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Prop-docs: The Rightwing Media and “When Mitt Romney Came to Town”

Prop-docs: The Rightwing Media and "When Mitt Romney Came to Town"

Ever since Fox News arrived on our cultural scene, the rightwing media has cultivated an aesthetics of clumsy propaganda and broad cliched imagery that has spread like a virus among conservative content creators. You can see it in Stephen Bannon’s Sarah Palin hagiography “The Undefeated,” you can see it in the dozens of docs that Newt Gingrich has produced, directed by DGA member Kevin Knoblock (“Rediscovering God in America,” “America at Risk”), and, of course, you can see it in the latest new G.O.P. doc “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” currently making headlines (see the trailer below).

The film, directed by Jason Killian Meath (who has one credit I could find, a short doc called “The Surge: The Untold Story”), is not meant to attack Romney, but to allow him to defend himself against charges of corporate callousness before the Democrats do the same, according to conservative producer Barry Bennett. But like most docs produced in the Fox News universe, the film is a seething over-board critique, filled with ominous color changes, damning testimony from elderly people, overt insert shots of capitalism run amok (counting money!) and a threanening voice-over:

“This is a story of greed… playing the system for a quick buck… a group of raiders lead by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street… For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began…. when Mitt Romney came to town.”

Like former marine Carlton Sherwood’s 2004 anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans doc “Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal,” these films traffic in fear, as well as give truth to subjective testimony: Gather some old people in front of the camera and let them go to town attacking the main subject. Who can argue with a fragile old gentlemen or lady?

It’s funny to see this sort of propaganda being mobilized by conservatives to attack other conservatives. I certainly can’t complain. But I just wonder when conservative filmmakers are going to learn about the power of nuance. I realize the intention behind these films is essentially equivalent to a campaign ad, but even marketers know that hitting someone over the head with a ton of bricks isn’t always the most effective way to sway consumers.

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