Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Life Imitating Student Council

If the one thing you miss about 2008 is the whole election cycle, you should go out immediately and rent Frontrunners, a shockingly engaging documentary about a student council election at NYC's Stuyvesant High School. Yes, you read that correctly: the focus is on a competitive race for Student Union President at one of the country's premier public high schools. Where Alexander Payne's beloved Election plays the high school political process for satire, Frontrunners applies standard verite treatment to the process, in the end using this microcosm to shine a light on the American political process in general.

The film follows the race through both a primary and general election. We begin with four candidates; two will be eliminated in the primary, and the other two will face off in the general. The candidates grapple with the choices that face all politicians: the sexual and racial considerations in choosing a running mate; the selection of talking points and campaign materials; how and where to campaign. Along the way we are presented with interviews with not only the candidates but with a pundit and with members of the local press. The candidates compete for the endorsement of the high school paper, seek the approval of their peers, and prepare for and compete in a televised debate.

At my high school student council elections involved nothing more than hanging up some home-made signs and hoping that popularity or name recognition would carry you through. At my high school only dweebs were on student council anyway. Of course, I didn't attend one of the most competetive high schools in the country; the stakes are higher for these adolescents, and they know it.

Even the candidates themselves fall into recognizable political types. In the primary, we have a race among a self-annointed favorite, an outlier with perhaps more student government experience than the favorite, a hard-working and well-liked theater chick, and a popular jock who figures what the hell, popularity often carries the day. I won't spoil anything for anyone, but I will say watching their various campaign strategies and styles is interesting in part because of the way they parellel what we witnessed in 2008.

It really is true, I guess, that politics is just politics.

1 comment:

tunsie said...

i wanna know if any of the candidates will pick tina fey lin as a running mate.u pick and choose the person who will get u the most votes.i work primarily with women because when i stray into the mindset of man[which they call it],they jog me back into reality fast.women r more level headed then men...tunsie.tunsie.tunsie