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BulworthI was watching the film Bulworth this evening and I think it provides an interesting and fruitful subject for discussion. Written by Warren Beatty, who also plays the title role, it traces the last few days in the life of fictional California Senator Jay Billington Bulworth. Bankrupt and looking like he will succumb to a primary challenge, the Senator takes out a massive insurance policy with an insurance executive by promising to keep an insurance regulatory bill in committee. Bulworth then takes out a contract on his own life.

A lack of sleep, lack of food, a failed marriage, a couple of joints and a general miasma surrounding his life help Bulworth to shake off his previous persona and become a charismatic, rapping white boy who decides to stand up for the American people against insurance tricksters, big oil and the corruption of the media and political parties. All in all, it’s a good show – by turns moving and amusing. I’ve included one of my favourite rhymes, which Bulworth sings during an interview.

I wonder how the audiences that saw it in the cinema received it, whether in the USA or here. Probably many of them laughed and then dismissed it – and it is easy to do so. Though a biting satire, that a dyed-in-the-wool Senator would suddenly decide to support a lot of populist causes is unlikely. That a two-bit gun-and-drug gang boss would suddenly arrange for his posse to clean up the ‘hood’ because of the charm and righteousness of a Senator is equally unlikely.

There are a bundle of relevant messages contained within the film however. It answers those who claim the days of socialism and powerful trade unions are gone by pointing out that the working classes are too busy looking for jobs to produce the leaders of old. Though old fashioned insofar as “state control” is seen as a better alternative than the profiteering private sector, it still makes a clear case that “private sector efficiency” is largely a myth. In the UK, with millions of pounds worth of government subsidies poured into many supposedly private ventures, we’re in need of that particular message.

Set during the ’96 primary campaigns, the film points out through one rap that the Democrats would pay for deindustrialisation in the ghettoes. That is also something we’d do well to listen to over here, with our increasing gun crime in urban centres.

The film is an old one and I first saw it at “socialist summer camp” at Portlaois in the Republic of Ireland. The Socialist Party had rented a hotel and invited a bunch of Green Party figures and Anarchists and others on the left to come and debate “left alternatives” with the usual crew from the SP, while the Socialist Party Youth observed and chimed in occasionally. We watched that on the Saturday night and upon the line, “let’s hear that dirty word now…socialism!” everyone cheered.

I think, for me, that is the final message of the film. Politics requires its own culture – and that’s something we’ve lost in the British labour movement. Where are the steelworker’s reading groups and the Miner’s colliery bands? Probably out looking for jobs with the would-be great left wing leaders.

Anyway, to end on a better note, here’s that rap I mentioned.

The rich is getting richer and richer and richer
While the middle class is getting more poor
Making billions and billions and billions of bucks
Well my friend if you weren’t already rich at the start then that situation just sucks
Cause the richest mother fucker in five of us is getting ninety fuckin’ eight percent of it
And every other motherfucker in the world is left to wonder where the fuck we went with it.


I’m a Senator
I gotta raise $10,000 a day every day I’m in Washington
I ain’t getting it in South Central
I’m gettin’ it in Beverly Hills
So I’m votin’ from them in the Senate the way they want me too
and-and-and I’m sending them my bills.

But we got babies in South Central dying as young as they do in Peru,
We got public schools that are nightmares,
We got a Congress that ain’t got a clue,
We got kids with submachine guns.

We got militias throwing bombs,
We got Bill just gettin’ all weepy,
We got Newt blaming teenage moms,
We got factories closing down.

Where the hell did all the good jobs go? Well, I’ll tell you where they went
My contributors make more profits makin’, makin’, makin’, Hirin’ kids in Mexico.
Oh a brother can work in fast food
If he can’t invent computer games.
But what we used to call America
That’s going down the drains.

How’s a young man gonna meet his financial responsibilities workin’ and motherfuckin’ Burger King? He ain’t! And please don’t even start with that school shit.
There aint no education going on up in that motherfucker.

We got a million brothers in prison.
I mean, the walls are really rockin’
But you can bet your ass they’d all be out
If they could pay for Johnny Cochrane.
The constitution is supposed to give them an equal chance
Well, that ain’t gonna happen for sure.

Ain’t it time to take a little from the rich motherfucker and give a little to the poor? I mean, those boys over there on the monitor
they want a government smaller and weak
but the be speakin’ for the richest 20 percent when they pretend they’re defendin’ the meek
Now, shit, fuck, cocksucker, that’s the real obscenity.

Black folks livin with every day
Trying to believe a motherfuckin word Democrats and Republicans say


I’m Jay Billington Bulworth
And I’ve come to say
The Democratic party’s got some shit to pay
It’s gonna pay it in the ghetto.
–Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pisker, Screenwriters

Categories: Films
  1. September 30, 2007 at 4:17 am

    I saw the movie when it came out. I recall of had a bad reception. The industry crowd doesn’t like it when a movie gets too close to the truth and doesn’t have a cite love story and a mainstream political message.

  2. October 6, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Don’t really agree with Jeff. The problem with the film was that it contained one absolutely brilliant idea that it tried to stretch too far. So it failed as a film. Well, failed is too strong – it was deeply flawed.

    It was also just too ridiculous. The left needs to challenge the hopeless optimism of the mainstream, but it also needs to have more than either nihilism or conspiracy theories to explain itself with. Bulworth had both.

    Finally, let’s also remember than Bulworth was also a film by a man trying to explain his self contradictions. Beatty is a man of the left, yet also richer than the combined population of a Brazillian barrio.

    But, yes, everyone should watch it, flaws and all. It is just so brilliant to see a Hollywood superstar say “socialism” – you suddenly realise that Americans are quite like us!

  3. October 6, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    I’d be interested to hear what you thought was conspiracy theory.

    I too dislike the left disintegrating into conspiracy obsessions – as so many of our anorak types are wont to do – but I thought Bulworth avoided it admirably.

  4. October 9, 2007 at 3:52 am

    I’m with Dave. I dislike conspiracy theories. On the other hand, I also dislike when right-wingers label things conspiracy theories with the connotations it has. I mean, obviously, in politics there are conspiracies as such, and they should be labeled as such.

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