That slogan comes from a 2005 commercial for Kraft Crumbles, “intense nuggets of real Kraft Cheese” that give your food “that big cheese taste that blows you away.” (You might remember that these crumbles were “crumbelievable,” and that America learned about them to the tune of EMF’s 1990 dance-pop classic, “Unbelievable.”) As the inauguration nears, the phrase has come to mind almost hourly: let’s get ready to crumble. Let us watch as the Thick Man, with his processed-cheese-product glow, assumes the mantle of power and crumbelievable rubble rains down from on high.
But you don’t simply wake up all ready to crumble. Crumbling preparedness takes time and effort. It begins by going to the movies.
At Anthology Film Archives, a series called “Inauguration of the Displeasure Dome” begins this weekend, aiming to help moviegoers cope with a Trump presidency with a mix of cautionary tales, dystopian epics, and (of course) depressing documentaries. At the center of it all is Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957), a film so perfectly suited for our moment that a toothless, vacuous remake must surely be on the lips of studio execs as I write this. Even the fiery tagline on its poster scans like ad copy for The Apprentice: “Power! He loved it! He took it raw in big gulpfuls … He liked the taste, the way it mixed with the bourbon and the sin in his blood!” (In light of last week’s revelations about the president-elect’s alleged sexual predilections, that bit about big gulpfuls is especially apropos.)
A Face in the Crowd stars Andy Griffith, playing terrifyingly against type as a drifter who claws his way up through the media ranks to a position of supreme celebrity demagoguery, his status seemingly impossible to diminish even as he courts opprobrium at every turn. To see the wholesome Griffith fulminating against the “rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, [and] pea-pickers” comprising his fanbase is to shudder with recognition. In one of the movie’s more famous rants, he brags about the loyalty of his audience in words that recall Trump’s line about being able to get away with murder on Fifth Avenue:
Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ’em like this … You know what the public’s like? A cage of guinea pigs. Good night, you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.
And let’s not forget that at one point Griffith actually utters, with Trumpian relish, the words: “You’re fired.”
Budd Schulberg, who adapted the screenplay from his short story “Your Arkansas Traveler,” was also dispiritingly on the money when he had his cynical TV staff writer say that the national memory just doesn’t hang on to much, especially where scandal is concerned:
You’re gonna be back in television. Only it won’t be quite the same as it was before. There’ll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: “Why don’t we try him again in a inexpensive format. People’s memories aren’t too long.” And you know, in a way, he’ll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won’t. Oh, you’ll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you’ll have a show. It just won’t be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody’ll ask: “Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, a, Barry Mills? I think he’s the greatest thing since Will Rogers.”
I won’t spoil the finer points of the plot. I’ll just urge you to see A Face in the Crowd, which plays at Anthology on January 20, at 6:30, and on January 22, at 3:15. Bring your favorite Kraft snack. Because here it comes, friends. The Trump presidency, with that big cheese taste that blows you away.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.