Through the Political Looking Glass with Hot Saas



Continued from PART 2 and before that PART 1.

If I were a high school Civics or Government teacher (or a college Political Science professor), I would consider Follow the Leader mandatory viewing for my course, because it shines such a bright light into the realm of political education and development. Even among people who are well-versed on political issues, it isn’t very often that they stop and think about why they carry the political beliefs they do. For the average person, simply believing what you believe is enough. Even if you can justify how you think, it’s still rare for people to understand exactly how they came to those conclusions.

Meta-cognition (particularly about politics) isn’t something we pay very much attention to. The way that Follow the Leader forces its audience to confront not only what they believe but how they came to believe it is practically uncharted political territory. If the right young people see this film, it could have profound effects on the way they think about themselves in the political continuum and maybe that could make the American political landscape a little more rational, along with a little less reactive, jingoistic, and cynical.

If you couldn’t tell, Follow the Leader left a deep resonance. It’s been over a month since I’ve seen the film, and I still find myself wrestling with the implications of Nick, Ben, and D.J.’s journeys. The potential for this film to create a useful dialogue across college campuses throughout the country is simply enormous.

As I said, I had given up politics. It had hurt me so deeply and left me in such a depressed, bitter funk that I had to go cold turkey or it would kill me emotionally. And yet Follow the Leader managed to relight part of that spark in my soul. For some of us, it never completely goes away. Shouldn’t we create a political environment in this country where an air of compromise or jaded cynicism isn’t the inevitability? Perhaps, if enough of our nation’s youth see Follow the Leaderand realize their doubts, transformations, and dreams aren’t solitary instances, we can take the steps to help keep that fire alive for the United States as a whole.

Through the Political Looking Glass with Hot Saas


(Continued from PART 1)

Perhaps because I’ve personally known Nick over the years and my ultimate life path of being involved with a wide variety of organizations only to see a lot of them fall apart or not live up to their own professed standards was very similar to his story in the film, it was the scenes with him that struck me at the deepest level (not that Ben and D.J. didn’t impact me significantly as well). However, even for the most casual political observer, Nick’s intellectual and personal journey over the course of the film is something that everyone can relate to.

Through his young eyes, you see a young adult with both a deep love of public service and a true passion for government and involvement. However, you also see first hand the ambition and confidence that any potential leader has to have. It takes a certain type of mindset (and not in a derogatory sense, a certain sized ego) to believe you have what it takes to be the POTUS (editor’s note: that’s President Of The United States, if anyone reading this isn’t already a political junkie who’s known that since birth). With Follow the Leader, you see how issues like not getting recognized by your father (Ben), a need for a competitive outlet (D.J.), and a considerable desire to prove himself (all three subjects) pushes them to a path with the greatest public acknowledgement.

As I watched the film, I was constantly struck by a feeling as if someone had recorded the last five years of my life, changed some of the minor details, and cast different people to play me. That’s how true of an experience Follow the Leader is. As someone whose sole goal in life was to be elected to public office but found himself so jaded by the obstinacy of the right, and then the incompetence and “weak-kneedness” of the left, that he gave it all up, I found a reflection of myself in these film’s characters despite our complete lack of agreement on the issues.

My own neuroses and long dialectics with friends over the years had already helped me realize what it was that pushed me towards politics as a youth (ambition fueled by a need for power and recognition, after ruthless bullying as a child). But Follow the Leader still managed to help me open my eyes to how I was growing during my pivotal teen years, and point out that there are countless other kids across the country who experienced similar philosophical trajectories.



Through the Political Looking Glass with Hot Saas


Several years ago, at the same time director Jonathan Goodman Levitt’s real-life political coming-of-age documentary Follow the Leader begins, I was in a similar place as the film’s young subjects. I was the same age as Nick, Ben, and D.J., and it was the summer before my senior year of high school. I, too, was attending a Boys State program (like the boys do in the opening sequence of the film). As a young, politically ambitious student with dreams of one day being President of the United States, the only difference between myself and this film’s subjects was geography and the fact that I was a young liberal instead of a young conservative. My own political journey as an adolescent began as a conservative, though, so even more direct parallels still exist.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small preview screening of Follow the Leader, and I can say with complete sincerity that Follow the Leader was an almost frighteningly accurate and insightful examination of what it means to come of age in our modern political environment. Like no other film, it digs deeply into, unpacks and exposes the social, psychological, and environmental factors that have shaped our current generation of young leaders.

When politicians are displayed on the big screen, it is invariably after they have “made it.” The only moments in politician’s lives (unless they become a nationally significant figure and they write their own memoirs) that we ever see are those times when they’ve reached the national spotlight. What we almost never get to see is Bill Clinton at Georgetown, President Obama as a young high school student in Hawaii, or Mitt Romney at Brigham Young University. Think about that for a second though. In the life of a young intellectual or any young ambitious person, the beginning of college and the final year of high school are the most transformative years of your life. The changes to your personality stay with you the rest of your life and influence your entire worldview.

If your college/high school education accomplishes what it was meant to, your entire system of thought changes. And the way that you analyze and process the world around you is markedly different than when it began. In Follow the Leader, you see these explosive, dynamic years in the lives of young leaders as they’re happening, and as someone who walked virtually the same path as the film’s subjects, it was a surprisingly emotional experience.

(More from Don here on the Participants…Unfiltered Blog this Monday and Tuesday…namely Part 2: CATHARSIS AND REVELATIONS, and Part 3: SEE IT IF YOU DARE – A FILM THAT COULD IMPROVE OUR COUNTRY)

If you want more Hot Saas, and you want it right now, get your fix at the Pop Culture Safari.