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Hope, Fear and Marketing

It’s more than mere semantics that one US presidential candidate has taken “hope” as his own concept. Is “fear” showing signs of fatigue as effective voter motivation?

What is the nature of hope? The dictionary defines it this way: "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; anticipating a positive outcome."

By that definition, shouldn't hope be a crucial feature of any political campaign? "Anticipating a positive outcome"-- isn't that what we all want from our leaders, a sense that they are moving us in a positive direction? Don't all voters look across the amorphous timeline of a potential candidate's term and anticipate positive results in exchange for their votes?

Yet this year, Barack Obama has had a corner on hope. More than 20 candidates threw their hats into the ring for the 2008 US Presidential election, and while many tried to emphasize the advantages of their own candidacy, very few of them spoke of hope. The pack spoke of facing challenges and confronting threats and ubiquitously referenced "change", but few if any used the H-word. (Marketing a president without using "hope" seems akin to marketing a restaurant without using the word "delicious".)

Granted, Obama had the foresight to lay claim to the word well before the election with his book, The Audacity of Hope, so perhaps other candidates worried that the word "hope" would make voters think of their opponent. But I doubt that's the motivation: Talking about hope requires a candidate to talk about themselves, and the status quo of modern presidential politics is that it's safer to lambaste the opponents position than it is to commit your own ideas and intentions to the public record.

Fear -- now there's a word most campaigns can get behind. Whether you support or abhor current President Bush, whether you believe we need to fight the terrorists "there" so we don't have to fight them "here" or believe that we create more terrorists than we eliminate through military aggression, you have to agree that fear was a big motivator in The W campaigns: Fear that gay marriage would undermine the morality of the nation; fear that talking to our enemies would give them a leverage they didn't deserve; fear that we might run out of oil if we don't drill in Puget sound.

It's not just Bush and Rove. (Though to their credit, they mastered the methodology.) Hillary Clinton sought to gain traction with her "It's 3AM, who do you want answering the phone?" spot. (Apparently, the voter's answer to that question isn't "Hillary".) Every candidate tried to paint McCain as Bush Jr., supporting all of the same policies that have frustrated so much of the nation. (The polling numbers clearly indicate frustration.) Sadly, in politics, fear works.

I watched V for Vendetta recently, a harrowing indictment of political machines intent on retaining power by manipulating the news and the populace, best summed up by the angry chancellor's demand to his staff, "I want everyone to remember why they need us!" Of course, that movie is set in the future, but as author William Gibson wrote, "science fiction (is) always about the period in which it was written. 1984 is really about 1948. It can't really be understood outside the historical context of 1948." (source: "The cyberpunk arrives at the present", by Adam Dunn, CNN.com, 4 February 2003) Indeed, that assertion applies to V for Vendetta, as the parallels between current political techniques and the story’s exaggerated atmosphere of generated fear and eroding personal liberties are discomforting.

With those evident parallels, the times feel ripe for a hopeful leader. Yet hope is inevitably optimistic, and optimism is increasingly an anomaly in modern America. Author Susan Jeffers wrote, "We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic", and that lesson has permeated American society. (Susan Jeffers PhD, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Random House, 1987).This is not to say that hope is an entirely dormant emotion, but it is considerably out of vogue in this post-modern ironic environment: Watch any local news program and compare the ratio of stories that grab your attention with shock and fear versus positive progress. A city can build 100 miles of bike paths without media mention, but a confrontation between a biker and a driver is urgent news.

These days, "realistic" has become a synonym for "pessimistic". My daughter and I were watching Bob the Builder, and when the question was asked, "Can we fix it?" the enthusiastic response from the claymation crew is, "Yes we can!" (Hmm, that sounds familiar, somehow.) Yet in the real world, the question, "Can we fix it?" is too often met with series of caveats and back pedals that amount to an answer of, "Realistically, no."

That so-called "realistic" view considers that people won't work to their full potential, that financial projections will be inaccurate and additional funding will be unavailable, that red tape will strangle the project. We've gone from a problem solving mentality to a problem identifying mindset. Not all of us individually, but as a collective mindset, we’ve come to consider complaining about a problem as contributing to the discourse, even when no solution is offered with the complaint.

Personally, I like skepticism. Skepticism is an intellectual firewall that prevents our psyche from obediently believing the announcer when he assures us that a show like Cavemen is "the best new show of the year". But while a healthy skepticism serves as a useful filter, its value is lost when it mutates into a debilitating cynicism, the filter so constricted that promising ideas get snagged in the same mental clog as the inane ones. At that point, hope just doesn't seem realistic.

I've heard that broadly, science fiction writers fall into two camps: Those who think the future will be shiny, full of growth and prosperity, and those who think it will be rusty, full of the decaying hulks of generations of discarded machinery. Alan Moore (who wrote the original V for Vendetta comic series) and William Gibson fall into the latter set, those skeptical of a gleaming metallic future: Where would all of the ancient (read: 20th century) infrastructure have gone?

I'd be the first to admit, the landscape of Mike Judge's Idiocracy (dilapidation and collapse) seems more likely than Woody Allen's Sleeper (minimalist, art-infused efficiency.) But the actual future isn't a screenwriter's concoction -- it's a story we are collectively writing right now. I'm not sure how we'll handle the inevitable rusting of the infrastructure that surrounds us today, but I like to think that our presidential candidates see a little bit of shimmer and gleam in their vision of the future. While "realistic" seems infused with pessimism these days, I prefer to think there's enough optimism in our culture to ensure that fear isn't the pen with which we write our script.

At least, I hope so.

A scene from Idiocracy (2006)

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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