The Dark Knight never would have happened without George Bush. I’m not
talking about the whole wire-tapping angle, but rather the entire feel
and direction of the movie. The Dark Knight is a film that exists as a
reaction to the world in which we’re living, a strife-filled, unhappy,
scary and often fucked up place where it isn’t that the good guys and
the bad guys are hard to tell apart but rather where good guys seem to
not exist.

The bad days in America make for good days in
Hollywood. The more depressed the American psyche is, the better the
movies get. You just have to look back at the 30s and the 70s to see
this principal in action, and after the great year at the movies we had
in 1999, we all should have realized the 00s would be shitty as all get
out. It’s one of the bright sides to being a film fan in tough times –
you’ll probably get a couple of masterpieces out of the deal. Besides
The Dark Knight*, we got the entire year of 2007, a year filled to the
gills with so many good movies that my Top 15 list includes essentially
a six way tie for the number one spot. That’s all about Iraq and
Afghanistan and a slowing economy and bad government and environmental
problems in the same ways that Taxi Driver emerged from a recession and
a crooked president and Viet Nam and a million other things that made
the 70s the earth toned, polyester decade it was.

But our current run of good films borne of bad times (oh hey, borne
makes me think of Bourne, an action franchise that has benefited from
the post-9/11 uneasiness and paranoia more than any other. You couldn’t
have made that in the 80s) could be in jeopardy. This past week I’ve
seen an incredible thing happening, a major shift in the national mood
from pessimism and depression to hope and optimism. And it’s all Barack
Hussein Obama’s fault.

We’re still facing all the same problems (and they might well be
getting worse in the next year or two), but knowing that Obama is on
his way has lightened America considerably. We’re out of our Bush
malaise long before the guy leaves office, and we’re already getting
excited and sort of worked up about what comes next. It’s great to see
folks so fired up, but it also makes me wonder if our filmmakers will
have the same level of global angst from which to draw. Could the tide of good feelings that Obama is riding to the White House drown the current crop of darker, more serious and often very good films?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind during these, the
burgeoning days of the Next Morning in America. First of all, there are
still a lot of movies on their way to theaters and in production. While
I like to date the end of the 70s Golden Age to Heaven’s Gate (just to
make it easy), the reality is that films with a Golden Age pedigree and
aesthetic continued rolling out for a couple of years. There may still
be some great films reflecting the reality of the last years of the
Bush regime headed our way.

But secondly, Obama could quite possibly fuck up. And because so many people
expect so much from him, he doesn’t even have to fuck up in a
significant way to let people down. Hell, Obama just being a regular,
compromising politician is likely enough to disillusion many of his
supporters before next summer. An Obama presidency that doesn’t live up
to the messianic hype may well bring us right back to a sour national
mood, or make us even more depressed. If this guy can’t make it better,
who can?

The idea of slipping back into an 80s frame of glib movie making frightens me. Looking at the 80s list of Best Picture nominees, even many of the ‘best’ movies of the decade are slickly forgettable. But f course a successful Obama presidency is good news for those who
revel in shitty 80s movies – we could easily have something just as
shallow and plastic as Top Gun in cinemas by 2010, if Obama does well**. A complacent,
satisfied audience will be happy to swallow all sorts of pablum… and
a recovery from the current fiscal woes should have everybody getting
real materialistic and forgetting about that spiritual emptiness that
the boom times of the 90s left in them (see the films of 1999 for more
on this). Maybe it’s no coincidence that Footloose and Karate Kid are
both being remade right now.

*Please, for the love of God, note that I am not calling TDK a masterpiece.

** Yeah, I know that there are shallow and plastic movies being released right now. I’m just trying to make a point here.