“You got to be a Bulworth, You Can’t be no Politician”

When a political leader reveals a set of unspoken truths in a way that perceives to be unacceptable, we can come to a realization about politicians. This epiphany is that, “the bullshit spoken by politicians is worthless, but the worth of how they present it is what lasts”.   Warren Beatty’s Bulworth, satirizes the typical apathetic politician and the corrupt process of elections.  The film also comments on politicians’ relationship with big businesses, the media, and the divide between poor black communities and the outsets politicians promise for them.  While in a cultural immersion process and with an attitude of no longer caring, ironically Senator J. Bulworth is able to show how much he truly does.  The film conveys that to be a good senator you must be able to criticize your prior ideals and the theatrics of politics along with all of its beneficiaries. Bulworth achieves this by listening to the voices of the poor black community to make an everlasting change rather than being an ominous presence.

From the outset of this film we see the image of a man crushed by corruption. Bulworth, in an attempt to win the re-election, has decided to reform his image from democrat to republican.  The opening scene of Bulworth watching a montage of his rehearsed speech in regards to “his” new republican ideals speaks to the theatrics of elections. The speech is constructed in a way where it is easily transferable to any venue, which is conveyed when he starts off his first few speeches in the film using the recurring lines, “we are the doorstep of a new millennium”.  The message is expressed further when his campaign representative suggests to Bulworth that he should play in the hands of the insurance companies. This image revamp is clearly an act so that big businesses such as the insurance companies can be pleased.  In regards to a new bill which forces insurance companies to sell to poor people; a bill good for the poor, but bad for the company, one of Bulworth’s constituents asks, “what are we working for the insurance companies”?   The campaign representative replies with, “we do today or come Tuesday we won’t be working for anybody”.  The man who poses the question is easily established as someone who sides more with Bulworth’s true values since he appears to me more of a friend than a co-worker.  By having this quick dispute in regards to where they should stand in regards to the bill, we see how Bulworth’s politics are being dictated. Furthermore, his marriage was a façade for the media to maintain his public image. These opening scenes would set the tone for the rest of the film. He contradicts himself by being a liberal in a conservative mold.  He reveals that in reality there is no difference between democrats and republicans because in the end they both do not care about poor black communities.

Senator Bulworth first uses his dual consciousness of being a cross between a democrat and republican to destroy the meaning of the label and reveal that a politician is a politician no matter the political alignment.  Later in the film, during a televised debate, he goes more in depth when he compares the democrats to republicans; to the moderators; and to everyone in charge of the event.  Bulworth questions the purpose of having these televised debates and refers to all the participants as a club.  He continues with the following statement; “Republicans, democrats, what’s the difference you know?  Your guys, my guys, our guys, us guys, it’s a club!  So why don’t we just have a drink”?  In the end, everyone is being funded by the same source and everyone’s main concern falls not with the people, but with money.

 

As the film developed, Bulworth as a character started to adopt characteristics of the black community and the messages they had to offer.  In Satire’s Brew: Mass Media & Coffee Beans, writer Brian Dunphy states that, “In comedy and other forms of entertainment, a persona is devised as a way to comprehend the people, and to understand the other side of the public.  To put oneself in another’s shoes allows for a new appreciation of the plights and successes of others and in turn, a greater appreciation for everyone” (207)[1].  This is how Senator Bulworth sheds his mold as a heartless politician and really becomes the voice of the people.  Disregarding his sudden fashion statement and newly acquired rap dialect, he truly passes on the messages given to him that politicians would not normally receive.  This is seen during his conversations with Nina and also in his talk with the drug lord L.D.  During his conversation with L.D., he receives a lecture about the reality of the drug game.  Through his criticism he relates his corrupt illegal business ideas to the methods utilized by legitimate businesses and politicians.  He then demands for empathy for being the only person who can grant opportunities for the younger generation. He explains that politicians and businessmen limit options by cutting down on school and job programs.  Because of this sad reality, he sees his work as a bittersweet chance of hope rather than leaving black families to live off a retail hourly wage such as “Burger King”.  Bulworth realized that there was so much he didn’t know because of his position as a politician. With this opportunity to truly see the other side of things, like a tape recorder, he records and plays back everything that he learns.  This is seen in his “Obscenity” speech, which mirrored the rhetoric of spoken word poetry, given at a televised interview.  By adopting the lessons that he learned from spending the last few days within the black community and incorporating them with his own knowledge of the system, he is able to voice the opinions of the unheard.  This relates to Dave Chapelle’s sketch “Black Bush” since they both touch on the concept of actions being more acceptable in politics based on the race that said it and how they said it.  It raises the question of, if this were a black man, would anyone truly listen?  The character Nina mentions that there aren’t any black leaders not because they were all killed, but “because of the decimation of the manufacturing base in the urban centers”.  She then continues to explain ever so eloquently and complexly her beliefs. Bulworth in his aforementioned “Obscenity” speech sums it up by explaining that politicians and big businesses are destroying the chance of growth and opportunity.  Therefore they limit blacks from ever getting the chance to be a leader or having a high enough position to have their problems listened to.  Bulworth however was able to serve as the medium for the voice of the black community.   In response to his sudden adoption of “black culture”, the media is more focused on his new “approach” rather than his message, seeing it as an opportunity for money rather than for change.  As this is an indirect criticism to media corporations, this also shows how even then the higher ups are reluctant to see the greater message and are still ignoring the problems of the poor.  Ignoring them until of course Bulworth criticizes them for using the airwaves to stage political debates based solely on gratuitous desire rather than use them for public interest.

One overarching theme of the film was Bulworth’s desire for a post racial society. If people focused on black or white skin; or republican or democratic values, they will become lost in the real battle which is between the rich and the poor.  Ideally, Bulworth presents the socialist idea of a classless and colorblind society.  In doing so, the people from both communities will be heard equally and actually will have government benefit them; as it should.    Ultimately however, all of the messages Senator Bulworth created were ideal, and were meant to be a hopeful long term change, hence why he died in the end.  The quote, “You got to be a spirit, you can’t be no ghost”, has a double meaning.  A spirit can be felt within all of the people and lingers on while a ghost just passes through.  This suggests that his messages will live on in everyone.  Another interpretation of this quote is that most democrats can be considered a ghost because of the promises they make for black communities without actually making their presence felt after election.

In regards to the lasting effect of this satire, the term “Bulworth” has come to refer to a situation when a politician decides to speak freely about their beliefs with no restraints by the media, big businesses, or lobbyists.  Obama, in May of last year announced his desire to go “Bulworth” for his second term[2].  While it feigns in comparison to the wild adventure of fictional senator Jay Bulworth, Obama gives his controversial opinion on the everlasting issue of race at the time of the Zimmerman trials following the shooting of Travon Martin.  While there was still a lot of criticism for what Obama was saying, the fact that the term “going Bulworth” resonated as being an honest politician shows progress towards a more trusted leader.  To allude back to the beginning of the film, Bulworth had pictures of activists on his wall such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X, John F. Kennedy and more.  Essentially by showing these photos, there was a foreshadowing of Bulworth’s fate. This fictional character was supposed to become a voice of hopeful change, which like these activists, will last on even after death.

 

[1] Dunphy, Brian. Satire’s brew: mass media & coffee beans. San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Pub., 2014. Print.

[2] Harwood, Richard. “Obama’s ‘Bulworth Moment’.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 May 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-c-harwood/obamas-bulworth-moment_b_3352384.html&gt;.

 

MOVIE TRAILER : ( Although the movie’s true form is hidden)

 

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