Hillary Nicholson?

I’m pretty fascinated by this new video released by the Hillary Clinton campaign* in which Jack Nicholson endorses Clinton for President. The video consists of scenes from some of Nicholson’s most prominent films (Batman, The Shining, A Few Good Men, to name a few) used to reinforce Clinton’s credentials as a candidate. Nicholson as the Joker asks, “Hubba hubba hubba, who do you trust?” While Jack Torrance from The Shining reminds us that “things could be a whole lot better” to underscore Clinton’s health care plan. The ad culminates with Nicholson telling us that he “approves this message,” a gesture that reminds us that this is no mere compilation but a genuine endorsement.

What I find interesting about the video is how some of the scenes that are used are actually associated with characters –or at least behaviors–we are meant to find unlikeable. I’m not really talking about the Joker here because Nicholson’s performance was one of the most enjoyable aspects of Burton’s Batman. But the shot of Nicholson as Bobby in Five Easy Pieces (quoted in the Hillary video saying “I’ll make this easy for you”) comes from a scene where he insults a diner waitress in a sexualized manner. And the scene taken from A Few Good Men, in which Col. Jessup tells us that there is “nothing sexier…than a woman you have to salute in the morning,” he follows that up by describing the experience of getting “a blow job from a superior officer.” Probably not the association that Clinton would want. I don’t know whether anyone other than a pretty serious film buff would recognize the allusions or remember what has been deleted, but the semiotic static here struck me as a bit odd.

Beyond the fact that he agreed to endorse her, the general semiotic associations with Nicholson’s status as star–many of the characters he plays are rebel figures who don’t fit within existing social institutions–create an interesting fit for the Clinton campaign. Of course, one of the implications could be that Clinton is throwing caution to the wind with this video, showing that she’s willing to take a few chances in terms of her public image. At any rate, it’s too bad this video just crossed m radar this afternoon. I just mailed off an article on the ways in which campaigns have appropriated some of the techniques of user-generated videos, and I would have loved to write about this one.

On a side note, I found it somewhat amusing that the Clinton campaign video chose not to use any footage of Nicholson from the one film where he played the President.

* Actually, on closer inspection, I don’t think the ad was released by the campaign. That being said, it’s still not terribly effective as an endorsement of Clinton. Here’s a short article from The New York Times on the subject.

Update: In other popular culture meets the Presidency news, Jason Mittell has a pointer to a Slate video that highlights the parallels between Barack Obama and Matt Santos, the presidential candidate played by Jimmy Smits in the final seasons of The West Wing.

Update 2: Here’s an AP story that clarifies that the video was made by Nicholson with a little help from A Few Good Men director Rob Reiner.


  1. Jonathan Gray Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

    Are endorsements from The Joker, Jack Torrance, or Col. Jessep really a good thing, though, I wonder? The former is criminally insane, Jack tries to kill his family with an ax, and that latter is a whacko with a God complex. “When the phone rings in the White House at 3am,” I’d rather the person picking up isn’t best pals with these three. And if I was an Obama campaign staffer, I’d be working overtime now to respond with a Christian Bale Batman endorsement (or if I could edit, I’d pick the appropriate bits from Batman and Batman Begins and do it myself).

  2. Chuck Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

    You can bet there’s an Obama staffer or two working on a response to this. Not sure I’d want to associate my campaign with Christian “Patrick Bateman” Bale, though.

    I think the association with the Joker–and maybe some of the other characters you mention–could work simply because the semiotic link could be with Jack’s bravura performance, not the character he’s playing. That being said, do I really want someone to call Col. Jessup at 3 AM when there’s an emergency? Not so much.

  3. Chuck Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

    Another observation: as much as I can remember, we actually don’t see Hillary in the video. It’s just Jack, so that makes the associations between teh two slightly less explicit, but still…

  4. Michael Newman Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    Hey Chuck, I find this video to be just utterly pathetic. It makes Hillary look desperate to be seeming to take the endorsement of Jack Nicholson’s unhinged film characters. I really think that the voters who are likely to watch viral videos are going to score this one Lame, capital L. It gets the idiom of the YouTube remix all wrong to use decontextualized dialogue so earnestly rather than in a parodic mode. And what is the relevance of Jack Nicholson today? How many of the young people awakened into political consciousness by Obama have ever seen Chinatown or Five Easy Pieces or even a Batman movie from 1989? Maybe this is really to appeal to the media so biased against Hillary so that they’ll give her some cool points. I wonder if this could work.

    The fear-mongering 3 am video is much worse, so maybe Jack will look light-hearted and humorous next to that shameless crap.

    Most important: I hope this race will be over soon. It’s gone on way too long.

  5. Chuck Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

    I think you’re right. I skimmed the comments on YouTube for the video, and for the most part, people have been slamming it. And, yes, it skews very old. I was barely alive when Five Easy Pieces came out.

    As I mention in a revision of the entry, I’m no longer sure that this video came from inside the campaign. I think it’s more of an independent production, like the will.i.am video. So it’s harder to read “intention” into the video than I first suggested.

    It is better than that awful 3 AM advertisement, for sure.

  6. Jonathan Gray Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

    Patrick Bateman, no, but Batman in costume (maybe with weapons specialist Morgan Freeman next to him for good measure)? Maybe a bit cooler. I think of his moments with Commissioner Gordon talking about how the town needs cleaning up, that it’s a cesspool, etc. Mix this with some cuts of Hillary on the campaign trail, and you’ve got a way cooler video. (And if Hillary’s the joker, McCain could fit Scarecrow quite well: “shall I show you my mask?”, he says while denouncing hate speech from religious zealots, just before he proudly accepts their endorsements and visits their vanity universities. “There’s something in the water” indeed)

    Mike’s dead on, too, I think, in how it’s trying to be cool to other people who aren’t cool (ie: a 50/60/70-something newscaster set), rather than actually speaking the lingo of YouTube. Great observation, Mike

  7. Chuck Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

    Fair enough. I still haven’t seen Batman Begins, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, but it sounds like a good fit. I do think the video may be trying to parody Jack’s persona–after all those are some pretty iconic scenes–but it’s just not working.

    That being said, I’m now less convinced that the audience for this skews older. After all, one of the best and most circulated fake trailers was “Shining.” Still, it’s an incredibly clumsy, even lazy video in a lot of ways.

  8. Jonathan Gray Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

    Shining is so good, though, because all you really need to know is that The Shining is a horror film. It parodies the horror genre and, even more than that, trailers in general, so that I’ve shown it to my students, they’ve all laughed a great deal, and then when I ask who has seen The Shining, only 1 or 2 have.

    In saying that, though, I’m not disagreeing with you, just glowing about an excellent instance of parody in Shining. I always love shotgun parodies that hit about 4 targets at the same time.

  9. Chuck Said,

    March 1, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

    Definitely true. “Shining” is an amazing piece of parody. I like the phrase “shotgun parodies” btw, and in my book, I definitely write about “Shining” as a parody of trailers, much more, even, than of horror films.

  10. Chuck Said,

    March 2, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

    BTW, I forgot that Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men is also homophobic. I haven’t seen that film since about 1991. I haven’t really wanted to.

  11. The Chutry Experiment » Monday Links Said,

    March 3, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

    […] Loading the Playlist for Your Future: Via Brave New Films, the website, Hillary Speaks for Me, which allows Hillary Clinton supporters to upload 30-second videos explaining why they think she should be our next president.  Obviously, it would have been better for Clinton had the site launched somewhat earlier, but it looks like a cool way to tap into all of those hip young videomakers like Jack Nicholson. […]

  12. Jonathan Gray Said,

    March 3, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

    when is this book of yours coming out? I’d love to chat sometime with you, btw, since I’m teaching a class on Political Satire in fall, and while I’m happy with my print, film, and tv selections, you’re the master of all things viral (sorry, that sounds like you’re a flu carrier, doesn’t it?) 😉 Maybe at SCMS?

  13. Chuck Said,

    March 3, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

    The book is still in development–I’ll give you the scoop on that at SCMS. Looking forward to catching up!!

  14. Chuck Said,

    March 3, 2008 @ 11:38 pm

    By the way, Karina has a link to a new pro-Obama Nicholson mashup. This one is actually quite a bit more skilled than the Rob Reiner-Jack Nicholson version.

  15. The Chutry Experiment » A Remix You Can Believe In Said,

    March 3, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

    […] that Jack Nicholson video endorsement I posted, like, two days ago?  You know, the one that Michael described as “utterly pathetic” here in the comments […]

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