(Part 19 of An Ongoing Series)
…Any one can get angry — that is easy… but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
…you can’t interfere with destiny, that’s why it’s destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing’s just going to happen anyway, and you’ll just suffer.
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
Tammy Metzler’s right: High School elections are basically a bunch of charades and empty promises made primarily for the sake of the winners’ college transcripts.
I say this as a former student government officer who was much less an officer than a glorified event planner. I harbored no illusions of “making a difference;” I simply enjoyed the power and privilege of writing smart-ass Homecoming skits and organizing Battles Of The Bands. (And OK, fine, listing those accomplishments on my college transcript. Hate the game, not the player.) I dropped all interest in “governing” during my first semester of film school, in the autumn of that magical year of 1999, when I decided my time might be better-spent drinking more booze, smoking more pot, and watching more movies.
Since then I’ve remained an outsider to the whole governance thing. From here, Election‘s satire- as it applies to Real World Politics rather than High School Politics- seems to have some fine points. It often feels like most high-level politicians are either popular-but-toothless like Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), or brutally ambitious narcissists like Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), while rabble-rousers like Tammy Metzler typically end up shoved off to the margins or shut out of the process altogether.
But Election‘s satire isn’t its biggest hook for me. What fascinates me is the timeless moral/ ethical dilemma of mostly-decent teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick). He’s wading through the fuzzy fog of Tracy’s affair with his friend-and-colleague, with plenty of reason to believe she may not be the totally blameless victim that society’s laws say she is. All Jim wants to do is what he believes is right: teach Tracy a lesson in humility while also protecting his beloved school- maybe even the world at large- from the glittery steamroller of her ego. Naturally, he’s got his work cut out for him.
So, how morally and/or ethically right was Jim in trying to rig the election? Was he foolish in his attempt to thwart the unstoppable Tracy Flick? Or was he brave? Was he noble, or petty? Was it worth the price? Is he truly happier in the new life his actions lead him to, or just trying to convince himself he’s happier? Is he better off, or more pathetic? After multiple viewings, I have plenty of opinions on these questions, and about zero easy answers.
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