You weren't allowed to see FDR in a wheelchair. The reason being, ostensibly, that a figure of such power--the bridge between that The Great Depression thing the States had and the Second War to End All Wars--couldn't be shown as weak, or hobbled, or anything less than infrangible. (Maybe this is what Paul Ryan was aiming for in this befuddling photo shoot?) Since that long-term reign (FDR was the only Prez to occupy the position for more than two terms), the culture has thrown off those rose-coloured kid gloves like so much hockey fight. All that stuff with Nixon didn't usher in a new phase of our relationship with our leaders so much as it hoofed the door down. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable that a movie like Fahrenheit 9/11 would be released like it was while what's his name...that goofy cowboy with the big ears and bomber jacket...while he was still in power. But as bad as Michael Moore's indictment of Goofus 2's presidency was, it somehow paled in comparison, to me at least, to Oliver Stone's dramatization of the good ole boy (played by former Goonie, Josh Brolin) nearly choking to death on a pretzel. Obama did a lot to return reverence to the office, but really, that depends on whether you're talking to a donkey or an elephant.
For us Canadians, I think this portrait articulates best our national reverence for our current cold-eyed head.
But it's not just our perception of our leaders that's changed. There's been an important shift in how they want us to see them. They appear tie-less now, with sleeves rolled up as though they're ready to solve some brown crime in any one of our national bathrooms; they appear with backwards hats and earbuds, feeling the burn in a suspiciously empty, ill-stocked weight room. They're just one of us. If you want to blame anybody for the trip our leaders have taken from the ivory tower to the town fount, you can blame Kennedy for not wearing a hat.
Which brings us, I guess, to Bill Murray--or, as he's known to some, "Bill-Groundhog-Day-Ghostbustin'-Ass-Murray." In Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, not only is FDR seen in his wheelchair (sorry, he doesn't Murderball), but we get a peek into his boudoir. Here's the scandal: following FDR's death, a cache of letters was discovered amongst his stamp collection. These elevated mash notes were penned by Margaret Suckley, a distant cousin of FDR's who is played in the movie by Laura Linney. Without being really read, the letters were returned to Suckley. The tryst (as far as I can find) was mostly mumbled about after Suckley's death in 1991. In Hyde Park on Hudson, we finally have a clearly-spoken story.
In the film, which explores FDR's relationship with the monarchy as much as it does the one with his distant cousin, the attendant media is depicted as being nothing less than respectful of the President's embargo on chair shots. There's not a chance that such respect would be shown today, that the media would participate so reliably in the preservation of an image. But that doesn't mean there aren't attempts. I don't know if you know this, but the Monarchy effected a strong grip on media coverage of the recent Royal Wedding. Images from the ceremony were only permitted to be used in a flattering, supplementary manner. Not an iota of cynicism was permitted, which led John Stewart and The Daily Show to produce an animation of the ceremony featuring Gollum, Paddington Bear, and Adolf Hitler. I can't seem to find footage online, and maybe this is for the best.
P.S. Speaking of the Ghostbustin'-Ass Murray, did you notice that we're playing Ghost Busters at the end of the month?
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