[guest post by JVW]
This past Sunday my local newspaper carried a feature article in the Arts section about a female filmmaker who is exploring the resiliency of the American Dream during these dark, dark times in a new film titled The Great American Lie. The filmmaker appears to approach her subjects from a prescribed feminist perspective, with the article informing us that she “has focused her attention on stories that examine American values, and especially those values that make the playing field uneven for the women, men and children of the nation.” It then provides a bit of background about the auteur’s previous efforts:
Her first documentary, Miss Representation, looked at the ways in which the media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence.
The Mask You Live In examined what [she] describes as the “boy crisis” in America, the ways in which boys and young men are socialized into harmful ideals of power, dominance and aggression.
The same filmmaker also received a brief notice in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding The Great American Lie which, while finding some fault in wandering too far down a conventional Wymyn’s Studies narrative, still finds the effort to be “on solid ground in presenting the facts surrounding the issue,” and declares that the film “makes a strong case that the system, as it is currently structured, puts the American dream out of reach for anyone born poor.”
What’s the name of this plucky upstart documentarian, you might ask?
That’s right: the wife of Governor Gavin Newsom and thus the First Lady, er, “First Partner” of the state of California.
The longer profile which ran in my paper, part of the Southern California News Group, also appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News, the Orange County Register, and the San Jose Mercury News, among others, so you can be rest assured that her opus is enjoying a very nice free publicity push, courtesy of the same industry which desires inside information and exclusive interviews from her husband. What was that we were saying about the American Dream being out of reach for everyone but the rich and connected?
The new documentary sounds pretty clichéd as far as these things go. Mrs. Newsom follows five “ordinary Americans”® as they struggle to secure the blessings of liberty, or whatever — you know, the thing. There’s Ruby, the Oakland middle school principal, struggling to reach her underprivileged students. You’ve got husband-and-wife team Saru and Zachary, activists fighting on behalf of restaurant workers and prisoners, respectively. The director hangs out in Ohio with Scott, a steelworker in a down-and-out town, then finally visits right-wing Sharon down on the Bayou, whose eyes are apparently opened to poverty by volunteering in her church. If this sounds a wee bit formulaic and contrived to you, designed to make you want to vote for Democrats now and forever — well, you’re not alone.
And on that note of the American Dream only being accessible to the privileged, the writer of the article allows that, sure, Mrs. Newsom was “born on second base” (probably third, but why quibble?) though he quickly informs us that her progressive sensibilities were honed by “gender and life experience.” Hey, what do you know: Mrs. Newsom was one of the 27 executive producers on the clumsy piece of agitprop about campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, a personal favorite of the guy who seems likely to be our next President! Oh, and in terms of privilege we’re told in the article that Mrs. Newsom’s sensibility for the maligned female of the species was further developed during her studies at Stanford Business School. How she overcame all of this gender persecution to become a thriving filmmaker is nothing short of a miracle.
Okay, I’m being unfair. Mrs. Newsom gets that she is one of the lucky ones:
“I’ve always been attuned to think that there’s more to life than money and power,” Newsom says. “And I really feel like because I was born of privilege it’s my responsibility to do something with that privilege and give back.
“So it’s a combination, I would say, of my personal experiences and observations,” she says. “And then really looking at the intersection in particular of gender, race and class issues.”
Forget St. Elizabeth of Hungary; the true to-the-manor-born woman using her influence and affluence to help the downtrodden is obviously Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who gets high-strung progressives to shell-out $14 to spend 90 minutes being instructed through the magic of documentary film how unfair this country is to those citizens whose votes her husband wishes to exploit. This of course doesn’t include all of the left-wing campus, labor, activist, and lobbyist groups who will almost certainly sponsor screenings of The Great American Lie, no doubt making this film a profitable little venture for the Newsom household. Speaking of Governor Hair Gel, he makes an appearance at the end of the article with a typically Hallmarkian sort of analogy which his wife attributs to him:
“You can’t live a good life in an unjust society, right? And there’s no leak, as my husband says, on your side of our boat. We are in this together, and I think that for me that is the right way to be and think and behave.”
Good Lord, these people are straight out of Central Casting.