More than a political campaign ad, 2020 The Movie, currently a YouTube sensation, assesses the state of Hollywood politics while simultaneously describing — devastating — the cast of characters in Washington, D.C.
It looks like one of those typical Hollywood promotional ads, using the kind of video clips that actors make at press junkets, talking to an off-screen interviewer (usually a studio flack or one of the hoard of shills assigned to provide showbiz content for the entertainment segments of news programs around the world — a light industry in itself). The product being hyped in 2020 The Movie is an imaginary film about this election year, featuring popular franchise actors discussing their roles as familiar figures in the news. It teases us about how these politicians enter our imagination.
Switching the real for the pretend is the basis of the spot’s genius: Chris Hemsworth, frequently seen touting his role as Thor in the Marvel movies, is identified discussing his portrayal of President Trump. (“Whether you’re playing a god or a human or whatever, you just make it real.”) Jessica Walter, of TV’s Arrested Development, talks about impersonating Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (“She’s just so self-involved. She has no social graces, let’s put it that way, and she does a lot of horrible things.”). Kathy Bates, Oscar-winner for Misery, explains her imitation of Hillary Clinton. (“This crazy character — I wanted her to be a really despicable, and not very nice woman, definitely.”) Alan Cummings, Nightcrawler in the X Men franchise, breaks down his characterization as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. (“It was all a kind of a mistake that he believed in something that wasn’t actually true. He’s this kind of angry, nasty, scary person who lives in this horrible old boggy place.”)
Each skit (including seven others) does triple-duty. First, the facial resemblance between actors and politicos is uncanny. Then there’s the satire of movie-promotion blather that italicizes talking-point clichés. Plus, the speakers’ facile-sincere tone mocks 60 Minutes–style pseudo-interrogation. (This pomposity also infects the TV gossip format of Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Inside Edition, and TMZ, which all lately include political commentary.)
Now that news media has gone rogue, abdicating their fact-keeping responsibility for the manufacturing of fiction usually expected of movies and TV shows, 2020 The Movie makes a dazzling realization of through-the-looking-glass absurdity. It captures the modern context of prevarication — stretching from Hollywood studios to the newsrooms in New York, Los Angeles, and D.C. — that ensnares all media watchers. Then it clears the air.
Credited to Power Tie, a conservative political-action website that has maintained anonymity, 2020 The Movie uses the latest digital-tech savvy. The blatant photo-bombing videos are hilarious. Note the meticulous detailing in the State of the Union scene: To the left of Pelosi, who is tearing pages in a hissy fit, stands a sage Sam Elliott as Vice President Mike Pence. Such highlights alter the document-ripping moment so that the outrageous breach of decorum becomes surreal — circus-like beyond any excuse a party hack could spin.
No word-slinging pundit in the post–Tom Wolfe age can match the visual wit of these spot-on physical matches: Hemsworth glamorizes Trump in a way the media and Democrats are loath to do. Walter is Pelosi as the media refuses to recognize her. Jason Alexander as CNN anchor Brian Stelter (“He has a questionable character, questionable integrity, coupled with a crippling self-knowledge of his relative lack of talents”) is a pluperfect twin for the George Costanza Seinfeld character. (Only Mark Dice’s Stelter-pipsqueak mimicry is as righteous.)
Through Fair Use doctrine regarding material that Hollywood studios grant for myriad promotional purposes, Red Tie has found sophisticated media alternatives to what we usually enjoy in editorial cartoon caricatures — a marginal field for conservatives that boasts only a few clever exceptions, such as Ben Garrison. Liberals presume to master political humor — as in the 2013 YouTube clip Steven Spielberg’s Obama, made by the wizard of DreamWorks himself, who coaxed the former president into non-blushing self-parody. Power Tie tops Spielberg with Jussie Smollett and Tyler Perry promos too good to reveal here. They’ve taken Deep-Fake simulation (and the actors’ own words) to a new level of brilliance and audacity — and all the while, making it possible to analyze both representational and ideological truth.
2020 The Movie subverts the fakery of mainstream media practices from standard Hollywood marketing to disingenuous journalism and the political grandstanding that the media “holds accountable” only when convenient for its own purposes. 2020 The Movie acknowledges our skepticism and liberates us from the customs of Millennial political media, commandeered by the Left. This is an epic summation of how politicians and journalists cooperate in charades that call their personal integrity into question (such as those anti-gun clips or the millionaires singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”). They play the public for fools, but 2020 The Movie cuts through unctuous appeals to our naïve trust — and restores our indignation. It is a crash course in media literacy.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article named Liam Hemsworth as the actor who played Thor in the Marvel films. In fact it was Chris Hemsworth.