What the Progressive Movement Can Learn from John Hancock

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Seth Pearce

Will Smith's new summer blockbuster Hancock is pretty good. Smith is awesome as usual, but that was to be expected. (Remember, this is the guy who made Hitch into a profoundly watchable film.) What I want to focus on today, however, is what the progressive movement can learn from this run-of-the-mill homeless, alcoholic, anti-social superhero movie.

Jason Bateman's character, Ray, is an idealistic PR man hoping to use branding (the "All-Heart" symbol) to convince big corporations to good for the world. The good he seeks is not your average "Cough up a couple thousand bucks and I'll put my stamp on your product. In his first scene, Ray tries to convicne ht board of a pharmaceutical company to give away their new tuberculosis vaccine for free, to families that couldn't afford it.

Unfortunately, the Pharm doesn't bite. At his next meeting, after the rise of his client Hancock as a popular superhero, all the company wants to talk about is...guess what... Hancock!

We all know this experience: wanting to talk about the issues when all people get hung up on is the controversy (See: Jeremiah Wright, Swift Boat Veterans, Willie Horton etc.). Now, we can respond to this by saying screw these jerks who don't care about the issues, or we can acknowledge their lack of interest and take from it a natural human condition: we love a good story!

It's often difficult and confusing to just talk about our issues in an abstract, theoretical way, even though for some us that are deeply involved it can feel like the most elegant method of discussing it. Instead, we need to highlight the progressive superheroes, the real people that power the progressive movement and the real people that government policies and actions affect. We need to tell their stories in order to reach out to a wider audience and truly engage people. We need to give them Hancock and use Hancock to effectively illustrate our points. Otherwise, our message gets lost in the echo chambers of the elite.

It turns out that this lack of story is also Hancock's key flaw. There are many interesting concepts woven into the movie such as power, sacrifice, angelology and mythology, and celibacy as well as several unique motifs such as the PR training of a superhero, i.e. smooth takeoffs and landings, always saying "good job" to fellow do-gooders even though what they have done might be inadequate, going to group therapy sessions etc. But these concepts are not effectively woven into the story and are sometimes put in seemingly at the expense of deeper background information about the characters.

Overall, Hancock is worth seeing. It's lots of fun. Will Smith is the bomb. Jason Bateman has a part that fits him perfectly and the plot ain't half bad. Check it out.