Why Political Satire Movies Like This One Are Hard To Watch In 2016

Many things will never be the same after the 2016 election season. For one: We won't be able to watch Home Alone 2 without a little shudder. This classic reaction GIF no longer has a cat, for another. And even the craziest of crazy presidential movies seem a little less insane — including Man of the Year.
The film, which stars Robin Williams and came out back in 2006, was pretty much panned across the board. But most of the reviewers seemed to agree on one thing: the idea that a man with zero political experience could ever become a major contender for president was straight-up crazy. That is, of course, the plot of the movie: Tom Dobbs, political noob, decides to run for his nation's highest office and — here's the part that might sound familiar — winds up becoming a serious candidate.
Watching the movie today is a little like watching the first episode of SNL — which, FYI, includes a parody ad for the at-the-time ludicrous idea of a triple-blade razor. But what seems crazy in one day and age is par for the course in another — and for that reason, Man of the Year feels nothing short of surreal in 2016.

Like many pop culture takes on politics, though, Man of the Year reminds us we're still arguing about the same stuff in the political arena (well, a lot of the same stuff, anyway). During one debate scene, Dobbs fights with the other candidates about immigration, oil, and the less-than-scrupulous ties politicians often have to special interest groups. Eventually, his speech devolves into a stand-up routine, which frankly would be preferable to what's been happening during our current debates. At least the movie version was a little funny; our present bipartisan politicking is just depressing.
Ultimately, Dobbs does get elected, albeit through a computer error. (Side note: How scary is technology?) When the mistake is discovered by Laura Linney, in one of her stranger roles, Dobbs steps down gracefully. But his frank talk and attacks on the political system wind up changing the next presidential regime for the better. Back then, the outcome was meant to be a heartening moral; right now, it hits a little too close to home.
Dobbs entered the election as an outsider. While he eventually did develop his own issue-based platform, his beyond-the-beltway-ness was his main appeal: If the political system is broken, surely only someone with no ties to it can be the one to save us. Likewise, a certain 2016 presidential candidate has risen on a wave of anger about the state of politics, holding up his outsider status as proof he is the one who can change things for the better. Of course, Dobbs was an endearing, liberal-minded Jon Stewart-type figure. Our outsider makes our current situation a lot more bleak — and it certainly seems unlikely that he would back down with any grace, even if he did somehow happen to win in error.

Of course, the appeal of Man of the Year might have something to do with how the American people are looking for something different in an actual president than they might in a fictional commander-in-chief. A Refinery29 poll conducted in August showed, unsurprisingly, The West Wing's President Bartlet is our readers' favorite fictional president. But just three characters below the Aaron Sorkin orator is House of Card's Frank Underwood, an actual murderer. Some viewers want their TV and movie presidents to remind them that things in IRL Washington could be worse. Others want to watch an idealistic picture of the Shakespeare quoting leader we could have.

But watching Man of the Year as my Facebook feed fills with news of this election cycle, one thing is clear: In these unsettling times, political satire that hits too close to home is no longer funny.

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