Alphabetical Movie – High Noon
High Noon is known to be an allegory for the HUAC by Senator McCarthy. Gary Cooper searches a town for someone who will help him defeat a gang of men looking to kill him and finds that at the end of the day, he must face them on his own. It is a bleak film about a bleak time. Cooper looks old, tired and utterly alone.
Watching clips of the McCarthy hearings, the film looks like a pretty well constructed allegory.
The senate HUAC hearings are the most well known but it seems to me that any public Congressional hearing would feel similar if I were the person in the witness chair. It looks a lot like being on trial without the benefit of a presumption of innocence.
Congressional hearings are theatre. The witness functions as someone to sit in a chair while politicians of different opinions make lengthy statements before asking a single question. The questions they ask are designed to entrap or to get an answer they already knew. There are no objections. While the odds are approximately half of the people in the room are somewhat supportive of the witness’ position, everyone is looking for the perfect sound bite that will make them look good to their constituents.
It’s like a congressional floor speech but rather than a soliloquy, we have a dialogue where the witness is playing the straight man (or woman).
Look at how hearings are portrayed in popular media. It never looks like fun, does it?
When Jodie Foster is grilled at the end of Contact, she doesn’t seem to be in a room filled with supportive faces. Didn’t go so well for Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator either (he got to make a kick-ass speech though). 90% of the congressional hearings shown in popular media are either footage of the McCarthy hearings or re-enactments of the McCarthy hearings. If we are to go by the media, congressional hearings aren’t convened unless congresspeople are looking to make some really important speeches.
Of course that isn’t the case. Most of the time they are talking about boring things we don’t give a crap about. At least we don’t until Rush Limbaugh decides to call a law student a slut because she wants to have birth control covered by her health insurance. You know, I think it is unfair to say Rush “decided” to do anything. From every sound bite I’ve ever heard, Rush never decides to say something. He just talks for three hours and gets handed gigantic wads of cash.
I think he pays attention to congressional hearings because he has to talk for three hours a day and he has to talk about something. You can only say “feminazi” so many times before you have to talk about something else. Does he have dogs? Maybe he should talk about his dogs.
So Rush is paying attention (although after this week he may decide to stop) but almost nobody else is. McCarthy was a jackass but he was interesting. Those HUAC hearings were sexy, dammit! You might see your neighbor on them! You might see a movie star! I think almost every time we see a congressional hearing in film, the writers are trying to make that hearing as sexy as the McCarthy hearings. Nobody wants to see what they are really like.
Wring brings me full circle to High Noon, a fantastic film. Rather than showing someone being grilled by senators, the film shows you what it must feel like. Whether your were a screenwriter walking into the HUAC hearings or Sandra Fluke walking into the crosshairs of Rush Limbaugh, it probably feels pretty lonely.