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Red Zone Clinton:
The Coleman Francis of American Politics

Chelsea Clinton: What if she’s so bad, she’s good . . . enough to be President?

1,587 words

“When in doubt, coffee.[1]

“Coffee? I like coffee!”[2]

What if Coleman Francis ran for President?

That’s a big “what if” since Coleman (his fans and cinema scholars tend to regard him as a big, friendly guy[3]) died back in 1973. However, those of us who have lived through the zombie apocalypse that American Politics has been, from circa 1973 (Watergate) through the Clinton Crime Clan to Trump and RussiaGate,[4] would not be all that surprised to see such a Second Coming.

The Bad News, however, is that there may be another Second Coming: a New Clinton. Unlike the New Nixon,[5] this isn’t a Hillary retread, but her demon offspring, Chelsea.

The Good News is, she seems to be not making much headway where it matters: the media. Here’s how The Week summarizes the action (or lack thereof):

The video: Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton is now officially TV journalist Chelsea Clinton. When NBC announced last month that Clinton would be joining its news team, the hiring was met with cries of nepotism, as Clinton boasts little previous experience in journalism. Clinton finally made her debut Monday night on Brian Williams’ primetime program Rock Center, unveiling her first “Making a Difference” segment. (Watch the clip below.) In the video, a rather flat-voiced, straight-faced, and generally uneasy Clinton profiles an Arkansas woman who runs an after-school center for neglected children. Predictably, critics are panning Chelsea’s performance.

The reaction: It’s shocking that “someone can be on TV in such a prominent way and, in her big moment, display so very little charisma,” says Hank Stuever at The Washington Post. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the giant personalities on TV. But if not, “this is one of the most boring people of her era.” Indeed, Clinton seemed self-conscious on camera, says Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times, and she lacked the rich and authoritative voice “most television anchors acquire.” Her voice was certainly “monochromatic” as her appearance began, says Verne Gay at Newsday. But as Clinton began talking about her late grandmother, she warmed up, and “a relatable human emerged,” hinting that she will in time earn her status as an NBC News reporter. Judge for yourself:

PJ Media, of course, was eager to put the boot in:

Her vocal quality is poor, her voice-over has no zip or personality, and she says nothing interesting or surprising during the taped or couch segments. She is very forgettable. Name her “Chelsea Johnson” and she might get an on-air slot in Tyler, TX. If there’s an opening and the station is a little desperate.

NBC’s coaching failed to improve her affectless voice, lazy delivery and absolute lack of charm, charisma or talent. [6]

Lest I be accused of a similar set of faults, let me just come right out and say how struck I was by the remarkably uniform and specific character of all this reaction to Chelsea’s debut performance. In short: the most boring person alive. And something of a coffee freak (a not unnatural combination, I suppose).

And where had I heard this kind of response to an on-screen performance before?

The oeuvre of cinematic auteur extraordinare, Coleman Francis.

Now, I won’t rehearse the legendary career of Coleman, or analyze his Trilogy of Ennui — no repetition, no boredom here.[7]

But first and foremost, consider the total lack of charisma, and the positively fiendish non-talent of boredom induction.[8] Indeed, for those who haven’t been exposed (and that’s the right word) to the Trilogy, it could truly seem “shocking that someone can be on TV in such a prominent way and, in her big moment, display so very little charisma.

There are, however, some significant differences. How appropriate that Chelsea should first expose her boredom quotient on TV. Unlike Coleman, who was a well-regarded (though decidedly minor) TV actor on such top programs from the era of White Television as Dragnet, M Squad, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe, Chelsea, as critics were quick to point out, is not even student, much less an intern:

Freshman level broadcasting classes could fix some of this, but she never took those classes.

Chelsea Clinton didn’t work her way up the journalism ladder the way most broadcast journalists do. She didn’t have to do grinding morning shifts covering police scanner tips, the county farm report, high school sports and local weather in a rotisserie format that leaves you begging for a couch to collapse on. She didn’t have to do midnight shifts spinning tunes she had no interest in, trying to make them sound like the Next Great Thing while juggling phone call requests and planning to toss on that song that’s just long enough for a bathroom trip and a recharge on the coffee. She didn’t have to write copy as she raced to the booth to go on air with a breaking story, she didn’t have to rip and read, swinging between stories about real life tragedies and comedies without missing a beat, delivering the wrong tone or seeming like you’d never read the copy before. She didn’t experience on-air practical jokes, technical bombs that force you to tap dance while the engineer sorts it out, or deal with the revolving door of personnel door that is small and even large market broadcasting, where you see friends fired, laid off, promoted, and sidelined, and where bosses just occasionally disappear.

Chelsea Clinton skipped the weird and hard but useful experiences that teach a broadcaster how to be the main thing that she seems to lack, which is how to be interesting.[9]

Coleman, by contrast, was a relatively seasoned professional; as his trusty cinematography, Lee Strossnider, recalls from their first set-up:

“Coleman was extremely well-prepared for someone who didn’t know what he was doing.”[10]

Another key contrast is Chelsea’s “monochromatic” voice, a stark contrast with Coleman’s rich, authoritative vocal equipment, which led to and was developed during that long bit-part apprenticeship. [11]

Now, the purpose of all these musings is to suggest, to hope, to initiate — perhaps by the same process of meme magick that elected Trump[12] — a future in which Chelsea will continue to track the career of Coleman Francis.

Though not, of course, that the dear child wind up as he did:

Francis died in California on January 15, 1973 at the age of 53. Though arteriosclerosis is listed as the official cause of death, Cardoza says Francis’ body was found in the back of a station wagon at the Vine Street Ranch Market with “a plastic bag over his head and a tube going into his mouth or around his throat.”[13]

But rather, that she end up like Coleman’s fictional persona, Griffin, who, as we are told at the beginning and end of Red Zone Cuba, ran; not for President, but all the way to Hell.

Notes

[1] In an exclusive interview with Vogue, the most revealing anecdote the author could find for his lede was a discussion of her love of coffee. (“‘When in doubt,’ said Clinton, ‘coffee.’“).

[2]Coleman Francis Rule #1: When in doubt, coffee out. This leads to Joe’s immortal line, “Coffee? I like coffee!” — The Agony Booth review of The Skydivers, here.

[3] Q: What kind of a guy was Coleman Francis?  ANTHONY: Basically, he was a nice person.

[4] “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Karl Marx,  The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

[5] “For years I’ve regarded his very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad,” [Hunter S.] Thompson wrote in 1968. But “the ‘new Nixon’ is more relaxed, wiser, more mellow.” John A. Farrell: “A Nixon biographer explains how Trump compares;” Vox,  May 11, 2017, here.

[6] “WaPo: Chelsea Clinton ‘One of the Most Boring People of Her Era’“ by Bryan Preston; Dec. 13, 2011, here.

[7] You can find that here, and in a recently updated Kindle Coffee? I Like Coffee!: The Metaphysical Cinema of Coleman Francis, here. “Why try to recreate the repugnancy of the real world when you can use a dire documentary-like style to visualize true vileness?” Bill Gibron: “The Neo Neo-Realist; Pop Matters, 28 Nov 2005, here.

[8] Cp:  ”The ‘characters’ are about as charming as my living room furniture. (And I live in a crackhouse.) The three main characters [including Coleman] actually have negative personality. That is to say, as I watched this movie, personality was sucked out of me and I become a significantly less interesting person than I was before I saw it.” The Agony Boothhere.

[9] Preston, op. cit.

[10] Lee Strossnider, interviewed in “No Dialogue Necessary: Making an Off-Camera Masterpiece,” a documentary about Francis on the 18th MST3K DVD collection.

[11] Ironically, Coleman “solved the problem of sound sync” (Mike Nelson, MST3k comments on The Beast of Yucca Flats) by shooting without sound and often framing actors mouths out of the shot or only showing the person being “spoken to.” Also ironically, Strossnider (loc. cit.) seems to recall “hiring some radio announcer” to dub most of the voices, when in fact it was, indeed, Coleman himself.

[12] See my essays collected on Kindle as Trump: The Art of the Meme (here).

[13] Wikipedia, quoting Weaver, Tom. “Anthony Cardoza Recalls the Fallout From Yucca Flats”

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One Comment

  1. Peter Quint
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “I’m confident that Chelsea will be genuine prospect for President in a couple of electoral cycles. Right now she’s a still bit green and needs to focus on a ghostwritten ‘My Struggle’ type book, decolonising Ballet and generally building out her brand. You go girl!”

    I know you are being sarcastic. Look at her picture, she is so ugly, poor thing, can you imagine how bad she’s going to look twenty years down the road?

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