Seeing Politics Everywhere

As modern media has seen a fusion of news, opinion, and entertainment, are too many things being politicized? I think so.

The news media have contributed to this state of affairs more than any other group so it was refreshing to see the New York Times actually point out a case of inappropriate politicization in an article about "300" the new movie about a group of Spartans who held off a large Persian army.

The Times also makes the point that in many cases a media outlet will attempt to gin up controversy about its product to get the public to tune in.

Three weeks ago a handful of reporters at an international press junket here for the Warner Brothers movie “300,” about the battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, cornered the director Zack Snyder with an unanticipated question.

“Is George Bush Leonidas or Xerxes?” one of them asked.

The questioner, by Mr. Snyder’s recollection, insisted that Mr. Bush was Xerxes, the Persian emperor who led his force against Greek’s city states in 480 B.C., unleashing an army on a small country guarded by fanatical guerilla fighters so he could finish a job his father had left undone. More likely, another reporter chimed in, Mr. Bush was Leonidas, the Spartan king who would defend freedom at any cost.

Mr. Snyder, who said he intended neither analogy when he set out to adapt the graphic novel created by Frank Miller with Lynn Varley in 1998, suddenly knew he had the contemporary version of a water-cooler movie on his hands. And it has turned out to be one that could be construed as a thinly veiled polemic against the Bush administration, or be seen by others as slyly supporting it.

In the era of media clutter, film marketers increasingly welcome controversy as a way to get attention for their more provocative fare. The companies behind the Dixie Chicks documentary “Shut Up & Sing” and “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” for example, positively reveled in it.

But the dance can be more delicate when viewers find a potentially divisive message in big studio movies that were meant more to entertain than enlighten. The danger is that an accidental political overtone will alienate part of the potential audience for a film that needs broad appeal to succeed.

Spontaneous debate on the Internet and around the office can be a film’s best friend when, as with a picture like “The Passion of the Christ,” even potential negatives, like accusations of anti-Semitic undertones, feed curiosity.

“Whatever the question is, it’s wonderful for the movie,” said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures executive who is now an adjunct professor of marketing at Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Management.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013