The president’s diplomatic gifts

Many of us took the view that President Obama’s gift of the shrink-wrapped package of 25 classic American films on DVD to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was boorish at best. Among the films Included in in Obama’s gift were “On the Waterfront” and “Raging Bull.” Some have tried to read meaning into the particular films included in the package, speculating that the inclusion of “On the Waterfront” indicates Brown “could have been a contender” had political circumstances been different, or that “Raging Bull” was a commentary on Brown’s temper.

But what would account for “Star Wars: Episode IV”? One is clearly reading too deeply into the gift by suggesting that Obama may have been likening Luke Skywalker on the Millennium Falcon to Gordon Brown. Would Obama intimate that Brown’s history of support for light-touch financial regulation in the City of London now endangering the mission? I don’t think so.

/Film points out that astute followers of the American Film Institute will recognize that the list is a dead ringer for the top 25 of AFI’s 2007 List of Top 100 Movies. And besides, the package was on sale over at Best Buy.

Rob Long is the Hollywood writer and producer who also hangs his shingle out at Robinson and Long as well as National Review. On Friday Long took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to explain:

[L]ook, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been faced with finding a last-minute gift. We’ve all sprinted through the aisles of Walgreens, scanning the shelves for something — anything — that might possibly, if wrapped stylishly, qualify as a present. President Obama has the added burden of being almost completely broke, so it’s only natural that his eye drifts to the discount bin at the video store.

Like others searcing for the deep meaning in Obama’s package of films, Long finds that due thought was given:

[T]here are nuances aplenty to be found in the titles that the president offered to the prime minister. For Britain, with its long tradition of cross-dressing and racism, the copies of “Some Like it Hot” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” really do form a quirky double-feature.

Long proposes that Obama extend a similar gift to other world leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

A copy of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the 1947 Gregory Peck film that exposes the subtle but pervasive anti-Semitism then prevalent in American society, might be a nice house present for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. President Obama has yet to formulate a clear policy toward Iran, so the movie could make an important point in a fairly nonconfrontational way. If Mr. Obama sends him a box set of the HBO series “Oz,” on the other hand — a show set in a terrifying men’s prison, with explicit scenes of what are euphemistically called “full cavity searches” — then it’ll be clear to the Iranians what “nuclear inspections” might entail.

Long has a few other ideas that he presents in “The president’s diplomatic gifts.” He even offers a suggestion for Prime Minister Brown:

Turnabout, it’s important to admit, is fair play. So how should Prime Minister Brown have responded to President Obama’s box of classics? I suggest that Mr. Brown give Mr. Obama a copy of “Notting Hill”: a bittersweet comedy about the up-and-down romance between a plodding, nervous Englishman and an egomaniacal, out-of-touch American with grandiose self-regard. President Obama has probably seen that movie. But maybe he should watch it again.

Long has me thinking about films for the age of Obama. The first that comes to mind — my mind, anyway — is Vondie Curtis-Hall’s brilliant 1997 buddy film “Gridlock’d,” starring Tupac Shakur and satirizing the welfare state. In any event, Long has opened up a potentially important line of thought deriving from Obama’s otherwise mystifying gift.


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