they needn’t have worried; if anything, the film is more likely to sway confirmed Bush-haters. By capturing Bush at his most pleasingly genuine, it pulls the rug out from under the argument that he’s some sort of inhuman, evil automaton. For perhaps the very first time, we see Bush the man, not Bush the accidental politician.

But the film’s biggest eye-opener is the way it exposes the unholy alliance between journalists and candidates on a campaign. Packed together on planes, trains and, yes, automobiles, the assorted members of the media are herded like cattle from city to city, state to state, photo op to photo op. Traveling in what Pelosi only half-jokingly refers to as “The Bubble,” they cover the same events from exactly the same angle. This goes a long way towards explaining why, even though we now have a gazillion channels on television and even more news programs, they all seem to be showing the exact same footage while reporting the exact same story.

And, as one of Pelosi’s colleagues points out, none of it is actually news. “This isn’t journalism,” he says, “it’s just pictures.” At one indistinguishable stop after another, Bush feeds the message of the day, the reporters file their “story,” the networks run their sound bites, and then they do it all over again. And again, and again.

And all the while, Bush works his magic on these so-called “reporters,” a fact readily admitted by one of them when the election is finally over. “We’ve been writing about trivial stuff because Bush charmed the pants off us,” he says. Which, when it comes right down to it, is a pretty sad indictment of modern journalism, as well as this country’s passive citizenship, who don’t seem to care they’re being spoon-fed diluted information.

In the end, Pelosi compares Bush to the clouds she sees daily outside her airplane window. “They look bold and stately from a distance,” she says, “but, up close, they’re as light as whipped cream.” In other words, as proven here, Bush could easily and rightly be named Class Clown of any student body. The question is: does that necessarily mean he should have been elected the leader of the free world?

(Appeared in Gay City News)

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