Last Wednesday, at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C., filmmaker Pritchett Cotten debuted what is sure to be the motion picture event of the season: Tea Party: The Documentary Film. The straight-to-DVD Tea Party will be the perfect stocking stuffer for the paranoiac conservative in your family.
The premiere, hosted by hard-right advocacy group FreedomWorks, was preceded by a panel of the finest ultraconservatives the right wing has to offer, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), former Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) and chairman of FreedomWorks, and Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson (R-S.C.), who received a standing ovation from the gathered crowd, presumably for interrupting the president's state of the union speech this September. The panel’s lack of bipartisanship left Cotten’s repeated assurances that the Tea Party movement is strictly nonpartisan seem a bit disingenuous.
As the lights went down, I promised myself I’d cut and run at the first mention of government sponsored euthanasia. Surprisingly, that moment never came.
Without a doubt, Tea Party, which follows six teabaggers on their journeys to the 9/12 March on Washington, is good fun for irony-seeking leftists. Self-aggrandizing and silly, the film often resembles an overbearing student film (i.e. quick, thumping music during the “exciting” moments and cloying, tender piano plinks accompanying any scene featuring children).
But in an interesting creative decision, the film explicitly tones down its demographic’s inherent wackiness. You won’t find any references to Obama’s socialism, and death panels are only alluded to in passing. Still, the natural eccentricities of the movement shine through. In one scene, a commentator argues that the teabaggers have deflated the power players of the liberal establishment: Barack Obama (check), Harry Reid (check), Nancy Pelosi (check), Anderson Cooper (uh…), and Janeane Garofalo (wait, what?). In another, a teabagger looks into the camera and says with deep sincerity, “We need to send a message to the media, to the professors…that Woodstock is over!” Right, well, I’m glad someone finally had the courage to bring that up.
Tea Party also takes pains to inform us of the movement’s love for people of all colors. The film’s lone African-American subject is reformed Obama-voter Nate, who excuses his one time support of the president by telling viewers, “You have to understand how [Obama] played with the psyche of a black man.” Throughout the film, Nate is shown proselytizing to other African-Americans (including a young man named “Bonez,” who is helpfully identified as a “rapper”), though he never specifies how the teabaggers will ease the plight of African Americans.
Nate’s story, and the frequent cuts to people of color amid largely lily-white crowds, is about as convincing as someone in a Klan robe saying, “I’m not a racist. I have a lot of friends who are black.” I also can’t help but wonder how Tea Party’s repeated praise of the original intent of the constitution, with its numerous allowances for keeping black people as chattel, can be reconciled with their desperate attempts to appear minority-friendly.
After seeing Tea Party, I’m left with one major question: Why is it so damn defensive? Obviously, as a “liberal interloper,” —which was Armey’s description of the non-teabaggers attending the premier—this movie wasn’t made to appeal to me; instead it will be overwhelmingly seen by tea tarty loyalists.
Besides the obnoxious highlighting of one black supporter, the film endlessly reassures the viewer that the teabaggers compose a legitimate grassroots organization, an argument I actually buy. After all, FreedomWorks and the business lobbies have managed to whip up a surprising amount of unsolicited support.
Trust me, you don’t need to see Tea Party. It's awkward racial dithering, bad editing, and bizarre understanding of national politics shouldn’t be inflicted upon those who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. Nevertheless, just because its movie isn’t serious doesn’t mean the Tea Party movement doesn’t deserve your attention.
Unlike its far-left counterparts, the Tea Party has not repudiated electoral politics. Instead, they are backing insurgency campaigns against conservatives not deemed right-wing enough, a tactic the progressive left has never really mastered for candidates on the left. This combination of grassroots fervor with electoral acumen might give them a real impact on next year’s elections. Let’s just hope they never try to go Hollywood again.
This article was originally posted on Campus Progress, with minor alterations.