Debugging The Romneytron-1000

 James Lipton gives some pointers on appearing human to Mitt Romney 

Back in February, in a post titled Faking Sincerity, I wrote:

I don’t who Romney’s authenticity coach is, but he should be fired. Obviously he hasn’t been able to instill into his pupil George Burns‘ first lesson in acting: “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

It appears that help is on the way. None other than James Lipton, host of Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio that teaches aspiring actors the nuances of the trade, has proffered his services, gratis. In a NY Magazine column Tuesday titled “How to Act Human: Advice for Mitt Romney From Inside the Actors Studio”, Lipton offers Romney a number of “Lessons to Appear More Relatable.”  Lipton surveys the political landscape and frames Romney’s problem thusly:

“In this media-saturated era, the line between politics and performance has virtually vanished, and the public is having a hard time believing Mr. Romney’s persona (as in dramatis personae).

Nowhere is Romney’s inauthenticity more apparent than when he tries to laugh on cue.

Listen to his laugh. It resembles the flat “Ha! Ha! Ha!” that appears in comic-strip dialogue balloons. But worse – far worse – it is mirthless. Mr. Romney expects us to be amused, although he himself is not amused. Freeze the frame, cover the bottom of his face with your hand, and study his eyes.

There’s no pleasure there, no amusement. Genuine laughter is triggered only by, and is completely dependent on, shared perception. That’s why we say we “get” a joke.

Romney trying to appear as just a regular guy who shares the perception of the masses reminds me of the original Terminator movie, in which returning soldiers are subjected to scrutiny by guard dogs to prevent infiltration from robotic T-100s disguised as humans.

The Romneytron-1000 doesn't pass the smell test
The Romneytron-1000 doesn’t pass the smell test

Lipton offers assurance that Romney is not alone in his inability to act naturally:

 Constantin Stanislavski, the patron saint of the Actors Studio, who preached that relaxation was the sine qua non of acting, would have thrown up his hands in despair at the sight of Governor Romney stalking stiffly onto the public stage. Mr. Romney’s not alone in this robot world. Two generations of politicians, political commentators, and TV personalities seem to have been instructed that no one will listen to them unless they accompany their remarks by locking their elbows to their sides and waving their rigid forearms about like marionettes being wielded by invisible strings.

Lipton points out another Romneytron tell:

Another of Mr. Romney’s acting sins is sartorial. Calling Wardrobe! The combination of neatly creased blue jeans below and crisp white dress shirt or bespoke jacket above is a failed mash-up of bowling alley and country club. Inauthenticity is, after all, today’s topic, and I suspect that if Mr. Romney weren’t running for president, he wouldn’t be caught dead in that mismatch.

Lipton concludes with some rather tepid advice:

… Miscasting matters – in drama and politics – and absent a miraculous Brando-level acting performance, Mr. Romney’s going to continue to fall victim to self-consciousness, the actor’s worst enemy.

Ronald Reagan wasn’t an authentic common man either, but he was an authentic SAG-card-carrying actor…The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him. Even with all his theatrical experience, he never essayed a dual role. So, for what it’s worth, my advice to Mr. Romney is this: Since the evidence indicates that you lack the skills to simulate what you’re not, you should stick to typecasting and go with what you’ve got and who you are. It’s not just your best option, sir, it’s your only one.

I must take issue with Mr. Lipton’s recommendation. It is predicated on facts not in evidence: that there is an authentic Romney to return to; i.e. that the man has a core at all. Consider his ongoing plethora of policy flip-flops, of his penchant for saying whatever a particular audience wants to hear, no matter how much it conflicts with his previous positions to previous audiences.

And there is an additional problem that makes Romney’s lack of acting skills fatal to his ambitions. His inability to relate to commoners is problem enough. But his lack of natural compassion and empathy is compounded by the nature of his campaign, a narrative whose primary focus is a weak economy and a growing budget deficit. Romney’s proposed solution is passage of the heartless Ryan austerity budget, its components implicit in a speech he gave yesterday in Iowa, a speech that Jonathan Chait in his column “Romney’s Budget Fairy Tale”  criticized as…

“…an amalgamation of free-floating conservative rage and anxiety, completely untethered to any facts, as agreed upon by the relevant experts….orthogonal to facts. It’s a story, one in which Obama increased the deficit because he loves big government and Europe and hates the private sector.”

The “story” is in need of a strong protagonist with great acting skills, for which the Romneytron-1000 isn’t even a decent prototype.

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