In October of 2014 toward the end of the contentious and expensive Senate Race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, I wrote a piece that Chad Nance and the Camel City Dispatch kindly posted entitled “Oh Thom Tillis, Where Art Thou?” It explored the use of the crossroads motif in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and how the movie was a metaphorical depiction of making a Faustian deal in order to gain earthly power.
I began the piece with the following:
Film and literature have that wonderful quality of not only imitating life and giving us a clearer picture of human nature, but they can instruct us on how to better our lives and make wise choices.
I love the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This cinematic tale loosely based on “The Odyssey” is an entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating work of art. I have heard many teachers using it as a tool for class because they see how students could revisit many of the concepts learned American history and American literature.
Currently, I am showing part of this film to my AP English Language and Composition classes to take a look at concepts local color, allusion, colloquial rhetoric, and overall cultural value. And while Thom Tillis is not running against Kay Hagan in this election cycle there is a lot of perspective one can gain from this film for the current 2016 election, especially when it comes to the use of one word: reform.
Just look at the word closely.
Homer Stokes plays a populist (and racist) gubernatorial candidate who is running a grass-roots campaign against the incumbent Menalaus “Pappy” O’Daniel, a flour magnate. Making stump speeches and kissing children along the way he makes a claim that is one of the better lines in the movie. He says,
“We’re gonna take the broom of reform and sweep this state clean!”
It is as if the word “reform” automatically garners votes. When the word is stated, many people hearing it are conditioned to believe that what we have had before is not acceptable. And the person who states the word gets to claim the title of “reformer”, thus placing a spun, yet positive, image on himself.
The people in the state of Mississippi seem so enraptured by the “reform” message of Homer Stokes that even Pappy O’Daniel’s farcical political brain trust thinks of trying to use some of that “reform” as well which is humorous because they are the incumbants. There is a great scene when the governor and his son, Junior, have a comical exchange about the word “reform”.
Languishing! God*** campaign is
languishing! We need a shot inna
arm! Hear me, boys? Inna god****
ARM! Election held tomorra, that
Sonofab**** Stokes would win it in a
Well he’s the reform candidate, Daddy.
Pappy narrows his eyes at him, wondering what he’s getting at.
Well people like that reform. Maybe
we should get us some.
Pappy whips off his hat and slaps at Junior with it.
I’ll reform you, you soft-headed
Sonofab****! How we gonna run reform
when we’re the damn incumbent!
They really have no idea of what “reform” they may use; they just know that it is a conditioned buzzword used by many to create concern and instill fear.
Ironically, that same use of “reform” has been used by many in office or seeking office here in North Carolina. These people have used the anthem of reform to re-form law to help propel their own political ambitions when what was being reformed really did not need reforming but maybe needed more resources and attention.
Look at the word carefully again.
Now look at it this way.
Same sounds to make both words, but they have different meanings. “Reform” seems to want to improve something. “Re-form” connotes that something is taken apart and then rebuilt to suit someone’s needs, even if the original form was viable.
People said that we needed to “reform” voting registration, so the law was “re-formed” into the new Voter ID law. Something that didn’t need reforming was re-formed along with other provisions to ensure that a few certain people benefitted.
Another example is public schooling here in North Carolina. GOP powers in the General Assembly used the mantle of “reform” to “re-form” the public school system into a shadow of its former self. Just look at what has been used to “reform” public schools within the last three to four years.
- Frozen teacher pay
- Removal of Graduate pay
- Removal of Due-Process rights
- Standard 6 and ASW
- Testing measures
- School Grades
- ASD districts
- Opportunity Grants
- Removal of class size caps
- Less money per pupil
- Charter School Growth
- And the list goes on and on.
That’s not reform. That’s “re-form”!
Homer Stokes does not get elected in the movie. He is found to be a racist and an unforgiving man by our heroes, three of whom are “reformed” through the penal system while the other is a black man who sold his soul to the devil. (I guess that would be religious freedom).
Reform does not always have to be a bad word, not if it is done with noble intentions transparently and without special interest. But right now, I would say we certainly need a lot of repealing (HB2) and restoration (respect for teachers and public schools) in order to recapture what used to make us great.