' ' Cinema Romantico: Appraising Taffy Dale

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Appraising Taffy Dale

Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!” was released 20 years ago this year. At the film’s conclusion, after Earth had fended off a martian invasion that nonetheless left much of the planet in tatters, the First Daughter, Taffy Dale (Natalie Portman), had been left as the American President by default. Because I am so chagrined these days with the state of America, I cheered myself up by composing a fake appraisal of her fake Presidency, the kind you see crop up in all manner of editorial pages at the end of any Presidency. 

An Uncandy Presidency

If no American can soon forget the genesis for Taffy Dale’s unprecedented ascension to President of the United States of America, we are nevertheless obligated to at least briefly re-visit it as no Presidential scholar can properly begin evaluation of her two terms as Commander in Chief without first establishing the causation of her swearing in. Eight years since its occurrence, Americans have come to call the planet Mars’ failed, if calamitous, assault of Earth as The Invasion. And the post-Invasion landscape found not only American President James Dale deceased, but incomprehensibly the entire line of succession, and any conceivable successors to the successors, deceased too. Ms. Dale was not consequently appointed President just as she did not seize the Presidency; rather she assumed the office much like a child might assume a family heirloom.

That precise lack of political ambition is prominent in Ms. Dale’s theme. (Her given name is Tamara; as President she still asked to be called Taffy.) While other first daughters have routinely found themselves in the limelight, Dale made a point to shun it, preferring to shut herself into the White House, listening to music for hours at a time (Juliana Hatfield was a favorite). That teenage dispassion, seen by some as a flaw in her assuming the Presidency, was cited elsewhere as a key strength, the cool remove from which she could view a broken earth at a time when cool heads were needed. “Whatever,” became her campaign slogan, but that was term two and term two never would have happened if term one had not achieved unlikely, unpredicted success, albeit mixed with the inevitable failures of a young adult who had merely hoped to major in French Literature at Barnard.

If her dispassionate attitude at first seemed an odd fit for post-Invasion America, it quickly proved a curiously potent tonic, at least for her contemporaries who were impassionedly enamored by Ms. Dale’s “s--- happens” attitude, the phrase she proffered in her first State of the Union, causing some to faint but others to cheer, before gradually transformed into a kind of inverted rallying cry. Rather than complain about what was, she just sort of casually pointed out what could be, and didn’t understand why, like, you know, it wasn’t.

She dispatched Vice President Shirley Manson to Mars to tell them everything was cool, unless Mars was going to decide it wasn’t in which case it wouldn’t be with Earth either. She engineered what she called the “What’s the Big Deal?”, a sort of modern twist on FDR’s fabled New Deal, in which she used the still simmering Invasion after-effects to create a government that worked for the people even as she still found creative ways to let the people work for themselves.

It was a malleable kind of political theory that the press tagged as Go-With-The-Flowism. Yet in going with the flow, Ms. Dale just as often opened herself up to political dead-ends from which she struggled to remove herself. So too was her pliability too often marked less by a taking it easy shrug than good old fashioned teenage contrarianism. After all, it was a barely kept secret within the White House that daughter was not on best terms with father and mother, and so when daughter was precipitously placed in father's position, it was perhaps inevitable that she would not merely seek to forge her own path but to consciously forge a path in opposition to her father’s.

Yet in Ms. Dale’s second term, which was chiefly spurred by the get out the vote efforts of her legions of political groupies, The Taffy Apples, her Go-With-The-Flowism reached unprecedented heights as she sought to move forward by looking backward, taking a page from the original Founding Fathers as something of an ode to Richie Norris, First ever First Husband. In Mr. Norris’s mumbly, only semi-memorable speech outside a crumbled U.S. Capitol post-Invasion, he called for a return to living in teepees, “because it’s better in a lot of ways.” This was ridiculed in most quarters at the time of its utterance, and President Dale did not give it much public credence, though she leaned on its inherent ethos anyway, borrowing heavily from indigenous Americans’ tribal government.

Indeed, Ms. Dale was the driving force behind a new global union that she modeled on the Iroquois Confederacy’s Great Law of Peace, bringing together a council of fifty nations, spurring post-Invasion Earth toward an ecumenical representative democracy, something of a stunning reversal from Ms. Dale’s first days in the East Bedroom of the White House, which was rather infamously littered with the then First Daughter’s books by Emma Goldman and other assorted anarchists. In that way, Ms. Dale’s own journey mimicked the journey undertaken by post-Invasion America; they came of age together.

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