Activism Through Malignant Growths.
People sure did smoke a lot in the 1950s. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps they thought it made them look sophisticated and worldly. Today, a cigarette identifies you either as the guitarist for a brit-pop band or a half-lit high school girl trying to look old enough to get into a nightclub, but back then, it had a certain air of mystery. Or maybe they were just stupid. Either way, they did the world a service, because smoking looks great on black and white film, plus it gave everybody lung cancer, thinning out the herd of old people likely to argue with the bus driver and make me late for work. The haze of smoke hanging over the heads of the cast of Good Night, and Good Luck causes everything to look like either a Bogart movie or bad Cheech and Chong bit, but it's a successful device to transport the viewer back to a time long ago, when men were men with hats and women were horrifically undereducated and interested mainly in gossiping over the rotary phone while knitting. Times sure have changed. Men now no longer wear hats unless they’re trying to hide a bald spot, and most phones are touchtone.
What has changed the most since the 50s, posits the film, is the power of television. Good Night, and Good Luck is the story of the epic battle between newsman Edward R. Murrow and Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, a battle waged over the nation’s airwaves at the height of the Red Scare. Nowadays, the best we can hope for when we flick through television news is a breaking report as to who passed gas in the vicinity of the Nathalie Holloway disappearance, but back then, reporters had the balls to take on important and groundbreaking stories, filing reports that really mattered, that challenged what people though and believed. That sort of thing doesn’t really happen anymore, unless you’re challenged by panel discussions regarding whether Oprah will ever go on The Late Show With David Letterman. Of course, there are alternative news sources, like the internet, but they’re generally about one bong hit away from accusing George Bush of being a clockwork robot powered by KGB recordings of Hitler’s brainwaves. We live in a time where the right wing accuses the media of liberal bias, and the left is accusing it of a conservative slant, which is odd because CNN can’t go 10 minutes without updating us with details of Paris Hilton’s pet dog. Since the dog is a filthy border hopping Chihuahua, I doubt it’s conservative, and it’s way too rich to be a liberal. I think the most frightening thing about the film is not that TV news has lost its power, but rather that back then, ‘communist’ was a dirty word, whereas now ‘liberal’ is. Where I’m from, liberal is a compliment, not what you call Michael Moore when you want to say ‘fat lying fuck’ but can’t get past the FCC.
And that’s what makes Good Night, and Good Luck, starring Robert Downey Jr. and George Clooney, so timely. The film recreates Murrow’s televised clashes with McCarthy, here portrayed entirely by newsreel footage, presenting them as a conflict of the left versus the right in a time where television was just finding its legs. The film is somewhat devoid of context, no doubt leaving dumber viewers in the dust, but it still has an important message about conservative hysteria in the 1950s. Since then, the right wing has gradually migrated from advocated fiscal responsibility and minimal government to trying to limit free speech to words of less than two syllables and burning all books not written thousands of years ago by wine-soaked transients mixing hippie-love commune values with Stormtrooper morality. Conservatives are more powerful than ever, and instead of standing up for sanity and giving voice to opposition, the media would best be described as sucking the right-wing’s cock, if that metaphor weren’t likely to get me jailed in Alabama for moral turpitude. Good Night, and Good Luck is an important film to see, which is why it’s a shame that no one’s going to. And the reason for that is clear. The right wing is evil, but the left wing is stupid. Honestly, if the best mass media marketing you can come up with in the past two years to advance your cause is a two hour lecture on journalistic integrity starring stock footage and a drug addict, it’s time to throw in the towel. And if a script written like a history textbook with the beginning and end pages torn out to make rolling papers isn’t enough to alienate your target audience, try filming it in black and white so it’s more like a 16mm educational short about personal hygiene. But hey, at least the smoke looks cool.