The MacGuffinization of American Politics
Usually the villain wants it too, and their conflict over who will end up with The MacGuffin forms the basic spine of the story.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the MacGuffin is, of course, the Lost Ark. Indy wants it; the Nazis have it. This basic conflict over simple possession animates a two hour long movie.
Alfred Hitchcock noted — counterintuitively, when you first hear this — that the specifics of the MacGuffin don’t really matter at all to a movie. He pointed out that the audience doesn’t care at all about the MacGuffin. The hero in the movie itselfcares, but the audience doesn’t.
In one Hitchcock film, the MacGuffin was some smuggled uranium hidden in vintage wine bottles. But Hitchcock noted it didn’t matter if it was uranium in wine bottles, or a fragment of a diplomatic dispatch from the Nazi high command, or a hidden murder weapon, or photographs proving a Senator’s affair.
The Lost Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark could have easily been replaced with some missing Shankara Stones from a Thuggee temple, or the Holy Grail. In fact, that’s exactly what they changed the MacGuffin to in the sequels.
No audience member really cared if the Nazis wound up with the Ark of the Covenant. For one thing, the audience walked into the theater knowing, as a matter of real-world historical fact, that Adolf Hitler had not ever possessed a holy artifact of unspeakable power, and that, even if had possessed such a thing secretly, it availed him not at all, because he shot himself through the temple in a bunker as the Allied forces closed in around him in 1945.
But we cared about Indy. He was a character we liked, a character that sparked our imaginations; whether he was looting a South American burial mound (illegally, by the way!) or blowing off his students by sneaking out a back window during office hours (poor work ethic, incidentally), we rooted for him to win.
A MacGuffin only has one requirement: That it be important-sounding, so that the audience understands he hero isn’t engaged in some trivial matter, but that the Stakes Are High. (Woody Allen inverted this rule in his parody espionage filmWhat’s Up Tiger Lily?, where the MacGuffin was a top-secret recipe for chicken salad.)
But an important sounding MacGuffin is just another way to increase the audience’s emotional attachment to the Hero, not to the idea of possessing the MacGuffin.
And that, of course, explains all you need to know about the abnormal political situation we find ourselves in, and the Cult of Barack Obama.
For Obama’s fanbois, this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore.
This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them. Read the rest of this entry »